PARIS — As far as the 22 semifinalists of the 2023 LVMH Prize gathered at the luxury conglomerate’s headquarters during Paris Fashion Week to showcase their collections are concerned, everyone’s a winner.
After all, they have already managed to distinguish themselves among a record 2,400 applications.
And now, they had two days to meet industry experts — not just to impress them, but to spark all manner of future-thinking conversations.
“It’s remarkable how the LVMH Prize showroom has evolved over the years,” said Delphine Arnault, the force behind the 10-year-old initiative and a key talent scout at family-controlled luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. “This year’s 22 semifinalists are showing great maturity.”
Not only did the group have the creative chops to make the cut, but “they have thought through their business plans, brand positioning, sourcing and production, and — thanks primarily to Instagram — they are already savvy about communication, which is a major shift,” she continued.
Add to that the fact that all competitors are well-versed in key issues of responsibility, diversity and inclusiveness, and “it’s going to be a tough choice,” Arnault predicted.
Hailing from the U.K., Ukraine, France, Nigeria, South Korea, Jamaica, Brazil, Estonia, India, China, the U.S., Italy, Taiwan, Canada, Japan and Sweden, the semifinalists highlighted the talent competition’s “truly international reach,” according to Arnault.
The LVMH Prize showroom was certainly a must on the busy and buzzy Paris calendar, with guests deeming its cocktail the party of the week. The guest list was a who’s-who of fashion, from LVMH executives, including the group’s director of image and environment Antoine Arnault and LVMH Fashion Group chairman and CEO Sidney Toledano, to designers Stella McCartney, Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, as well as the prize’s 2019 winner, Thebe Magugu.
Sophie Turner, who has long been an ambassador for Louis Vuitton, said she’d jumped at the opportunity to be the ambassador of the semifinal and host the evening. “Working with an established brand like Louis Vuitton is great, but I’ve never been lucky enough to witness the birth of a great brand,” she said.
As an actress, she said it’s inspiring to see creatives from another genre, especially after an hour spent hearing all the nitty-gritty details from concept to materials that went into each collection. “It’s a meeting of the minds, and I thrive on that creativity. While it’s not my world, I appreciate and love it so much,” she said, wishing the prize could go to all of them.
And inspired by the candidates, she revealed she would love to do a collaboration with a fashion house, although she didn’t feel she could design on her own, as she hadn’t put in the kind of hard work these designers had put in over the years.
Coco Rocha said it was heartening to see the culturally diverse group of young designers, which demonstrated how the industry is changing. Plus, it felt like the ushering of a new generation since “when you have someone like LVMH, who knows what they’re doing, backing these designers, that person is probably going to thrive,” she added.
Magugu, who won the prize in 2019, remembered nothing of the night he won, except that he felt extremely nervous. “I hope that everyone here tonight doesn’t have that feeling and can actually absorb where they are and what they have already achieved,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the class of 2023 explained the many ways they had their eyes on the Prize — and beyond.
Marrknull’s Wei Wang and Tian Shi said being shortlisted for the LVMH Prize was the beginning of a new chapter for their Beijing-based label. With the visibility it brought, the pair were keen to use this opportunity to expand their international awareness and business, after “a good few years” in China before the pandemic.
“It’s a very good step for the next steps,” said Paris-based designer Burç Akyol, keen to meet a whole spectrum of professionals over the two-day showcase. “It’s the best room in the world for this.”
This Galliano-era Dior and Ghesquière-era Balenciaga alum was showcasing the latest designs of his unisex brand which “still have the heritage of [his] father,” a tailor who worked for Paris’ couture houses.
A win at the prize would help him grow categories that will allow him to “dress you from the moment you wake up to the red carpet” but also ensure he serves those who resonate with his universe. “I hate the idea of letting people go home and think [the brand] is not for them because it’s too expensive,” he said.
But even without, he’s going to make the most of the experience to get his name out there, with or without wholesale business, too.
After the ravages the pandemic wrought on retail, he feels being agile is “the clever way to go because at the end of the day, we’re artists and artisans as well. Let’s not forget what we can do because you’re going to stand alone at some point with your sewing machine — [Azzedine] Alaïa did for years,” he said.
Likewise, Rome-based designer Veronica Leoni, a “veteran of the system who is trying to apply the best of it to a mini [brand],” felt the prize and its proximity to fashion heavyweights was already her win.
