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PARIS — The French capital remains a cradle of fashion creation — including for young designers.

Three of the eight finalists for the next LVMH Prize are based in the French capital and will vie for a cash prize of 300,000 euros, or $335,000, plus a year of coaching.

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“The list reflects the vitality of the French fashion scene and the attractiveness of Paris for designers from all over the world,” according to Delphine Arnault, the force behind the initiative and a key talent scout at family-controlled LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

The three Paris-based finalists are Tuomas Merikoski, the Finnish designer behind the women’s wear label Aalto; Glenn Martens, the Belgian behind men’s and women’s collections for Y/Project, and Christelle Kocher, a French designer who creates her Koché collections for both genders. Kocher was a semifinalist last year.

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Hiromichi Ochiai, based in Tokyo and designing under the Facetasm label, is the first Japanese finalist for the prize, now in its third edition.

Rounding out the field are two Americans based in New York — Matthew Williams, whose women’s wear carries the Alyx label, and Brandon Maxwell, who has a signature women’s line; Canadian wunderkind Vejas Kruszewski, 19, who makes collections for women and men under the Vejas label, and Grace Wales Bonner, an English designer who presents her Wales Bonner collections for both genders in London.

LVMH flew 23 semifinalists to town during Paris Fashion Week to meet its preselection committee of 41 experts, including retailers, editors, models and photographers.

At that event, Kruszewski said he sells his collection to Opening Ceremony, as well as doors in Australia and Japan, and described his approach as “a wardrobe for the not-too-distant future. What excites me is taking something familiar and making it alien.”

Williams and Maxwell have a client in common — Lady Gaga. Maxwell is currently her stylist while Williams used to be her creative director at the beginning of her career. “I did all her image, music videos and all her costumes when [Maxwell] was an assistant for Nicola [Formichetti, Gaga’s former stylist],” said Williams at the semifinalists’ event. Alyx, which is in its third season, is edgy, urban wear that is sold at 30 retailers, including Dover Street Market New York, Colette, Antonioli, Isetan and Joyce. “I’m trying to create a full wardrobe for women — knitwear, denim, shoes, lingerie, suiting,” said Williams earlier this month.

“Koché is a very young brand, totally independent, so let’s say that this kind of attention matters a lot,” Kocher told WWD on Friday. “And the money would help a lot, and some good advice won’t be refused.”
She noted that her interactions with the expert committee were revealing, and constructive.
“It makes you focus on what you want to express,” she said. “Everything is concrete when you can present your work to some of the best fashion experts in the world. You can bull**** no one – they know – so I tried to be quite honest with what I want to achieve, and I had very interesting conversations about that.”

Toronto-based Kruszewski said his young brand could use the financing, and mentoring. “We are in our third season and a very small independent brand with no investors, so growth is harder and limited by financial factors,” he told WWD. “At the same time, we are limited geographically, and the expertise of LVMH in terms of sourcing and connections to show in new markets would be incredibly valuable to us in our progression.”

He noted the exposure of being a semifinalist has already helped.

“The reaction from buyers and press since we arrived in Paris for both the competition and our seasonal showroom has made us very optimistic about the future of our business,” he said. “We’ve also secured several new stockists for this season and I really think that being in Paris for market, combined with the platform that the LVMH Prize gave us, was a huge boost.”

Almost 1,000 young designers 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 LVMH, parent of fashion houses including Fendi, Givenchy, Berluti, Loro Piana and Kenzo.

As a last step, the eight 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.

Unique in its online-only application process, the LVMH Prize is open to anyone under age 40 who has produced and sold at least two women’s or men’s ready-to-wear collections.

To date, LVMH has hosted 55 young designers in Paris and handed out five awards.

Applications for the Graduates Prize are open through May 15. Three designers who are completing a university program in fashion design are to win a grant of 10,000 euros, or $11,200 at current exchange, and be invited to join the design team at an LVMH brand for one year.