PARIS — Europe remains a hotbed for incubating promising fashion talents: The eight finalists for the next LVMH Prize — all European nationals except for one American — are based in its three main capitals.
They are Arthur Arbesser, an Austrian women’s wear designer based in Milan; Sebastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant, the French duo behind the Paris-based Coperni women’s label; Craig Green, a British men’s wear specialist based in London; Faustine Steinmetz, a French women’s wear designer based in London; Simon Porte Jacquemus, a Frenchman based in Paris, where he presents his Jacquemus women’s collection; Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida, Portuguese designers based in London, where they present their Marques’ Almeida women’s range; Virgil Abloh, an American designer based in Milan, where he does men’s and women’s fashions under the Off-White label, and Demna Gvasalia, a German designer who presents his Vetements women’s line in Paris.
LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton enlisted 45 experts from retail, publishing and image creation to select finalists from 26 contenders who presented their collections at LVMH headquarters over two days during Paris Fashion Week, with Kanye West and Karlie Kloss among those stopping by to check out the budding talents of tomorrow.
Delphine Arnault, second-in-command at Louis Vuitton and a key talent scout at the luxury group her family controls, said the showcase yielded department store orders for some semifinalists, while all substantially enlarged their professional networks.
“Even if you’re not one of the eight finalists, the visibility you get from the showroom, and seeing all the people from the fashion industry, is really great for building awareness around your brand,” Arnault said.
Abloh couldn’t agree more.
“Conversations for me are everything. One conversation with the right person at the right time can be the spark that creates a genre-defining moment,” he said. “During the process of the prize thus far, I have had about 10 of those conversations.”
Three of this year’s finalists — Jacquemus, Green and Marques’ Almeida — were semifinalists for the inaugural edition of the prize last year, underscoring how compelling are its spoils: A grant of 300,000 euros, or $316,175 at current exchange rates, plus a year of coaching from LVMH executives.
“It’s good to be persistent,” Arnault noted. “Also seeing them year after year enables us to see how they evolve, what they did with their brand in the past year, the maturity of their style and the evolution of their vision. It’s important to follow some of them.”
Arnault highlighted the presence of two women among the finalists, and noted that the semifinalists included more men’s wear practitioners, more unisex concepts, and more labels designed by duos and trios.
On May 22, the finalists are to gather at the Frank Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuitton, where each will have 10 minutes to present his, her or their collection to a jury stacked with LVMH’s design stars. Members include Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs, Nicolas Ghesquière, Raf Simons, Phoebe Philo, Riccardo Tisci and Jonathan Anderson, along with Arnault, Kenzo creative directors Humberto Leon and Carol Lim; Pierre-Yves Roussel, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Fashion Group, and Jean-Paul Claverie, an adviser to LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault and LVMH’s head of corporate philanthropy.
Interviewed separately by WWD on Tuesday, finalists expressed excitement about the recognition, while acknowledging how vital a boost the prize would offer.
“Factories and production are really, really big issues for a small label and hard to deal with if you have a small staff and no production manager,” said Green. “We’d also like to explore new ground — to venture into accessories and women’s wear in particular. We just don’t have the means or the manpower to do it now.”
Gvasalia, whose Vetements brand is already carried in 46 retail doors, agreed his young company could use the cash and advice managing its production and supply chain. “We do everything ourselves with our friends at the moment, so we’re learning from our mistakes,” he said.
Gvasalia added the exposure at the LVMH showroom helped boost attendance at his fashion show, staged in the dungeonlike basement of a notorious gay sex club.
“Doing your own brand is obviously fulfilling your dream, but at the same time, an insane struggle. It’s my obsession, so I’m not complaining, but it’s very tough,” said Arbesser. “Having your work acknowledged by the most important voices in the industry is simply a sign that you are doing the right thing.
“It’s like a stamp of approval to be already in the semifinal,” Arbesser added. “The whole prize is organized and laid out so intelligently.…It really is there to get you out there, get to meet the right people and really build up a network.”
“LVMH really represents keeping our traditions in textiles. That’s really my interest — that’s why I hand-weave, I hand-dye, I make yarns — I love the old crafts. It’s amazing already for me to be presenting my collection to those people and hopefully receive some feedback,” said Steinmetz. “I think for people, LVMH is such a strong value. Having the LVMH seal of approval on your label is really amazing, I think. And I feel personally more confident going on with my work, knowing that the 45 experts actually approve and think that I have a viable thing going on here.”
Steinmetz credited the exposure ahead of her sales campaign for helping to double the number of her wholesale clients.
“Building a company, a creative identity and a business is an amazing experience but not an easy task,” said Coperni’s Vaillant. “Winning the prize would allow us to go to a next level for the brand, grow the business, develop our own fabrics and embroideries, and do our first fashion show.”
Several of the designers confessed they were starstruck to meet with famous editors like Cathy Horyn and Carine Roitfeld, not to mention some of the world’s most identifiable couturiers.
“We were very surprised by the kindness of all the jurors. They were really curious and interested in the designers and we feel very grateful about it,” said Vaillant. “We love Raf Simons’ work and it was an honor to meet him.”
“I was lucky to have had a wonderful chat with Karl Lagerfeld in German about the Empress Sisi of Austria. Unforgettable indeed,” said Arbesser.
“Karl Lagerfeld said he knew my label already and I couldn’t sleep for two days,” Steinmetz said. “It was quite a shock but it was so nice as well — I had to call my mum to tell her.”
Abloh was wowed being surrounded by other young talents.
“I’m equally interested and motivated by the generation of designers I sit next to,” he said. “More than designers themselves, I appreciate a generation of designers because together you can get a sense of culture at the time.”