Guillaume Houzé and Nathalie Dufour

PARIS — The coronavirus crisis has thrown the aspirations of rising designers into a tailspin and organizers of fashion prizes are stepping in with a new approach to their mission: building solidarity funds. French fashion prize ANDAM is jumping in, too, repurposing this year’s edition from a classic prize model to offering financial and professional mentoring support to four labels based in France.

“More than a prize, ANDAM is, above all, a movement of solidarity that ensures the dynamism and longevity of creative industries exposed to profound changes,” said the 30-year-old organization, France’s oldest and highly prestigious fashion prize, in a statement. The jury is made up of top brass from leading luxury companies, including LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Kering, Chanel and Hermès International.

The move comes on the heels of similar efforts from other industry prizes, transforming the traditional contests into a means of support for up-and-coming designers. 

The CFDA and Vogue set the fund-raising wheels in motion in mid-March, just as the COVID-19 crisis prompted shutdowns across the U.S. Established by Tom Ford and Anna Wintour and named “A Common Thread,” the initiative shares stories of designers through a series of short films and serves as a broad fund-raising campaign.

The LVMH Prize organizers, meanwhile, opted to distribute 40,000 euros to each of eight finalists, rather than granting the 300,000 euro award to one winner.

As economic disruption from the COVID-19 crisis started to hit the fashion sector, ANDAM director Nathalie Dufour and ANDAM president Guillaume Houzé — also a senior executive at Paris department store Galeries Lafayette — hunkered down and got to work.

“When the lockdown came into effect, Guillaume and I began brainstorming,” said Dufour.

“It was important to try to invent an edition that took into account the crisis for this creative industry, for young designers,” she said. 

Through discussions with the ANDAM board and partners in the public and private sector, they decided they would focus on the ANDAM community — designers who have their businesses in France and show on the Paris runways — to come up with ideas about how to preserve it in the long run.

Award money of 500,000 euros will be divided among four winners — two former ANDAM prize winners or finalists, a young French company with creative vision or innovative business model, and a start-up or entrepreneur based in France with technologically innovative solutions. 

The crisis will exacerbate existing tensions in the industry, predicted the pair, referring to technological change and the need for sustainability.

“While it is still very, very complicated and risky to form an opinion on what could come after, it’s clear that the economic repercussions will be deep and long-lasting. In the end we think that it will accelerate certain trends that were more on the margins,” said Houzé.

“We wanted to reaffirm the role of ANDAM — it’s more than a prize, it’s a movement for solidarity, an ecosystem that brings together large companies as well as public partners, like the minister of culture and Defi,” he added, referring to the French industry body that promotes the sector.

“Our mission is to support young designers so that their talent is heard, and their contributions are recognized,” he added.

“Rather than getting scattered, Natalie and I wanted to reaffirm the strategic role of ANDAM and the support of young creation. It seemed to us that it would be useful to focus entirely — or at least for the most part — on winners or partners who already have past ties with ANDAM, to make it so that their companies, their brands, can be solidified by the financial help we give them,” said Houzé.

Sticking with the original calendar, the jury will mull questionnaires filled in by applicants in May and June, and the awards will be made public on July 2. 

“It’s the first year that ANDAM will concentrate on French brands. It was very important, given the situation to focus on these brands and not stretch into an international sphere — that didn’t make sense,” Dufour said.

The idea is to examine projects that the labels are drawing up, or already putting in place to cope with the current climate, noted Dufour.

“It will help us see how young brands at different levels fit into this digital transformation, which is important for the fashion sector,” for example, noted Dufour.

“All of our public and private partners reaffirmed their support more than ever for this edition, to take part in helping young businesses and their entrepreneur backers,” noted Houzé.

Member groups will also mentor the four winners, providing expertise like e-commerce, wholesale, retail, communications and sustainability, with members of the executive committee stepping in. There will be no jury president this year.

“It will be transversal, each of the four winners have contact with some of the strongest and most important groups of the fashion industry — it will be quite an exceptional form of mentoring,” said Dufour. 

Perhaps the prize will reopen to international applicants next year, but the focus on helping brands adapt to a changing context will remain, the two predicted. 

“There will be a period after the crisis, but I imagine we’ll stick to this approach of serving as a platform to access to various projects and business models,” noted Dufour.

Houzé chimed in, noting the idea is to help labels anticipate and meet the major challenges brought on by the crisis, but also issues related to the digital transformation of the sector and its shift toward an ecologically responsible approach. 

“These are two absolutely major subjects — digital, first of all because it opens the way for unparalleled opportunities in production, distribution and communications — it needs to be fully exploited in order to protect creativity in a system that will be increasingly hybrid and competitive,” he added. Paris is the right place for tackling the overarching challenges, he added, asserting that he thinks ANDAM has a role to play in the transition to new expressions of consumption, in supporting the sector’s most innovative start-ups and brands that are focused on the common good. 

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