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LVMH to Establish Global Fashion Prize

Some of the industry’s biggest creative figures will choose the winner of the new LVMH Young Fashion Designer Prize.

PARIS — Jury duty has never been more fashionable — or star-studded.

This story first appeared in the November 21, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Taking fashion prizes to a new height, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton is launching an international contest for young designers with some of the industry’s biggest creative figures — including Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs, Nicolas Ghesquière, Raf Simons, Phoebe Philo and Riccardo Tisci — choosing the winner.

They will be joined by Kenzo’s creative duo, Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, who as founders of Opening Ceremony scour the globe for new labels to stock in their stores.

The new LVMH Young Fashion Designer Prize, which comes with a grant of 300,000 euros, or $405,000 at current exchange, plus a year of coaching, is the brainchild of Delphine Arnault, who has emerged as a powerful talent scout and advocate for young designers at the luxury giant her family controls.

“We thought, ‘Who better than the designers of the group to elect the young fashion designer of tomorrow?’” she told WWD, eyes widening when asked about the challenge of finding a date when all those fashion figures could gather in one room. “The aim of this prize is to try to discover talents that are unknown, and also to create a surprise.”

Arnault said the first winner would be selected towards the end of May 2014.

The competition is unique in its global scope, online-only registration and nominations — and a gradual elimination process that will award entrants with invaluable exposure.

To wit: Arnault said LVMH would fly 30 semifinalists to the French capital during Paris Fashion Week next March to exhibit their wares in the auditorium of its Avenue Montaigne headquarters. An “expert committee” of buyers, editors and stylists is to tour the temporary showroom, meet the designers and vote to whittle down that group to the 10 finalists who are to make 20-minute presentations to the jury.

The competition is open to any designer between the ages of 18 and 40 who has presented and sold at least two collections of women’s or men’s ready-to-wear. Applications open today at lvmhprize.com, and close Feb. 2.

In tandem with the big prize, for which LVMH tapped French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel to create the inaugural trophy, the company is to award 10,000-euro ($13,500) scholarships — and a one-year post in the design studio of an LVMH brand — to three fashion graduates. “It’s what every student dreams of,” Arnault enthused.

The group’s fashion houses include such names as Louis Vuitton, Dior, Fendi, Givenchy, Loewe, Pucci and Céline.

The 38-year-old daughter of luxury titan Bernard Arnault, who had been Dior’s deputy managing director since 2008, in September became second-in-command at Vuitton and was put in charge of all the house’s product-related activities.

Delphine Arnault — who was joined in a hushed conference room by Jean-Paul Claverie, an adviser to her father and head of corporate philanthropy at the group — said LVMH is keen to support young designers in an industry where breaking through can be difficult.

“Creativity has always been at the center of what we do at LVMH,” she said. “As the leader in our industry, it’s our responsibility to find talent, to help talent grow and to help designers structure their company.”

According to Simons, every designer has experienced the need for funding and good advice.

“Creating a collection, a brand and running a business at the same time is such a burden and supporting a young designer early on and giving him or her the support that will help them make the right decisions — and [giving them] access to so much knowledge — is an amazing opportunity,” Simons told WWD. “Not so long ago, being a fashion designer was still a very vague notion for most young creative people, but with the huge surge in visibility for the industry, for designers, for ‘behind-the-scenes’ access, it has become more real and probably more desirable.”

Tisci, a relatively unknown Italian designer with a small signature brand when he joined Givenchy in 2005 at the age of 30, couldn’t agree more.

“There is nothing more important in our business than hearing young creative voices, giving them strength, confidence and attention,” he said. “I was given an amazing chance at a very young age, so this means a lot to me.”

Arnault said LVMH has a long-term commitment to its namesake prize, and assembled an internal team to coordinate the undertaking and the dedicated Web site. Heading up that effort is Mark Alizart, formerly adviser to French culture minister Frédéric Mitterrand.

WWD first reported on April 15 in Collections magazine that the fashion patronage project was brewing at LVMH under Claverie and Alizart.

Arnault noted that LVMH would continue to underwrite other fashion competitions, including the Andam prize in France and the International Festival of Fashion and Photography in Hyères, also in France. Its philanthropic activities in fashion also include an investment fund for young designers created by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, and a scholarship program and sponsored lecture theater at Central Saint Martins in London.

Arnault said it’s difficult to predict how many designers might apply for the LVMH prize, but the Web site will highlight a selection of the best submissions on a weekly basis. The plan is to keep the site and the process interactive and dynamic, with amateur scouts — who can post pictures of designers worthy of notice — vying for a chance to become a member of the expert committee in March.

The LVMH prize comes at a time when “many people all over the world are interested in fashion, and that’s very new,” said Claverie, adding that “the Internet is a fabulous tool for them to reach us, and for us to reach them.”

Arnault noted that all participants — not only the final winner — should benefit from the competition.

“Even if they’re not selected, it’s going to help them grow,” she said. As for the finalists who will face Lagerfeld and company, “it’s an experience that’s quite unique and they won’t forget.”

She, Claverie and Pierre-Yves Roussel, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH’s Fashion Group, are to represent the company alongside designers on the panel.

Asked if the expert committee and jury would use any specific measuring sticks to choose the winter, Arnault said, “Design talent is extremely important, but you also need to have your feet on the ground. I think it’s going to be a discussion.”

An internal team at LVMH will be at the disposal of the victor to decide on how he or she should spend the 300,000 euros. “For a young company, it’s a lot of money,” Arnault noted.

Yet it is practical and strategic matters — where clothes should be produced, how they should be priced, and if and when to launch accessories or a second line — that tend to consume fashion newbies.

“They always have tons of questions, so we have a professional team of executives with long experience in the group to help them if needed,” she said.

The prize was initiated without the intent of LVMH investing in the winner. “It’s just to nurture them and help them grow,” she stressed.

In recent months, Arnault has been instrumental in LVMH’s recent investments in Nicholas Kirkwood and J.W. Anderson, for example.

Asked if she detects a new wave of designers, or a particular strain of talent from today’s new generation, she replied: “Talent is always rare and unique.”