By  on May 6, 2013

HYERES, France — Fashion festival? Or job fair?

The 28th annual Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography, which ran from April 26 to 29, has evolved into a popular recruiting ground for big luxury groups.

“The next big designer may or may not be here. In a gold mine, you find small nuggets. Sometimes, you strike a big nugget. For the big one, you need luck. But you have to look into the gold mine first, you have to meet people,” said Sidney Toledano, president and chief executive officer at Christian Dior Couture.

This year, companies descended in droves on the Mediterranean city, with many firms putting talent sourcing at the center of their strategies.

The Helsinki-based designer Satu Maaranen, 28, a graduate of Aalto University, impressed with her hand-painted prints and big bows. “Nature and the theme of haute couture were the themes that inspired me, along with innovative textiles,” she said. The designer devoted half a year to the collection, plus four months to design the accessories, including the wide-brimmed hats, while juggling with her freelance assignments for the likes of Marimekko.

RELATED STORY: Satu Maaranen Wins Hyères Prize >>

Maaranen was one of 10 international designers competing for the prize, valued at 15,000 euros, or $19,954 at current exchange, a list that was whittled down from around 350 applicants.

Hyères has a good track record of identifying talent. Past participants include Viktor & Rolf, who will be showing during Paris couture week in July, Christian Wijnants and Anthony Vaccarello. Despite rainy weather, the fashion crowd converged on the wet lawn of the Villa Noailles, drinking beers and homemade soda while keeping their eyes wide open.

Among the crowd were headhunters Floriane de Saint Pierre, Mathias Ohrel and Céline Toledano, as well as Chantal Gaemperle, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s group executive vice president for human resources and synergies director, and Florence Rambaud, LVMH’s creative sourcing manager.

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Lacoste creative director Felipe Oliveira Baptista, also a past Hyères winner, presided over the fashion jury, which included Vogue’s Mark Holgate and Paula Reed, group fashion director of Harvey Nichols.

“It is a package. We look for a personal and very clear statement, candidates who know what they want, who are very good at telling their stories,” Baptista said. “There are very creative collections and [more] wearable ones. The common thing is the level of quality. The quality of the execution of the idea and the personality are extremely important.”

Baptista recalled when he won the Hyères prize in 2002, at age 27: “Hyères has been a stepping stone for me. After graduating, I worked in fashion houses. I wasn’t ready to create my own brand. When I submitted my application, it coincided with the moment I was ready to start. I made a collection for the festival as a test.”

It is a busy year for the designer, who is celebrating the 80th anniversary of Lacoste and a decade for his signature brand. An exhibition dedicated to Baptista’s work will open at the MUDE, the Design and Fashion Museum, in Lisbon on Oct. 17.

“Love Marion de Raucourt’s shoes!!!!!” Reed tweeted, enthusing about the French designer’s platform shoes in wood and riveted leather. (The shoe brand Camper offered de Raucourt, a graduate of École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, a 10-day workshop at the company’s headquarters in Majorca, Spain.)

Chinese designer Shanshan Ruan won the fashion public award of the city of Hyères for her silk organza dresses in a variety of pastels.

Swiss designer Camille Kunz, 23, won the Chloé award, valued at 15,000 euros, or $19,954 at current exchange. Kunz sent out a men’s wear collection with a bomber jacket made out of a high-tech Swiss fabric, half covered with silicone and silk-screen prints. “I am more excited by men’s wear,” she said, adding she would love to work for the likes of Raf Simons, Dries Van Noten or Alber Elbaz.

She said she received job offers at the festival: “[Companies] are asking us how we proceed, what we like, which part of the creation process we enjoy the most, etc.”

The Netherlands-based designer Yvonne Poei-Yie Kwok, 25, won the audience award of the Palais de Tokyo museum in Paris, which live-streamed the fashion show on April 27.

The growing interest from big companies was reflected in a flurry of new sponsorships. French high-street label Petit Bateau, already involved in the festival’s series of outdoor concerts, will now manufacture a capsule collection including a marinière top designed by the winner and distribute it in selected stores worldwide.

Woolmark has also joined the bandwagon of sponsors made up of Chloé, Galeries Lafayette, L’Oréal, Swarovski and fragrance house Givaudan. “Candidates are invited to work with a perfumer on a fragrance, because they’ll probably have to do so during their careers,” explained Benjamin Saulnier, project director for the Fédération Française de la Couture.

“It’s an event that deserves our support, we industrials,” said Ralph Toledano, president of Puig’s fashion division, which has Jean Paul Gaultier, Nina Ricci, Paco Rabanne and Carolina Herrera. “We are a company consisting of four start-ups, with Carolina Herrera being a billion-dollar company.”

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