LVMH Prize 2019 semifinalists

PARIS — Technology, the environment and social issues are among the key preoccupations of the 20 semifinalists for the LVMH Prize for Young Designers. They will be presenting their creations at a showroom during Paris Fashion Week.

“More and more young designers are concerned about their environment, both from an ecological and a social point of view,” said Delphine Arnault, the force behind the initiative and a key talent scout at family-controlled LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the parent of brands including Louis Vuitton, Dior and Fendi.

“Helping others is one of the values that designers such as British candidate Bethany Williams have adopted from the beginning. I think that’s terrific. But our main focus is on creativity and how it incorporates ethical and sustainable principles,” she added.

“What I find interesting is that creativity is not separated from this search for sustainability. Designers like Spencer Phipps, with his men’s line, or Kevin Germanier, with his glamorous dresses, have integrated environmental responsibility into their brand identity,” said Arnault.

“Others are involved in innovation, such as the Korean designers behind the Kanghyuk label and their work with airbags, or Chinese designer Susan Fang and her ‘air-weave’ technique,” she said. “This is an accurate reflection of the current concerns of our sector, which are also those of our group.”

Among those competing for a grand prize of 300,000 euros, plus a year of coaching from experts at LVMH, are eight women’s wear designers, seven men’s wear designers and five unisex labels — though in many cases, traditional distinctions are becoming moot.

The prize will take place for the first time in the absence of Karl Lagerfeld, the doyen of the luxury giant’s jury members, who passed away last week at the age of 85.

“So many memories come to mind. His involvement in the LVMH Prize from its start was remarkable. He was a curious and attentive jury member. He was very accessible, very generous with his time, with such fair and pertinent criticism that he always charmed our gathering. He always came to the semifinalists’ showroom and had a kind word for each one. He was an inspiration to young designers and I am infinitely grateful to him,“ said Arnault.

Chiara Ferragni, who sits on the panel of experts charged with picking the eight finalists, will be the ambassador of the showroom event on March 1 and 2.

In parallel, online retailer 24 Sèvres will release a selection of pieces designed by the finalists in June, followed by the winning designer’s collection in September.

Marie-Eve Lecavalier weaved leftover scraps of leather to create this dress.

Marie-Éve Lecavalier wove leftover scraps of leather to create this dress.  Michaël Smits

Among the semifinalists who have integrated upcycling into their collection is Canada’s Marie-Ève Lecavalier, who works with leftover leather scraps and denim donations. Lecavalier won the Chloé Prize at last year’s edition of the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography.

Emily Adams Bode produces one-of-a-kind clothing from antique fabrics, including Victorian quilts, old grain sacks and French bed linens from the 1920s. Her New York-based men’s wear label Bode was one of the 10 finalists of the 2018 edition of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund.

Spencer Phipps uses eco-friendly fabrics such as organic cotton, recycled polyester and padding made from recycled plastic bottles for his Phipps men’s collection, shown in Paris, while London-based Richard Malone’s latest women’s collection incorporated recycled dog beds.

“LVMH is very committed to sustainable development, not in order to conquer a Millennial customer, but because it is a deep and vital commitment. In any case, creating luxury products is also creating products that will last for a long time,” Arnault underlined.

The industry has already taken notice of several of this year’s candidates.

South African women’s wear designer Thebe Magugu won the overall award for curation and fashion content at the International Fashion Showcase held during London Fashion Week. Magugu, whose clothes are inspired by the women he grew up with, last year designed a capsule line for South African retailer Woolworths.

Nigerian designer Kenneth Ize studied under Bernhard Willhelm and Hussein Chalayan at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. Carried by retailers including Alara, the David Adjaye-designed concept store in Lagos, Ize’s handwoven suits are also popular with women, with Naomi Campbell reported to be a fan.

“LVMH has been present in Africa for many years. We are fully aware of the wealth of emerging and established talent on the continent. The fashion scene in Lagos, Nigeria, is particularly dynamic,” Arnault noted.

Dutch designer Duran Lantink, another semifinalist, was awarded a special mention for his collection at the International Fashion Showcase in London. Lantink, who designed the so-called “vagina pants” that Janelle Monáe wore in her “Pynk” video, is known for his projects involving homeless people or sex workers.

Some of the semifinalists have benefited from the support of both niche and mainstream retailers.

Greek designer Eftychia Karamolegkou, whose tailored women’s clothes reflect her feminist principles, last year created her first commercial collection for Machine-A, the culmination of a long project spearheaded by Stavros Karelis, co-owner and buying director of the London boutique.

Kanghyuk, the South Korean men’s brand designed by Kanghyuk Choi and Sanglak Son, debuted its first collection — made from car airbags — exclusively in store at Machine-A and online at photographer Nick Knight’s Showstudio e-store.

Bethany Williams Men's Fall 2019

A look from Bethany Williams’ men’s fall collection.  Courtesy Photo

Bethany Williams, who works with a drug rehabilitation community in Italy on turning book waste into recycled cloth, has had her unisex collections picked up by retailers including Galeries Lafayette in Paris and e-commerce site Farfetch.

Paris-based Boramy Viguier recently hinted at a partnership brewing for the next edition of Paris Men’s Fashion Week in June with the soon-to-open Galeries Lafayette flagship on Avenue des Champs-Élysées, while Israeli designer Hed Mayner sells his minimalist men’s clothes online via Farfetch and Ssense.

Promising newcomers include Caroline Hu, who conquered editors with her collection of frothy yet edgy dresses during New York Fashion Week, following her debut as part of the Parsons MFA show last season. Hu, whose fans include consultant Julie Gilhart, has internships at Jason Wu and Tory Burch under her belt.

Others are more established. Japanese designer Kunihiko Morinaga’s Anrealage label has shown at Paris Fashion Week since 2014, challenging audiences with futuristic innovations such as photochromic fabrics and clothes incorporating augmented reality technology.

Kiko Kostadinov, whose men’s wear business is based in London, has designed a unisex line for Mackintosh and collaborated on sneakers with Asics, while Paris-based Kevin Germanier last season presented a footwear capsule made with leather leftovers or reworked stock provided by Christian Louboutin.

Stefan Cooke, who interned for Walter Van Beirendonck and Craig Green, and was a research assistant to John Galliano, won the 2018 H&M Design Award.

Rounding out the list are Paria Farzaneh, who used her last men’s show in London to comment on social media; Susan Fang, who makes conceptual pieces based on mathematical formulas, and Emeric Tchatchoua, who targets Gen Y customers with his politically conscious street fashion brand 3.Paradis.

The selection was whittled down from a record 1,700 entries. 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.

As a last step, the finalists will gather in mid-June at Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris to face a jury stacked with LVMH fashion stars, including Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri, Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton’s Nicolas Ghesquière. The exact composition of the jury will be revealed in mid-March.

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