“I would rather be visible for my product than for a [position], so I think it was a nice way to put the focus on the collection and the brand, and be into a system that I recognize as familiar with my training” working alongside the likes of Jil Sander, Phoebe Philo and designing for The Row.
Quira, launched in 2021, is meant as a brand with a lighter footprint fit for a tough moment in the industry. Now in its fourth collection, it has garnered more than 20 stockists, including Bergdorf Goodman, H.Lorenzo and Ssense, thanks to sparse and quiet fare cut from exquisite materials.
Or, as Leoni quipped, she’s “hoping to build up a community through addiction to beautiful product.”
Beyond their own brands, designers were also keen to continue nourishing the communities they’d build, from crafters to consumers.
Designer Faith Oluwajimi produces his collection in Lagos, Nigeria, and calls on local artisans to produce the knitwear and tailored garments of eight-year-old label Bloke.
An ethical brand, it uses organic yarns and deadstock fabrics, non-animal leather and accents of recycled wood and coconut shells. It incorporates traditional dyeing and artisanal embroidery, and Oluwajimi’s built a workshop to keep those handicrafts alive.
“We work with artisans from the community and that is a focus of our collection, and we try to input a lot of personal practices in our work,” he said. “It’s very important to build that community, because it’s the soul of the brand. So with that there are new ideas springing forward. Of course, everything has to fall in line with the ethos and ambition of the brand, but at the end of the day what drives that ethos and identity are all the amalgamations of these creatives and artisans that I work with.”
Now, the time feels right to bring them and the other creatives emerging from Lagos, which has become a hotspot for design, film production and global music superstars in recent years, to the world.
“It’s become this very important melting pot and all that energy goes into the collection. It’s been an amazing experience to be me, from Nigeria, here in Paris as a self-taught designer. It’s a lot, and we’ll see more of that,” he said.
The showcase and ensuing exposure was also the perfect moment for messages that went beyond putting product in the hands — or on the radar — of a consumer.
“I just wanted people to know that upcycling can be really sexy,” said Bettter founder Julie Pelipas, who feels being able to see and touch her designs that started their life as “boring menswear” and are now evening gowns, sexy multiwear trousers or a punk take on a wedding dress showed “how cool, how fun” rethinking existing items is.
Launched in 2020 in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the brand “lost a year” as she delicately put it, due to the war in Ukraine, but she’s raring to make connections that will allow the brand to scale and truly become a solution for the stock currently clogging brands.
For Giseok Cho, best known in the industry for his haunting photographic work, said being shortlisted cemented the fact that his five-year-old label Kusikohc is not a hobby, he joked.
“The worst-case scenario is that you just meet people you’ve admired for ages,” quipped Kartik Kumra, the 23-year-old self-taught designer behind Indian craft-focused menswear label Karu Research.
Working with traditional handcraft textiles that require no electricity to produce thanks to the use of handlooms and natural dyes for its prints, the two-year-old brand stocked at Mr. Porter and some 30 doors around the world counts the U.S. as its largest market since Kumra launched it while studying economics at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Sustainability is inbuilt into the design because the only way to make the product is the way it’s been done for hundreds of years,” rather than something being an afterthought, he explained.
Whether or not he wins, Kumra is already saving up for a brick-and-mortar store as he feels that would benefit the brand and its tactile focus, based on previous pop-up experiences. “It will go a long way because wholesale margins aren’t that great,” he said, naming New York as a potential destination that would create a foothold for international development by making it easier to ship from than India.
He credits the brand’s early success to having “tapped into some sort of South Asian diasporic pride” that had people traveling to discover the brand “because they’re excited about their culture being shown in a way it hadn’t before.”
“To us, this is not a competition but a celebration for our family,” said Michael Hsieh, who founded Taiwan-based label Namesake with brothers Steve and Richard three years ago, after initially opening a select shop carrying brands they found cool.
On the rack behind them were pieces highlighting the blend of weaving fabrications and sportswear inspirations with a dash of tailoring that they built their brand on. A hand-crocheted but still machine-washable blouson using yarn and recycled paper was a striking example.
What they want to get of this whole LVMH Prize experience is the creative boost that stems from talking with their peers and industry insiders but also the exposure that will attract those who recognize themselves in this trio of basketball-loving, science-graduated fashion entrepreneurs.
“Being from Taipei, growing up in Tokyo and moving to the U.S., we’ve been outsiders to any community our whole lives,” he continued. “Our community is this outsider power that has love for basketball, sports or fashion and [is] using clothing as a language to make friends.”