PARIS — With Iran slowly opening up to the world after the lifting of U.N. sanctions, could it be the next hotbed for emerging fashion talent?
Here’s one sign: Tehran-based Shirin and Shiva Vaqar are among 23 designers selected as semifinalists for the next LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers, to be awarded this summer with a grant of 300,000 euros, or $333,000 at current exchange rates, plus a year of coaching.
“We were very impressed by the quality of their application, and now we are excited to meet them in person and know more about them,” said Delphine Arnault, the force behind the prize initiative and a key talent scout at family-controlled LVMH.
The Vaqars were among close to 1,000 young designers that threw their hats into the ring for a prize that already has helped boost the careers of a string of designers. They include Thomas Tait and Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida, the Portuguese duo behind the Marques’Almeida label — the first two winners of the grand prize — along with Hood by Air’s Shayne Oliver, Simon Porte Jacquemus and Nikita and Tina Sutradhar for Miuniku, recipients of special prizes from luxury giant LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. LVMH is the parent of fashion houses including Fendi, Givenchy, Berluti, Loro Piana and Kenzo.
Launched in 2013 by self-taught sisters, Vaqar women’s wear is sold mostly in private showrooms in Tehran. The siblings recently signed an agreement with London-based boutique Eizenstein to export the pieces to the U.K. for worldwide online shopping.
Shiva Vaqar said the designers’ ambition is to take their brand global and see “reliable organizations and schools in Iran that approximate world standards.”
She noted it’s too soon to feel effects of the eased sanctions, “but we believe that the changes will influence the economical and cultural relationship between Iran and the world.”
The semifinalists, selected by an internal committee, are to travel to the French capital with their collections and display them at LVMH headquarters on March 2 and 3 during Paris Fashion Week. There they will face the 41 members of a committee charged with whittling down the field to eight finalists.
As a last step, the finalists will gather on June 16 at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris to face a jury stacked with LVMH fashion stars: Fendi’s Karl Lagerfeld; Givenchy’s couturier Riccardo Tisci; Louis Vuitton’s Nicolas Ghesquière; Céline‘s Phoebe Philo; Marc Jacobs; Loewe artistic director Jonathan Anderson; Kenzo designers Humberto Leon and Carol Lim of Kenzo; Jean-Paul Claverie, an adviser to LVMH chairman and chief executive officer Bernard Arnault and the group’s director of sponsorships, and Pierre-Yves Roussel, chairman and ceo of LVMH Fashion Group. Delphine Arnault, second-in-command at Vuitton, rounds out the jury.
Ten of the semifinalists specialize in women’s wear, six specialize in men’s wear and the balance design clothes for both sexes.
Christelle Kocher, who designs under the Koché label, and Astrid Andersen return as semifinalists after being short-listed for the 2015 prize.
The other finalists are: Aalto, by Tuomas Merikoski, a Finnish designer based in Paris; Alex Mullins, an English designer based in London; Alyx by Matthew Williams, an American designer based in New York; Brandon Maxwell, an American designer based in New York; Caitlin Price, an English designer based in London; Cottweiler, by Ben Cottrell and Matthew Dainty, English designers based in London; Facetasm, by Hiromichi Ochiai, a Japanese designer based in Tokyo; Feng Chen Wang, by Fengchen Wang , a Chinese designer based in London; Koike, by Yuko Koike, a Japanese designer based in Tokyo; Männistö, by Julia Männistö, a Finnish designer based in Berlin; Melitta Baumeister, a German designer based in New York; Mikio Sakabe, a Japanese designer based in Tokyo; Moto Guo, a Malaysian designer based in Kuala Lumpur; Ms Min, by Min Liu, a Chinese designer based in Xiamen; Soshi Otsuki, a Japanese designer based in Tokyo; Vejas, by Vejas Kruszewski, a Canadian designer based in Toronto; Wales Bonner, by Grace Wales Bonner, an English designer based in London; Wanda Nylon, by Johanna Senyk, a French designer based in Paris; Xu Zhi, by Xuzhi Chen, a Chinese designer based in London, and Y/Project, by Glenn Martens, a Belgian designer based in Paris.
“What struck me this year, in terms of geography, is the continuous opening up of Asia,” Arnault told WWD. “Young Chinese designers have matured in a very short time. We selected three of them. A new generation of Japanese designers is also rising, and four of them are represented in this edition. Malaysia is in our final selection, too. We also received very interesting new entries from India, South Korea and Hong Kong, which you shall certainly hear about in the coming editions of the LVMH Prize.”
She noted that the selection of 23 semifinalists, versus 26 last year, “depends on the applications we receive. We don’t want the LVMH Prize to be guided by formal rules, but by sheer talent.”
In terms of style, Arnault noted that “streetwear confirms its surge, but it is mixed with eveningwear more and more, creating a very interesting aesthetic.”
The average age of the short-listed designers is 28, and most have made fewer than five collections.
“Although this year we are very happy to welcome the youngest designer ever to figure in the prize, Vejas Kruszewski, from Canada, who is a self-taught 19-year-old prodigy,” she said.
Unique in its online-only application process, the LVMH Prize is open for anyone under age 40 who has produced and sold at least two women’s or men’s ready-to-wear collections.
New members of the expert committee include model Karlie Kloss; Glenda Bailey, editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar in New York; Miroslava Duma, founder of the Russian fashion site Buro 24/7; makeup artist Peter Phillips, creative and image director of Christian Dior makeup in Paris, and Katherine Ross, a fashion and art consultant based in Los Angeles. They are to join 35 other journalists, stylists, buyers, photographers and other fashion professionals.
To date, LVMH has hosted 55 young designers in Paris and handed out five awards.