HYERES, France — The International Festival of Fashion and Photography brought the style-conscious to this sleepy Riviera town for a glass (or two) of rose wine, a barbeque in the sun and a glimpse of Europe’s up-and-coming crop of fashion talent.

With fantastical, over-the-top creations on parade, emerging designers here continued to express faith in fashion’s experimental, though commercial concerns and how to make it as an independent in today’s competitive environment also preoccupied young minds.

Members of the fashion jury — who included designers Azzedine Alaia and Roland Mouret; Harrods creative director Susanne Tide-Frater; Topshop’s Caren Downie, and retailer Carla Sozzani — gave top honors to the German duo Clara Kraetsh and Doreen Schulz for their C-Neeon label.

“We’re very influenced by the scene in Berlin,” said Schulz of their colorful and sporty creations. “It’s not really about trends in Berlin. It’s more about individuality and doing your own thing.”

With baggy, street-wise shapes and contrasting patterns, the line is young and fun. It drew a pledge from Topshop, the U.K. fast-fashion retailer, to pay for the production of a capsule collection that would be sold in its stores.

Topshop and Harrods, meanwhile, pledged to help the designers secure a spot on the calendar during London Fashion Week.

Maria Luisa Poumaillou, who also agreed to sell C-Neeon’s clothes in her Maria Luisa boutique in Paris, said the duo had expressed a viable creative vision.

“What we’re asking of young designers is that they have a vision, that they create something that doesn’t exist on the market,” she said. “We don’t need another Nicolas Ghesquiere at Balenciaga. They need to be crazy — at least in the beginning.”

Supporting young designers with industrial mettle has been a mission of the festival over the last few years. Both American retailers Henri Bendel and Nordstrom have sponsored designers here in the past, though neither participated this year.

But French fast-fashion firm 1.2.3 continued its support, saying it would give two of the 10 designers who showed here 15,000 euros, or $19,350 at current exchange, each, and that it would produce their collections and sell them in a handful of stores.

This story first appeared in the June 10, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

For its sponsorship, 1.2.3 chose German Tonja Zeller, who presented a collection of tailored leather blousons and skirts, and Colombian David Gil’s surrealistic confections, which the designer described as based on three trips he made to different psychoanalysts.

The result of mining his psyche was skirts stitched with surgical thread and pieces riddled with gunshot holes. For his runway presentation, he hid the models’ heads with a suede covering perforated with his passport number, 79934321, which he also used as his brand name.

“The collection’s about the loss of identity,” said Gil. “I felt that’s what’s happening in the world and I wanted to reflect that in my work.”

For Jean-Marie Fersing, president of 1.2.3, producing the collections of upcoming designers here has helped make the retailer’s merchandise mix more interesting for its customers. “It’s good for our image,” he said. “It enriches us and it enriches them. They see the economic side of the production and retailing process; we get some creativity.”

But Fersing admitted the association was unprofitable. “Making money directly from their clothes would be impossible,” he said. “The margins are ridiculous. From a marketing standpoint, though, it is a winning situation.”

Meanwhile, Hyeres, held in late April, wasn’t only about backing young fashion but also about photography. To that end, 10 budding photographers presented work in competition, ranging from the comical (police officers doing acrobatic maneuvers on motorcycles) to the enigmatic (photos of desolate landscapes).

Few new trends emerged in the photographic arena, with many jury members — including curator Neville Wakefield; photographer Norbert Schoerner; Dennis Freedman, creative director of W, and gallery owner Anne Barrault — calling the work on offer a “mixed bag.”

But at least two participants stood out. The jury split the grand prize for photography between American Kathryn Hillier and the Swiss duo of Nico Krebs and Taiyo Onorato.

Both showed very different work. Hillier photographed what she called “details of everyday life” with a highly polished aesthetic, while Krebs and Onorato showed chaotic, stark and sometimes ugly situations that included a pile of spaghetti with army figurines on top of it and a man with a bag over his head in a messy room.

Hyeres is also a meeting of more established talent. This year, shoemaker Pierre Hardy showcased five years of his work, Norbert Schoerner spotlighted an exhibit of photos and Alaia had an exhibit of 20 dresses, from 1984 to the present, to celebrate the festival’s 20th birthday.

Surveying his work, Alaia said the same leitmotifs have preoccupied him though his career.

“They’re different, but with the same point of view,” he said of his body-hugging creations. “I’m more of a sculptor. You’ve got to follow your heart and do what you want. That’s my advice for a designer starting out today. Keep at it. It’s certainly never been easy. And it’s even more difficult today.”

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