HYÈRES, France — Wrapping his speech at the opening ceremony for the 33rd edition of the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography at the Villa Noailles, Jean-Pierre Blanc sent out a distress signal. “I wanted to tell you that I am not prepared to continue running the festival if the conditions don’t change,” he said.
Blanc, who when he founded the festival in 1986 as part of a case study for his business degree set out to “invent a moment for creative encounters that wasn’t too complicated,” later told WWD he hopes the event’s main partners will “hold a meeting to find a better solution.”
The event costs 2 million euros to produce each year, according to Blanc, with the shows representing the main part of the budget, followed by travel and hotel costs for guests. Partnering with luxury sponsors does not affect the festival’s integrity, he said.
“It is not because Chanel or Hermès give me more money that I will ever change my artistic direction. The Cannes Film Festival is a very good example; I’m quite sure its organizers do not consult L’Oréal Paris on their selection of films,” said Blanc.
“People always say this festival is amazing, it’s very important, but after everyone leaves….The main sponsor is not [even] a million, and we need millions,” said Blanc.
In terms of his personal involvement in the festival, he is prepared to give it to the 35th edition. After that, “If it remains as complicated to organize as it is at the moment, I could maybe choose a job that’s more easygoing,” he said. Across its history, the festival has served as a springboard for designers including Paco Rabanne’s Julien Dossena, Viktor & Rolf’s Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren and Saint Laurent’s Anthony Vaccarello.
When asked whether he could ever imagine the festival moving to another city, Blanc, who said he has “no doubt” about the festival’s future, replied: “I chose to organize the festival here because I was born here, and there’s the Cannes Film Festival nearby, and because of the history of the site. Maybe if the city of Paris told me, ‘OK, guys, we’ll give you a 5 million-euro budget if you come to Paris,’ it could be a possibility.”
On the event’s point of difference in the context of all the other young designer fashion prizes that have sprung up over the past few years, such as the LVMH Prize, he said: “We are the only festival of fashion in the world. There are a lot of prizes, and it is completely different for the young talent participating from all over the world to spend 10 days here in a sort of family, preparing their shows with professionals, than just sending in an application, having a jury meeting half a day and receiving a big money prize.
“If we continue to receive hundreds of dossiers each year, it’s because we give the talents something special,” added Blanc, for whom Finland’s Aalto University is the most exciting fashion school right now. Three of the school’s graduates — Anna Isoniemi, Linda Kokkonen and Antonina Sedakova — featured in this year’s festival, which wrapped on Monday. “We really launched in a way Belgian designers, after Dutch designers, and after that Finnish designers,” said Blanc.
Winning over a jury headed by Haider Ackermann with their playful yet politically charged men’s wear collection, “Fish or Fight,” Botter and Herrebrugh were the most established of the 10 finalists.
The Amsterdam-based men’s wear brand since launching for spring 2017 counts eight points of sale, including H. Lorenzo in Los Angeles. It presented as part of the VFiles show at New York Fashion Week in September 2016, and is also one of nine finalists competing for this year’s LVMH Prize.
Describing the jury, whose members included Tilda Swinton, Jefferson Hack and Ben Gorham, as a “strong-minded emotional group,” Ackermann said he and the team were looking for someone who “just might disturb us with their creativity, and that’s very difficult nowadays with social media, because everyone is aware of everything. You lose yourself at the same time. They do their research through Google, we used to search through books, so the experience has been very nice, I’m learning as well.”
The goal, he added, was also to encourage the students “to believe in their difference, that not everything has to be the same. You can go in search of your own identity and sensibility.”
Sitting front row at one of the shows, Lou Doillon, who was also on the fashion jury, said: “It’s a very hard responsibility and it’s very beautiful at the same time because you’re in front of people who are in a way playing their lives, this could be life-changing, and it’s something that they’ve created with everything they have in them. You can feel many mixed emotions, because it’s their heart on the line.”
Botter and Herrebrugh live in Antwerp but their world is rooted in a glamorized spin on the creative DIY spirit of Caribbean locals, having grown up in the island of Curaçao, for Botter, and the Dominican Republic for Herrebrugh.
On the experience of presenting to the jury, Herrebrugh said: “It was fun. We’re always so energetic, we pump each other up and we just do it. But of course, I was nervous.”
Vanessa Schindler, winner of last year’s Première Vision Grand Prize, who in September will be moving to Paris for a residency, also took part in the voting process.
Mixing deconstructed tailoring and baggy, thrift-flavored looks offering a dressed-up spin on streetwear, the designers sent out an inventive clash of motifs and color with scraps of fabric, hijacking corporate logos on shirts and sweatshirts. Inflatable toys strapped to the models’ heads and towering pile-ups of truck-driver caps finished off the silhouettes, with some models trailing colored nets, nodding to Botter’s fisherman grandfather. “We were inspired by how the fishermen carry their nets, how it stands in the water and the heaviness of the fabric when it’s all wet, it’s really poetic,” said Herrebrugh.
