HYERES, France — Underlining its status as an international launchpad for new fashion talent, more than 400 industry professionals plus 200 journalists flocked to the 23rd International Festival of Fashion and Photography held here from April 25 to 28.
Over a sun-soaked weekend, 10 fashion designers, whittled down from 250 candidates initially, impressed a jury presided over by Givenchy's creative director, Riccardo Tisci, who declared half of the designers could easily have shown at Paris Fashion Week.
"People are saying it doesn't look like a young designer's competition," said Tisci, who was joined by fashion experts including Haider Ackermann, Lane Crawford's fashion director Sarah Rutson and stylist Patti Wilson.
Tisci predicted that three or four of the competitors would go on to be successful. Among them will likely be British designer Matthew Cunnington, whose "Hail Mary" collection of voluminous black wool and jersey dresses, inspired by his mother's forced adoption of her illegitimate daughter in the Sixties, swept the L'Oréal Professionnel sponsored prize of 15,000 euros, or $23,300 at current exchange.
"For me, it was perfection," said Tisci, lauding the collection's volume and details. "Not many people have a sensibility like that."
The jury lauded Birmingham-based Cunnington's devoré technique, where he burnt the natural wool on a screen print with acid to leave patches of viscose exposed — a literal expression of being emotionally torn apart.
"There's a need for sensuality and beauty today, instead of aggression and sexuality," said Ackermann.
Belgian stylist Jean-Paul Lespagnard, meanwhile, took an ironic view of fashion, sending Dolly Parton-wigged models sashaying down the runway in clown-striped or cowboy pants, plus drag queen killer heels, accessorized with french fries made from Perspex. Lespagnard, who trained in theater design, scooped both the audience award and French fast-fashion chain 1.2.3's 15,000 euro, or $23,300, prize.
Some of the designs will go straight to the shop floor. Maria Luisa will display Lespagnard's collection later this year, while Lane Crawford is planning to host installations by several, as yet undisclosed, designers.
Tisci, meanwhile, evoked the possibility that several Hyères participants could work with him at Givenchy and also plans to point willing investors in their direction. "In fashion, without money you can go nowhere," he said. "I've been there; 10,000 euros [or $15,500] changes everything."To increase their odds of success, several exhibitors said they would unveil accessories rather than apparel first. "I think it's a way in business because it works much more easily," reasoned Lucia Sanchez, an Argentinian-born designer who's worked at Isabelle Marant, Marni, Wunderkind and Gucci, who showed shoes and handbags with cow horns for heels and bag handles.
Likewise, German-born Miriam Lehle, who took a candle to four meters of fabric to create each melted dress in her collection, plans to launch a more commercial and wearable accessories line for fall.
The money machine, meanwhile, was questioned by 23-year-old Isabelle Steger, who plucked models of all ages from their day jobs in offices or fast-food outlets to wear her collection of oversize workwear, suits and coats, to represent the capitalist world. The designer, who was taught by Raf Simons in Vienna, also displayed a host of electronic gadgets, including cell phones painted to resemble wood.
Steger, who's in the running for a design scholarship in her native Austria, believes such competitions are crucial for young designers like her. "The fashion business is so cruel. You have much more freedom when you do art. They give you more time to fail."
The fashion industry's relentless treadmill is much to blame for that, said Lane Crawford's Rutson. "It's my job to be open," she said. "Unfortunately, the schedule we have now in fashion is killing that openness. If you'd got me straight after fashion week, I would have been more critical, but here I've understood where they're coming from. Hyères has saved me."
In the photography competition, French lenswoman Audrey Corregan won the top prize, while a special mention went to Germany's Amira Fritz.
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
Sneaker reselling app @goat’s latest exhibit, "The Greatest: New York," tells the story of New York's sneaker culture. To celebrate the exhibit, an intimate crowd gathered on Thursday night at the pop-up gallery space, located at Platform in Culver City, to hear guest speaker and illustrator @esymai talk about her own rise in streetwear and women in the business. "For me I'm just someone who is creative. I like to create things," said Chang. #wwdfashion
Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast