PARIS — Could 2021 be the year an American designer wins the LVMH Prize for Young Designers for the first time?
U.S. designers make up a third of the nine finalists the luxury conglomerate unveiled on Wednesday, joining an eclectic lineup that includes two genderless labels, as well as the first Albanian and Colombian designers to reach the final stage of the competition.
The American contingent consists of Christopher John Rogers, Conner Ives and KidSuper designer Colm Dillane. They are joined by British designer Bianca Saunders; France’s Charles de Vilmorin; Colombian designer Kika Vargas; Lukhanyo Mdingi from South Africa; Albanian-born, London-based Nensi Dojaka, and China’s Rui Zhou, the designer behind the genderless Rui label.
Delphine Arnault, second-in-command at Louis Vuitton and a key talent scout at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the parent company of brands including Louis Vuitton, Dior and Fendi, said the finalists impressed her with “their talent and their exceptional creativity, but also their maturity and their ability to adapt in a world impacted by the restrictions induced by the health crisis.”
Held online for the first time due to the coronavirus pandemic, the LVMH Prize showroom was pushed back by a month to give organizers time to create an enhanced site, with content including videos and 360-degree views of key outfits.
“When we conceived this digital platform, they responded with an incredible reactivity: they came up with solutions to send us their collections in time so that we could photograph them, they produced videos in record time with their iPhones,” Arnault said.
“Beyond their talent, they showed great flexibility and intelligence to deploy their creative universe as best as they could. I am also very happy that this class is almost equal when it comes to gender, as we have four women and five men” as finalists, the executive added.
For the first time, members of the public were asked to select their favorite. LVMH said 32,000 people cast their ballots but declined to reveal the winner of the public vote, which counted as one member of the 66-person committee that selected the finalists of the eighth edition.
The winner of the top prize, to be decided in September by a jury including some of LVMH’s top designers, will be awarded a cash prize of 300,000 euros plus a year of coaching from experts at LVMH. The winner of the runner-up Karl Lagerfeld Prize will walk away with 150,000 euros and benefit from a year of professional advice.
For the third year, online retailer 24S, LVMH’s multibrand e-commerce platform, will celebrate the prize by asking selected finalists to design a capsule collection. For this edition, Ssense.com is partnering with the prize and will invite certain candidates to create exclusive pieces.
If de Vilmorin walks away with the prize, it would mark the culmination of a fairy-tale year that saw him launch his brand in the midst of the pandemic, make his debut at Paris Couture Week, and become creative director of Rochas. The 24-year-old designer is due to present his first collection for the historic French house for spring 2022.
Rogers is another strong contender. The winner of last year’s CFDA American Emerging Designer of the Year award, he is best known for dressing celebrities like Cardi B, Rihanna and Lizzo in his colorful creations on the red carpet, although he is equally comfortable designing daywear, such as the purple coat U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris wore on Inauguration Day.
“I want to be a part of this league of talent that is breaking down this traditional aesthetic hierarchy of what we expect luxury clothes to look like,” Rogers told WWD recently.
“We’re in an era where someone who’s doing this really beautiful double-felted cashmere coat in gray — that work can be just as chic as this rainbow intarsia knit fantasy, you know? It’s kind of the same thing. It just depends on what your preference is, and it doesn’t have to be on some scale,” he added.
Ives started garnering attention even before finishing his design degree at Central Saint Martins in London, after sharing his designs on Instagram and scoring commissions from the likes of Adwoa Aboah, who wore one of his creations to the Met Gala in 2017.
He has produced two capsule collections for British retailer Browns using vintage T-shirts sourced at charity shops, and was part of the design team that launched Rihanna’s since-paused clothing label Fenty, backed by LVMH.
Brooklyn-based Colm Dillane’s artist collective KidSuper burst onto the Paris scene in July when he made his virtual debut at Paris Men’s Fashion Week with a stop-motion short film made using modified Barbie dolls dressed in miniature versions of his streetwear designs.
A collaboration with Puma rapidly followed, and Dillane’s wide-ranging plans include making a film and building a soccer field.
Unique in its online-only application process, the LVMH Prize is open to designers under age 40 who have presented and sold at least two collections of women’s, men’s or unisex ready-to-wear.
The prize has previously been awarded to Thebe Magugu — who won the 2019 edition — Doublet, Marine Serre, Grace Wales Bonner, Marques’ Almeida and Thomas Tait. It has also boosted the careers of its runner-up special-prize winners, which include Rokh, Jacquemus and Hood by Air.
In 2020, LVMH pivoted the prize into a solidarity fund for the emerging brands in its orbit. Instead of vying for a main prize of 300,000 euros, the eight finalists — Ahluwalia, Casablanca, Chopova Lowena, Nicholas Daley, Peter Do, Sindiso Khumalo, Supriya Lele and Tomo Koizumi — each received 40,000 euros.