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PARIS — It seems there is no shade under the umbrella of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton — only exposure.

This story first appeared in the March 13, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

So say finalists vying for the inaugural LVMH Young Fashion Designer Prize, describing their two days in Paris for the semifinalist judging round last month as a windfall in terms of publicity, networking and confidence boosting.

The 12 contenders for the crown — which comes with a grant of 300,000 euros, or $415,900 at current exchange, plus a year of coaching — are CG by Chris Gelinas, Gabriele Colangelo, Shayne Oliver’s Hood by Air, Simon Porte Jacquemus, Miuniku by sisters Nikita and Tina Sutradhar, Thomas Tait, Tillmann Lauterbach, Tim Coppens, Simone Rocha, Suno by Erin Beatty and Max Osterweis, Vika Gazinskaya, and Julien Dossena for his brand Atto. (Dossena also designs Paco Rabanne).

They are to congregate in Paris on May 28 to face an all-star panel of judges including Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs, Nicolas Ghesquière, Raf Simons, Phoebe Philo and Riccardo Tisci, along with Kenzo’s creative duo Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, plus LVMH executives Pierre-Yves Roussel and Jean-Paul Claverie.

The expert panel — roughly 40 prominent figures from retail, publishing and image creation including Marigay McKee of Saks Fifth Avenue; Sarah Andelman of Colette in Paris; Natalie Massenet of Net-a-porter; stylist Olivier Rizzo; makeup artist Pat McGrath, and art director Fabien Baron — each voted for their 10 favorites among 30 semifinalists, and a four-way tie bumped up the number of finalists to 12.

“It was so hard for them to make a choice because they were all so talented,” said Delphine Arnault, the force behind the initiative and a key talent scout at the luxury group her family controls.

She noted that her father Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH, was so impressed with the field of designers that he joined the expert panel and cast his vote for his top 10.

Delphine Arnault, who is second in command at Louis Vuitton and one of the judges for the May round of the contest, noted that there are three men’s wear designers among the dozen finalists, and the field represents a variety of fashion styles.

“There are some that are dressier, some that are more casual, some that are more sporty. It’s a very good mix,” Arnault said in an interview. “I think it’s a really exciting list, and it reflects a variety of talents. It’s going to be interesting to hear the deliberations.”

Underscoring the popularity of such fashion contests — and suggesting budding talents are hungry for funding and business advice — a total of 1,221 designers applied for a chance to win, as reported.

The LVMH competition is unique in its global scope, online-only registration and nomination process, plus a gradual elimination process that shines the spotlight on all entrants.

To be sure, the semifinalist judging, held in the midst of Paris Fashion Week at LVMH headquarters, was a powerful gathering participants said they would not soon forget.

“Meeting so many influential people and getting a chance to show them our work first hand was just amazing,” said Indian designer Tina Sutradhar, who with her sister Nikita encountered the likes of Lagerfeld, Tisci and Vogue’s Anna Wintour while in Paris. “Being so new in the industry, this competition is something very uplifting and so valuable to us.”

“I met almost every person I admire and respect in the industry — all in about 48 hours,” echoed Gelinas, describing the experience as “surreal.” He noted he was also able to connect with some retailers that were difficult to reach before. “I’m excited. I really love this dialogue of fashion, and I like hearing people’s opinions,” he added.

Jacquemus said no matter the outcome of the competition, he’s definitely benefitted from the experience.

“All the commentaries, all the feedback that I had from fashion people who know me I would never have had without having been with LVMH,” he told WWD.

Delphine Arnault gleaned some interesting tidbits about fashion prizes of yore from Lagerfeld, who gained notoriety in 1954 for winning the International Woolmark Prize.

“At the time, there were 200,000 applicants,” she marveled, also noting that finalists like Lagerfeld had to demonstrate their sketching ability to the judges to prove that their submissions for the prize were valid.

At the outset of the latest competition, Arnault held out hope the experience would benefit all contenders, and not only the victor.

“I hope that for them [it] is a great experience and it enables them to learn a lot of things,” she said. “It’s our responsibility to do this as the leader in our industry, to grow young designers and help them develop.”

Moscow-based Gazinskaya said the recognition from LVMH gave her the energy to go on.

“After each collection I get sick, because it takes so much energy and you have the feeling it is the last season for you. It’s hard to move forward on your own, without help. But then something happens and you continue,” she said.

Her Paris highlights included finding Ghesquière in her booth checking out her designs, and meeting McGrath, whose makeup work for Christian Dior in the John Galliano era encouraged her to pursue a fashion career. “So, when I told her that — she just warmly hugged me,” Gazinskaya said.

Meanwhile, 600 graduate students applied online to win one of three 10,000-euro ($13,865) scholarships — plus a one-year post in the design studio of an LVMH fashion house such as Vuitton, Dior, Fendi, Givenchy, Loewe, Pucci and Céline.

Those winners are to be revealed on May 28 in tandem with the grand prize.

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