The new and the next

Neue Luxury - - News - By Kirstie Cle­ments

It is a well known truth that fash­ion can be a no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult, com­pet­i­tive and en­er­vat­ing in­dus­try, es­pe­cially for an en­thu­si­as­tic young de­signer start­ing out with lim­ited funds and scant busi­ness knowl­edge. There is mount­ing pres­sure to de­sign and pro­duce nu­mer­ous col­lec­tions with a unique sig­na­ture that pleases both press and buyer. Per­haps the most acute cy­cle of strain— that has felled many a top de­signer— is to main­tain con­sis­tent prof­itabil­ity in an un­sta­ble lux­ury econ­omy. It is cru­cial for recog­nised ex­perts to nur­ture and en­cour­age new tal­ent if we are to en­joy a fash­ion land­scape that con­tains more than high street land­fill. Which is why the Novem­ber 2013 an­nounce­ment of the in­au­gu­ral LVMH Young Fash­ion De­signer Prize, spear­headed by Del­phine Ar­nault, ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent of Louis Vuit­ton, has in­stantly be­come the most pres­ti­gious and cov­eted award in fash­ion.

The in­ter­na­tional prize is open to any de­signer un­der 40 work­ing in ei­ther men’s or women’s wear, with the req­ui­site of hav­ing pro­duced two or more col­lec­tions. “You can ap­ply only through the in­ter­net,” says Del­phine Ar­nault. “We think this is one of the strong points of the prize: any­one in the world who has a com­puter can send their file and have a chance to be se­lected.” The panel of judges is as­ton­ish­ing and pre­sum­ably some­what ter­ri­fy­ing, hav­ing been com­prised of some of the world’s top de­sign­ers (from the LVMH sta­ble bien sur), in­clud­ing Jonathan An­der­son, Ni­co­las Gh­esquière, Marc Ja­cobs, Raf Si­mons, Karl Lager­feld, Phoebe Philo, Ric­cardo Tisci, Hum­berto Leon and Carol Lim. The jury also in­cludes nu­mer­ous busi­ness ex­perts in­clud­ing LVMH’S Del­phine Ar­nault, Pierre-yves Rous­sel and Jean Paul Claver­ies, for the po­ten­tial suc­cess of a mai­son is not based solely on aes­thet­ics. The win­ner re­ceives a sub­stan­tial € 300,000 grant and a one year men­tor­ship, which pro­vides in­valu­able in­sights into the real and very tough busi­ness of fash­ion. The men­tor­ship means per­son­alised in­sight is avail­able from all the ar­eas of ex­per­tise in the LVMH group: pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion, im­age and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, mar­ket­ing and in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty. “This spon­sor­ship ini­tia­tive re­flects the val­ues of our group. Our de­sign­ers sin­gle out the tal­ent of to­mor­row and they are re­warded and sup­ported through the de­vel­op­ment of their house,” af­firms Ar- nault, who has been a mem­ber of the LVMH board since 2003 and has a de­gree from the Lon­don School of Eco­nomics and the ED­HEC Busi­ness School. “It’s a pas­sion of course, but also a re­spon­si­bil­ity I think, to dis­cover young de­sign­ers and help them grow.”

In­ter­est­ingly, the re­cip­i­ents of the first three awards have been Lon­don based grad­u­ates from the renowned Cen­tral Saint Martins Col­lege. The first LVMH Prize win­ner in 2014 was Thomas Tait, a Cana­dian born de­signer based in Lon­don, whose women’s wear de­sign phi­los­o­phy is ar­chi­tec­tural, fluid and graphic. Tait com­pleted his stud­ies in Mon­treal and at 21 was the youngest grad­u­ate ever to re­ceive an MA from Saint Martins. Like many de­sign­ers start­ing out, his en­try into fash­ion came with a sense of youth­ful op­ti­mism. “I had ab­so­lutely no money but was so naïve that I didn’t re­al­ize the enor­mity of what I was do­ing” he ad­mit­ted to W Magazine. Af­ter win­ning the LVMH prize, Tait was se­lected to present at Fall/ Win­ter 2015 Fash­ion Week in Lon­don. He pre­sented a pol­ished, yet de­cid­edly ex­per­i­men­tal col­lec­tion de­scribed as a ‘sci-fi Spaghetti West­ern’. It was, ac­cord­ing to Tait “a nice re­flec­tion of how the prize in­flu­enced and el­e­vated my brand”; crit­ics and buy­ers, in­clud­ing Kanye West front row, agreed whole­heart­edly. “The idea that some­thing can be dis­ori­ent­ing is fas­ci­nat­ing,” said an im­pressed Tim Blanks post-show. “That makes him some­body you need to watch.”

