PARIS — The LVMH Prize showroom returned to Paris Fashion Week for its first physical edition since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, bringing back the enjoyment of physically touching and feeling clothes in a season with a heightened focus on craftsmanship and local production.
“Seeing the products is essential. It’s very difficult on Zoom to see the volume and the colors of a handbag or clothes, and so it’s great to be able to all meet in person today,” said Delphine Arnault, the force behind the initiative and a key talent scout at family-controlled luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. “It’s always refreshing to feel all this optimism and can-do spirit.”
The 19 finalists gathered at LVMH headquarters on Avenue Montaigne to show their collections to industry experts during the two-day event, which ran from March 4 to 5. Trinidadian-British designer Maximilian Davis withdrew for personal reasons. Members of the public were able to vote online for their favorite designer, in order to help select the eight finalists.
Organizers said in light of the war in Ukraine, the prize would support its three former semifinalists from the country: Anna October, Julie Paskal and Anton Belinskiy. October used the prize’s platform to let buyers know she was showing at the Paper Mache Tiger showroom in Paris until Friday.
“Somehow I made it from Kyiv to Paris to present my work,” she said. “Business is very important for us at the moment because it’s the way to support the team, to support the country.”
In an update earlier in the week, Ukrainian Central Saint Martins graduate Olya Kuryshchuk said Belinskiy joined as a volunteer for the city guards in Kyiv to fight the Russian army, while Paskal was sheltering in a basement with two small children.
This year’s contestants, chosen from among 1,900 applicants, were from the U.S., Sri Lanka, South Korea, France, China, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Ireland and Japan.
“It’s highly selective, and just being here today is already a huge win for the designers. It allows them to meet industry experts ranging from editors to makeup artists, photographers, models, stylists and department store buyers. Even if they don’t win, these are people that can further their career and boost their notoriety,” said Arnault.
While the mood at the showroom was slightly more subdued than before the pandemic, a lightning visit by LVMH chairman and chief executive officer Bernard Arnault set hearts aflutter.
“He’s only the most powerful man in fashion, and almost the entire world, full stop. So it was a little stressful, but it’s pretty incredible,” said French designer Victor Weinsanto, who was enjoying the return to IRL events.
“It changes everything. People can put a face to a name. It depends on your personality, but I’m quite shy and embarrassed, but very, very polite. I think it makes people feel well-disposed toward you. I’ve definitely noticed that when I meet buyers in the showroom in person, they buy much more than when it’s just via Zoom or line sheet,” he said.
“The LVMH Prize is an amazing platform that allows you to meet so many people, that when it’s only digital, it’s a little frustrating,” he added.
Weinsanto was showing a collection made with fabrics pulled largely from Nona Source, LVMH’s platform offering deadstock fabrics and leathers from its fashion houses. Carried by 20 retailers, including Nordstrom, Selfridges and H. Lorenzo, his label received a huge boost from dressing actress Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, aka Sylvie Grateau, in season two of “Emily in Paris.”
Sales of her fitted knit dress have accounted for 15 percent of total turnover on Weinsanto’s e-commerce platform since its launch, and Leroy-Beaulieu made a guest appearance in his fall runway show.
Airei designer Drew Curry, meanwhile, showed his wares to visitors including Anna Wintour, global editorial director of Vogue. “It’s actually been, I would say, the perfect amount of people. It’s not slow and awkward, but it’s not jam-packed. We’ve been able to talk to everybody, but it’s been like a constant flow, which is really great,” he reported.
The Los Angeles-based designer works with fabrics like khadi cotton, which is hand-loomed in India. “The priority of the brand is to highlight the human touch, and so everything has like a hand-knitted or hand-stitched element to it that we do in Los Angeles,” he said.
“I’m making things that hopefully people will want to keep for a lifetime and the quality is definitely there. I spend a lot of time researching these fabrics,” Curry added.
Airei has six retail partners for spring, including Dover Street Market and Ssense, and will grow to 15 for the fall season. “I don’t want this to blow up right away. I’m in it for the longevity and because of the handwork, too, I want to make sure the most amount of effort and time is going into the pieces,” the designer said.
Amesh Wijesekera, meanwhile, is working with artists and communities in Sri Lanka to produce his seasonless, genderless wardrobe, working with recycled yarns and fabrics salvaged from the country’s garment industry, which produces clothes for leading brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Ann Taylor and Victoria’s Secret.
“It’s giving craft kind of an elevated luxe feel and taking it out of the country, because in Sri Lanka, the way we use craft is very typical, so it’s how do we evolve it and move it forward?” he said. “We have the craft sector, we have the textile, so it’s about how we bring these elements together as everything is on our doorstep, but I think nobody has really appreciated that.”
The designer, who is based between London, Berlin and Colombo, is the first Sri Lankan to make it to the semifinals of the award. “Being here physically, where people can touch and feel the clothes and get the emotional side of things, I think it’s so important, especially for a brand like mine,” he said.
That’s also true for Irish designer Róisín Pierce, who works only in white, using ruching techniques inspired by local craftsmanship to make her zero-waste garments, which are produced in Ireland. The collection is available exclusively in three Nordstrom Space locations.
“My approach is quite maybe unique, in that I don’t actually sketch or have a finished product in mind, but more that I’m on the search for newness and freshness through letting the fabric manipulation guide me,” she continued. “It really is about a love for the craft, and a revival of the craft and pushing it through to get a new end product.”
Faced with a dearth of craftspeople, she has started an initiative to teach Irish crochet to young people to prevent the skill dying off. “My collections today have almost launched all digitally, except for the ones that year where there were showrooms, but it really gets a different reaction when you can see, and almost sense them and touch them,” she said.
Likewise, Shanghai-based designer Chen Peng produces his collection, which is pronounced like Champagne, exclusively in China. He specializes in down material, which he used to make everything from oversized coats to ski-style pants. Peng, who last year collaborated with Moncler on a capsule collection using recycled jackets, is pushing to make the industry more environmentally conscious.
Though he’s equally comfortable making physical outfits and NFTs, he prefers to have meetings in-person. “It’s much better because visitors can feel the designers’ ideas, the concept, in a physical way. They can touch the fabric, they can touch the clothes, they can feel what you are thinking about in a deep way. An online showcase is more like a catalogue,” he said.
Unlike most of the designers in attendance, Eli Russell Linnetz is happy to let clothes take a backseat. Having studied screenwriting at film school, the Los Angeles-based designer is all about storytelling.
“Of course, the clothes matter, but that’s just about having a really good production partner. But for me, if you don’t have a good story to tell, it’s like, why are people gonna care?” he asked. “I’d rather tell a story with no clothes.”
His ERL line for men, women and children is based on his home in Venice Beach. “Everything is surf, ski and skate. California is the only place where you can do all three in a day, so everything has that in the DNA,” he explained.
Linnetz got his start working alongside Virgil Abloh and Matthew Williams for musicians like Kanye West and Lady Gaga, and his new collection is also popular with performers. “A lot of celebrities have worn it just because you stand out when you wear it, so I feel like it has this pop element that people respond to,” he noted.
Still, he acknowledged that no matter how good a collection film is, it’s essential to experience the products in person. “It’s super important for people to touch the clothes and meet the people who are making them. You can only get so much over videos,” he said.