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HYERES, France — It was a case of Hyères today — and hopefully New York, Milan and Paris tomorrow — at the International Festival of Fashion and Photography held here last month.

Established industry names, including designer Ann Demeulemeester and retailer Maria Luisa Poumaillou, mulled over the work of up-and-coming talent while young designers went into creative overdrive to catch their attention. Budding Belgian women’s wear designer Anthony Vaccarello swept the fashion design competition’s top L’Oréal Professionnel-sponsored prize of 15,000 euros, or about $19,000, for his fantastical leather craftsmanship.

This story first appeared in the May 9, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“Everything started from hair and braiding that comes down and incorporates itself into the clothing,” said the soft-spoken 26-year-old designer, who is a fifth-year student at Brussels’ leading fashion school, La Cambre. “The braiding is encrusted into the clothing and vanishes slightly and appears again.”

“Not only is it remarkable craftsmanship, it is something that we have never seen before,” said Poumaillou, who was among a jury of 10 headed by Demeulemeester. “It’s a bit invasive, but he’s got years ahead of him to learn how to lighten it up and tame it down.”

The juror was in no hurry to speed along the designer’s maturity. “A collection that is tamed at 20 is dead at 40,” Poumaillou quipped.

“He was able to take a concept and run with it, while other designers were more literal,” agreed juror Joseph Quartana, the buyer from Seven in New York.

Vaccarello shared the glory with his French classmate, Julien Dossena, whose California surfer girl-meets-French mariner theme earned her an honorary award. Not only did she win over the jury, but Dossena was a hit with French fast-fashion firm 1.2.3, which awarded her with 15,000 euros, as well as the opportunity to produce a collection that 1.2.3 will sell at a handful of its stores. In contrast to Vaccarello’s moody silhouettes, 23-year-old surfing enthusiast Dossena stuck close to his roots for inspiration. “I wanted to make ironic beachwear,” he said.

“The collection is colorful and feminine and has the added energy of a young desire that will be successful commercially,” said Annabel Huy, operational marketing manager at 1.2.3.

While conceptual creations were favored, the jury gave credit to more mature collections. Also taking an honorary award was Finnish brother-and-sister duo Tuomas and Anna Laitinen, for their trendy collection called Laitinen for women and men.

“The collection was impeccable and ready for the market,” said Poumaillou. “If the jury was made up of buyers from the leading department stores, the result may have been different.”

Hats were tipped to France’s Aurore Thibout, who won the public vote. Thibout, who worked at Martin Margiela’s fashion house, created a poetic collection for women.

“It’s about memories and the idea of capturing time,” she said, adding she used such materials as silicone to create fossil-like imprints embedded in her dreamy whites and flesh tones.

Meanwhile, the show extended its expertise to photography. Ten budding photographers presented their works for a prize, ranging from comical portraits of people wearing oversized glasses from the Sixties to pictures of an elderly couple. The top prize was shared by France’s Estelle Hanania and Jaap Scheeren from Holland.

Proving the event was not only about forecasting the future but also appreciating the past, Demeulemeester presented a retrospective of her work, displayed over the covered pool and gymnasium at the sumptuous Villa Noailles, which overlooks this Riviera town. The idyllic setting was not enough to control the blustery weather on the first day of the event, however. “I’ve brought a bit of Belgian weather with me,” laughed Demeulemeester.