On the sustainability front, Botter said, “When we buy fabrics we try to use everything that we buy, and we’re not buying meters of things.”
The pair got sponsoring from Nike for the collection, wedging Nike VaporMaxes into shoes resembling “grandpa’s Sunday shoes for church.”
The political undertones weaving through their collection chimed with a clear message of inclusivity, interconnectivity and social and environmental awareness shared by the other designers at the event.
France’s Ester Manas, who was selected as the next guest designer for Galeries Lafayette, described her collection, “Big Again,” which goes up to size XL, as “a celebration of shapes.”
The winner of the Swarovski Fashion Accessories Grand Prix of the Jury prize, meanwhile, was H [earring], a jewelry concept based around aesthetic hearing aids. The brand was cofounded by Kate Fichard, a photographer who is hard of hearing, and designers Flora Fixy and Julia Dessirier.
“It got all the votes, including from myself,” said Christelle Kocher, artistic director of Maison Lemarié, who headed the jury. “It’s a project that combines technology and jewelry that provides a solution for people who have an audio handicap: it is new and revolutionary.”
For jury member Hirofumi Kurino, cofounder and creative adviser of United Arrows Tokyo, many of the collections “reflected social change, diversity and sustainability.”
“These kinds of new, inclusive developments are very important. Our company has recently started working with inclusive designs. Fashion is already too much: too many brands, too many shops, too much production, but the consumers are getting smarter so it’s important for the creatives to introduce something new,” he said.
Sitting in the designer tent, Spanish designer Manuela Fidalgo said she had completed her handiwork-intensive upcycled collection in a month. The sculptural dresses and capes came in mixes of tulle and patchwork built from sample swatches from Première Vision Paris mills, dotted with Swarovski crystals. The pieces will be made available for rent, working with local retailers, she said.
Highlights at the event included the festival shop designed by Vincent Darré and Matthieu Cossé, an American Vintage party at the Hyères Hippodrome, and “A Vanishing Act,” an exhibition at the villa presenting a group of designer looks curated by Ackermann and accessorized with dramatic headpieces by Japanese hair stylist Katsuya Kamo.
“The festival wanted to do an exhibition about me and I thought that already being the president was more than enough. I wanted to show designers that move me — some of them are still here, others less; the timelessness of their work and search of beauty and the stubbornness they may have had, whether it’s Azzedine Alaïa with his specialty, Rick Owens, Madame Grès,” said Ackermann.
“I wanted to show this to the young generation who might not know these designers,” continued the designer, who added that the landscape has changed greatly since he started out.
“I think that I was very naïve. These kids now, due to social media and everything, they’re very aware of where they’re going, they know what their goal is,” he said.
Part of the festival’s future, meanwhile, includes the Villa Romaine, now part of the portfolio of the Villa Noailles, the modernist 20th-century estate that hosts the festival, built by architect Robert Mallet-Stevens for art patrons Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, between 1923 and 1927.
Pascale Mussard, president of the Villa Noailles, was in a jubilant mood having obtained the keys to Villa Romaine the Monday prior after drawn-out, complex, two-year-long negotiations with Versailles, which had been donated the property by the house’s former owner, who was a close friend of Christian Dior’s. (A floral wallpaper in the site’s basement is said to have served as the inspiration for a print in one the designer’s final collections.)
Blanc said the villa was acquired with the Toulon-Provence-Méditerranée metropolis, with the support from brands including Chanel, Hermès and the Ferrucci and Carmignac foundations.
France’s former Minister of Culture, Audrey Azoulay, who was given a personal tour of the site by Blanc, was also instrumental in making it happen.
In time for the next edition of the festival, the Villa Romaine will serve as a residency for researchers and students from around the world.
The Villa Noailles since the start of the festival has been gathering the first look of each of the collections presented in competition. (The only one missing is from Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren, who after scooping the prize in 1993 sold their opening look, Blanc confirmed.) The students will get access to the fashion collection as well as the scrapbooks of Marie-Laure de Noailles and a huge collection of jewelry donated by Christian Astuguevieille, featuring designs he made for designers and brands including Claude Montana, Thierry Mugler, Jean Paul Gaultier and Comme des Garçons.
Sipping rosé in the villa’s garden on Friday, Olivier Theyskens, who participated in a talk at the festival based on his career, agreed that things have changed dramatically since his student days.
“When I started out, you would work to become a designer, the idea of self-promotion didn’t even come into it, and now it’s become more powerful than the level of the quality of the clothes,” he said, adding: “I’m not sure how much I like that.
“Hyères has a history. It’s like the Cannes [Film Festival]. When you’re ending your fashion school, you present your collection and then it’s back to papa and mama, and here it gives it the perspective to go further,” continued Theyskens, adding with wink: “My dossier wasn’t accepted, but all roads lead to the Villa Romaine.”