The more es­tab­lished Lon­don based women’s wear brand, Mar­ques’almeida, cre­ated by Por­tuguese de­sign­ers Marta Mar­ques and Paulo Almeida re­ceived the 2015 LVMH Prize. The pair first met at fash­ion school in Por­tu­gal be­fore re­con­nect­ing dur­ing their MA at Cen­tral Saint Martins. De­cid­ing to join forces as Mar­ques’almeida in 2011, the la­bel has showed at Lon­don Fash­ion Week since 2013. They won the Emerg­ing Tal­ent—wom­enswear Award at the Bri­tish Fash­ion Awards in 2014, and were also on the short­list for the LVMH Prize in the same year. Their col­lec­tions hit a sweet spot, us­ing tech­niques such as denim ruf­fles, tiers of chif­fon and raw fringed edges to cre­ate pieces that were wear­able and re­lat­able— a hy­brid of cool every­day ba­sics with a high fash­ion sen­si­bil­ity. Their treat­ment of denim is an on­go­ing stand­out, in­clud­ing cropped jack­ets, low cut flares, frilled slip dresses and over­sized jack­ets that have be­came a cult favourite. Mar­ques’almeida al­ready had an es­tab­lished, al­beit fledg­ling, busi­ness that in­cluded stock­ists, such as Net-a-porter, Joyce and Open­ing Cer­e­mony. The LVMH Prize pro­vided an un­par­al­leled op­por­tu­nity to grow and strengthen both their team and their brand. Mar­ques and Almeida told BOF, “Sales dou­bled and the team grew three times. It also bought us time to fo­cus on the de­sign. At the same time the men­tor­ing meant that bor­ing ques­tions like ‘Where do you find a ware­house?’ Could be dis­cussed with some­one with a proper knowl­edge of the sup­ply chain.”

In a sur­prise move at the 2016 an­nounce­ment, Del­phine Ar­nault re­vealed that a spe­cial prize of € 150,000 and ex­ec­u­tive men­tor­ing was to be awarded to Ve­jas Kruszewski of Ve­jas, a 19-year-old Cana­dian who had taught him­self to sew by watch­ing Youtube videos. “Jury mem­bers Hum­berto Leon and Carol Lim are stock­ing six of the eight fi­nal­ists and they said Ve­jas has amaz­ing sell through, so he has a unique point of view but also a client— some­one is buy­ing the clothes,” said Ar­nault.

This years win­ner Grace Wales Bon­ner, was cho­sen from a short list of 23 and is an­other Lon­don based Saint Martins grad­u­ate, whose sub­lime menswear col­lec­tion im­pressed the jury on a va­ri­ety of lev­els. Her grad­u­ate col­lec­tion in 2014, Afrique, won the L’oréal Pro­fes­sion­nel Tal­ent Award, was fol­lowed by her de­but Ebon­ics Au­tumn/ Win­ter 2015 col­lec­tion with Fash­ion East at Lon­don Col­lec­tions. The 25-year-old’s work ex­plores black male iden­tity, sex­u­al­ity and cul­tural his­tory. An ex­am­i­na­tion of tai­lor­ing and lux­ury that bridges African and Euro­pean in­flu­ences, whilst in­cor­po­rat­ing tra­di­tional tech­niques of em­broi­dery and hand worked em­bel­lish­ments from both In­dia and the Caribbean. A glance across all of her col­lec­tions re­veals an ex­tremely cere­bral nar­ra­tive that draws on dis­parate, el­e­gantly blended ref­er­ences of black mas­culin­ity through­out the ages; from African po­ten­tates and em­per­ors, to the slickly suited Blax­ploita­tion films of the 1970s. By us­ing cre­ative his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ences, such as that of Joseph Boulogne, Che­va­lier de Saint-ge­orges an 18th cen­tury com­poser and vi­o­lin­ist from Guade­loupe, Bon­ner plays on the idea of dress mov­ing flu­idly across cul­tures, cen­turies and in­deed gen­ders. Her last col­lec­tion was an el­e­gant and suave fu­sion of tai­lor­ing and or­na­men­ta­tion shown on both men and women, seam­lessly in­ter­change­able, hand­some and beau­ti­ful.

The LVMH Prize is set­ting a new stan­dard for fash­ion com­pe­ti­tions. It is im­pos­si­ble to mea­sure the ben­e­fits of a sig­nif­i­cant cash in­jec­tion, high level recog­ni­tion and sup­port for a young de­signer. The in­dus­try is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing tec­tonic shifts but through the nur­tur­ing of young tal­ent, the LVMH Prize al­lows the in­dus­try to en­gage with a rich ta­pes­try of fresh ideas im­bued with deep cul­tural, his­tor­i­cal and cre­ative mean­ing. Raw tal­ent, ex­pert men­tor­ing, fi­nan­cial sup­port and ul­ti­mately, a cu­ri­ous con­sumer. The real fu­ture of fash­ion.

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