Masayuki Ino

PARIS — Japanese designer Masayuki Ino won the 2018 edition of the LVMH Prize for Young Designers with his streetwear label Doublet, underscoring the appeal of gender-neutral, casual designs for a new generation of consumers keen to shed traditional labels.

Emma Stone, speaking in French, announced the winner on Wednesday at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris in the presence of jury members including Karl Lagerfeld of Fendi, Dior designer Maria Grazia Chiuri, Louis Vuitton’s Nicolas Ghesquière and Givenchy’s Clare Waight Keller.

Ino beat some 1,300 applicants to walk away with a grand prize of 300,000 euros, plus a year of coaching from experts at luxury giant LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, parent of fashion houses including Vuitton, Loewe, Céline, Berluti and Marc Jacobs.

The runner-up special prize, presented by Jaden Smith, went to South Korean designer Rok Hwang’s London-based women’s wear label Rokh.

At 38, Ino was the oldest candidate among the nine finalists of this year’s edition of the prize. A graduate of Tokyo’s Mode Gakuen College of Fashion and Design, he worked as an accessories designer for Miharayasuhiro before launching Doublet in 2012 with a concept he summed up as “daily wear with strangeness.”

His graphic, tongue-in-cheek designs, such as sweatshirts featuring distorted riffs on varsity logos, have been worn by celebrities such as Travis Scott, Kendall Jenner and Liam Payne. The label received a major boost last year when it was one of six brands selected by the Tokyo Fashion Award, which promotes Japanese fashion overseas.

Doublet’s spring collection, stocked at Dover Street Market in London and 10 Corso Como in Shanghai, featured plastic-covered T-shirts. His presentation on Wednesday included lenticular prints, tailored jackets made of selvage Harrisons cloth, and compression T-shirts that expand when soaked in water.

“I want customers to enjoy not only the buying experience, but to continue having fun after shopping. That’s why the packaging is important,” Ino said through an interpreter.

Ghesquière said the jury was won over by the originality of the designs. “He’s unlike anyone else. It’s completely individual, and in his category — which can be loosely defined as sportswear, but in fact is so much more — there’s a quality of execution and a level of technical research that are really impressive,” he said.

“What struck me during his presentation is that it’s one thing when you see his clothes on the hanger, but when you see them in movement, they take on a different life because they’re extremely light, and in that respect, very unique and modern,” Ghesquière added.

Waight Keller, joining LVMH’s star-studded jury for the first time, was impressed by Ino’s passion for fabric development and his plays on product packaging.

“It’s really a kind of 360-degree view he had on that, and it felt fresh and modern — almost like a modern-day Issey Miyake, experimenting, trying new technology and really trying to push the boundaries of how you view textiles and how you interpret it into clothes,” she explained.

“We all loved that passion that he had, and even the fact he has somewhat of a language barrier, he still really tried to communicate his passion and we felt he just presented an idea in a unique way,” she added.

Ino, whose brand is sold in 30 stores in Japan and another 25 worldwide, said he was “very honored” by the Miyake comparison, but hopes to remain grounded. He doesn’t know yet how he will spend the prize money, though he may expand his team, which consists of just four people at present.

“What’s important for me is not spending a lot. I want to stay who I am and keep the environment,” he said.

The past four winners of the main prize are Thomas Tait, Marques’Almeida, Grace Wales Bonner and Marine Serre, and the award has also boosted the careers of its runner-up special-prize winners: Hood by Air, Miuniku, Jacquemus, Vejas and Kozaburo Akasaka.

Hwang, who won a grant of 150,000 euros and a one-year mentorship from the LVMH group, also hopes to hire more staff. The Central Saint Martins graduate, who has worked at Louis Vuitton, Chloé and Céline, launched his label in 2016.

“I’m also looking forward to getting mentorship from LVMH and then to build strong foundations so I can actually operate much more fluidly,” he said.

“In practical terms, I have to be honest, every single moment is a challenge day-to-day. It’s never the same. I am a creative, so to understand the business, admin side of it, or to understand the logistics and deliveries and everything, it’s all new information,” he said.

“Fashion school teaches you everything, but I think it’s a different story when you’re actually starting your own business,” he remarked.

Indeed, the experience of previous winners illustrates the pitfalls awaiting fledgling brands in an increasingly crowded field. Tait and Hood by Air no longer produce collections, while Vejas Kruszewski has put his label on ice to become creative director of Pihakapi, a brand from Italian leather apparel producer Pelle Moda.

Delphine Arnault, the force behind the prize and a key talent scout at LVMH, said failure was always a risk, but that should not deter young designers.

“Just because you fail once, it doesn’t mean you can’t go on to achieve great things. In fact, the best entrepreneurs always say that it’s through failure that they’ve learned the most,” she said. “That’s common wisdom in the tech world, but in France, we don’t really have a culture of failure.”

Arnault can draw on a deep well of entrepreneurial experience: not only is she second-in-command at Louis Vuitton, the largest and most profitable brand in the family-controlled group, but her father is LVMH chairman and chief executive officer Bernard Arnault, and her partner is tech entrepreneur Xavier Niel.

She underlined that for every winner that has struggled, there are success stories such as Serre, who won the main prize last year and dropped by to update the jury on her progress. “She has doubled her number of points of sale and she has done a lot of work on bolstering the production side,” Arnault reported.

Sidney Toledano, who joined the jury this year in his new role as chairman and ceo of LVMH Fashion Group, said he was confident about many of the finalists. “They are start-ups — they’re not just young designers,” he said.

“They want to be creative and stand out, but they’re also aware of issues like production and pricing. When they present their products, they talk about everything: image, distribution points, digital,” he added. “Whether they’re 27 or 39, they all have that vision — that’s what’s terrific.”

He noted that the immediacy of social media has also forced designers to become more pragmatic.

“It cuts out the need for go-betweens, who would sometimes have to explain to designers that something wasn’t working. They would be afraid, because [the designers] were such divas. Nowadays, they see it for themselves. That’s why they’re realistic: because they’re faced with customers’ reactions and opinions,” Toledano said.

He emphasized that this didn’t amount to crowdsourcing design. “They are also creative people because they see what other people are doing and they want to be different, so they’re innovative. They try to offer something else,” he said.

As a result, presentation skills have become more important than ever. “Communication is fundamental in fashion, especially with today’s social networks,” Arnault said. “It’s an integral part of the job of designer. They must both create and communicate.”

The other brands on the short list included gender-neutral designers Matthew Adams Dolan, based in New York; Ludovic de Saint Sernin from Paris; Zoe Latta and Mike Eckhaus of the New York-based label Eckhaus Latta, and Glaswegian designer Charles Jeffrey, whose Charles Jeffrey Loverboy brand extends to a nightclub.

Rounding out the list were A-Cold-Wall, a British men’s wear label designed by Samuel Ross; Kwaidan Editions, a London-based women’s wear brand by Léa Dickely and Hung La, and Antwerp-based men’s wear brand Botter, by Rushemy Botter and Lisi Herrebrugh.

LVMH also rewarded three graduates: Archie M. Alled-Martínez from Central Saint Martins, Maya Chantout from Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and Scylia Chevaux from Accademia Costume & Moda. They will join Givenchy, Céline and Louis Vuitton, respectively, for one year.

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