“Can I show you this picture?” Alex Orley whips out his iPhone and pulls up an image of Nicolas Ghesquière surrounded by racks of Orley, the New York-based collection designed by Alex, his brother Matthew and sister-in-law Samantha. The Louis Vuitton creative director had popped by LVMH’s Paris headquarters earlier in the day to view the lines of the 26 young designers shortlisted for this year’s LVMH Prize, which includes €300,000 ($330,915) and a year of mentorship.
We're in the midst of a cocktail party, where there are more flybys from more big-name designers and industry insiders, including Raf Simons, Karl Lagerfeld, and yes, Kanye West. Minutes earlier, Louis Vuitton Executive Vice President Delphine Arnault stopped by the booth with her father, LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault. “They’re really engaged and interested and curious,” says Matthew. Samantha chimes in: “It’s amazing to have the opportunity to tell them our story.”
So. Much. Adrenaline. The buzz surrounding these 26 designers is palpable. After all, the industry’s most important people are asking them questions. It’s not about the stars tonight, it’s about the future stars.
Across the way, Ryan Roche is talking to her friend of more than 10 years, CDFA/Vogue Fashion Fund co-runner up Eva Fehren, who broke away from her own fashion week obligations to come out this evening and support the knitwear designer. “What do you say when you have that one second?” Roche wonders about her brief meeting with the Arnaults. So, what did she say? “I have no idea!”
Roche, whose strong sense of brand and craftsmanship has earned her the appreciation of editors and buyers alike, seems to be enjoying the competition. “Compared to the Fashion Fund, which was like giving birth, this was very discreet. There was no camera crew!” she teases. “But really, it’s incredible to have this sort of validation.”
Down the way, London-based designer Ryan Lo doesn’t mind being frank about why he applied for the prize. “Honestly, I need the money!” he says, standing next to a dollhouse that’s a nod to Sylvanian Families, the inspiration for his spring 2015 collection. “I want to get the product really right by improving the fabrics and manufacturing. It’s about the whole package.”
“Apparently they’re all coming around, it’s a little scary,” says Sam Cotton, one-half of the London-based menswear brand Agi & Sam. What would they want to do with the cash if they win? “Alcohol, loads of alcohol,” he jokes, handing his model (who is wearing a mask covered in Legos) a glass of wine to help ease the slight discomfort of having her face covered in a contraption like that for three-plus hours. “No, it’s about being able to stretch our brand a bit more. Hire the right people.”
The party is starting to thin out, but Delphine Arnault is taking another spin around the booths. After showing her father each of the semifinalists’ wares, she’s now accompanying Karl Lagerfeld as he bops from designer to designer. Along the way, she passes by West and Simons, who are discussing the former’s vintage jacket, which was designed by the latter. (Well, vintage as in 2001.) West was also spotted in it last December in New York. “You have no idea how many people have called me since you wore that,” Simons says. West smiles, “Are you thinking about bringing it back?”
But while the decibel for eavesdropping on celebrity conversations is high, Arnault is only interested in the clothes she sees in front of her. “Yes, the winner gets €300,000, but more than that, there’s one year of coaching from people at LVMH. When you’re young, you have a lot of questions, from suppliers to pricing to legal advice. We can help them out,” Arnault says while Lagerfeld chats with a designer. “We plan to do this every year. It’s our responsibility to find young talent and help them grow.”