Fashion has always been a youth-obsessed industry, but this year that obsession kicked into another dimension.
Young designers were caught in a flurry of prizes, funds, initiatives and transactions in 2014, proving that new blood remains the fuel of a global industry that’s moving faster all the time.
The world’s largest luxury group, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, introduced a fashion prize valued at 300,000 euros, or $373,730 at current exchange, and open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 40 who has presented and sold at least two collections. Underscoring the popularity of such contests — and suggesting budding talents are hungry for funding and business advice — a total of 1,221 designers applied for a chance to win.
A star-studded jury featuring Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs, Nicolas Ghesquière, Raf Simons, Phoebe Philo and Riccardo Tisci, along with Kenzo’s Humberto Leon, anointed Thomas Tait the inaugural winner, while Shayne Oliver, the designer behind the New York label Hood by Air, and Miuniku, by Mumbai-based sisters Nikita and Tina Sutradhar, also received special jury prizes of 100,000 euros, or $124,575, plus a year of mentoring.
“Creativity has always been at the center of what we do at LVMH,” said Delphine Arnault, who spearheaded the prize initiative on behalf of the family-controlled luxury group. “As the leader in our industry, it’s our responsibility to find talent, to help talent grow and to help designers structure their company.”
“Mentoring” was the watchword of the year in the award world.
ANDAM, one of France’s oldest fashion prizes, marked its 25th anniversary in 2014 and leveraged all its corporate partners to provide winners and finalists with precious know-how about everything from strategic planning and digital marketing to image-building.
“We want to help winners gain a competitive advantage on the international market,” said Nathalie Dufour, who founded ANDAM with the support of the French culture and industry ministries and with former YSL couture boss Pierre Bergé as president. “We have to be on the offensive.”
ANDAM has been a springboard for an array of designers who would go on to achieve international recognition, including Martin Margiela, Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren, Christophe Lemaire and Jeremy Scott. Dutch designer Iris Van Herpen is the latest recipient.
According to Van Herpen, being a small, independent label means challenges galore: “It’s finding the right partners for your production, having a good show, delivering on time, having your prices in a good range — it’s about the organization,” she said.
Floriane de Saint Pierre, who runs a namesake executive search and consulting firm in Paris, suggests creating an online retail space that is dedicated to emerging talents.
“This would be the first, most important step to watch if a talent can build a sustainable business and/or gain visibility and credibility towards brands or investors,” she said.
Several fashion firms and investment vehicles took stakes in young designers this year; among them, LVMH invested in Rome-based Marco de Vincenzo; InterLuxe in Jason Wu; London-based MH Luxe Ltd. in Esteban Cortazar; Mounir Moufarrige in jewelry maven Christina Debs; and upstart Belgian fashion fund CLCC S.A. in Brussels-based jewelry brand Kim Mee Hye.
WWD broke the news on Aug. 26 that LVMH was in talks about acquiring a stake in Proenza Schouler, with discussions involving the 40 percent stake that Andrew Rosen, John Howard and other investors jointly acquired in 2011 from Valentino Fashion Group. It is understood that negotiations traversed a difficult juncture — LVMH balked on pricing and other conditions — but remain active.
LVMH and its competitors recently have stepped up the pace of investments in young designers. In 2013, LVMH sealed deals for a 52 percent stake in footwear firm Nicholas Kirkwood and a 46 percent holding in London-based fashion house J.W. Anderson, whose namesake designer is also creative director of LVMH-owned leather goods house Loewe.
Meanwhile, rival Kering acquired stakes in London designer Christopher Kane and American design firm Altuzarra, helmed by Joseph Altuzarra.
New York’s Prabal Gurung and London’s Peter Pilotto are among the younger brands said to be hunting for investors.
“People see a return on investment in young designers, and they’re starting to become important very quickly,” said Robert Burke, of New York-based advisory Robert Burke Associates, citing Alexander Wang and Philip Lim as two examples. “There’s more of an interest in young designers — more than there has ever been.”
To wit: New York City officials recently unveiled plans to invest $3.5 million in a new fashion epicenter, called the Manufacturing Innovation Hub for Apparel, Textiles & Wearable Tech.
Designed to drum up local manufacturing, create jobs and support up-and-coming designers, the 160,000-square-foot facility will be housed in the privately run Liberty View Industrial Plaza in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. To bolster research, design, development and manufacturing for New York’s emerging designers and apparel manufacturers, the city, via the New York City Economic Development Corp., will award $3.5 million through its Industrial Modernization Initiative for the development of the space; the city’s investment will support the 110,000 square feet of space dedicated to active, job-intensive manufacturing uses. A total of $8 million is available through IMOD, with future allocations to be determined, according to city officials.
Accessories designers are also getting more help: Young shoe guru Paul Andrew scored the top prize at the 2014 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, and The Accessories Council and Lividini & Co. launched an Emerging Designers Competition in tandem with the council’s 20th anniversary.
Jeffry Aronsson, whose Aronsson Group serves as an operating investor and strategic consultant for young designers, said interest in the fledgling set is not a new phenomenon and, finally, boils down to an interest in their capabilities.
“When talent is new and fresh, it’s just good design, and then it’s up to consumers to vote whether they like them or not,” he said. “It’s so hard for designers in the early stages of starting their businesses [when] they don’t have any substantial means or the financial support of family and friends. It’s very competitive for all designers. I don’t think it’s a matter of being young or old. You have to have the function of artistic talent coupled with a business opportunity. I wish more people out there were given both so they were not just making it, but thriving and growing.”