“Raf Simons, Nicolas Ghesquière and Anna Wintour were just hanging out in here,” said a giddy Susanne Ostwald of the London-based fashion label Ostwald Helgason. It was understandable. That unexpected triumvirate was, after all, discussing the collection she designs with her partner, Ingvar Helgason. “When we were young and poor, we would save up money to get one drink in the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz during Paris Fashion Week. We would see them there, and now we’re meeting them!”
Indeed, Wednesday night was a bit of a fairytale for the 30 young designers selected to compete in the first-ever LVMH Prize, a grant that includes 300,000 euros as well as a year's worth of business support from the luxury conglomerate. Finalists from as far as India, China, Russia and Nigeria were shuttled to Paris this week so that they could meet with the appointed panel of 40 experts -- including Carine Roitfeld, Central Saint Martins course director Louise Wilson and Bergdorf Goodman fashion director Linda Fargo -- who will then whittle down the group to ten. That shortlist will then be presented to the jury, which includes several LVMH creative directors – Marc Jacobs, Nicolas Ghesquière, Phoebe Philo, Raf Simons, Karl Lagerfeld, to name a few – as well as the company’s top execs, most notably its unofficial talent scout, Delphine Arnault.
This evening, each finalist was set up in a booth in the LVMH headquarters and supplied with a model. (Makeup artists scurried from booth to booth doing touchups.) A who’s who of fashion insiders browsed the offerings, quizzing the designers.
“With this prize, you could see that creativity and individuality was really driving it forward, so it felt like the right one for me,” said London’s Simone Rocha, displaying her pearl-ized spring collection.
“Everyone was talking about it, so we knew we had to apply,” said Mumbai-based Tina Sutradhar, who designs Miuniku with sister Nikita. (Their graphic, primary color-driven take on minimalism was a standout.)
For Dutch designer Hellen Van Rees -- who graduated from Saint Martins in 2012 and counts Lady Gaga as a fan – it was all about the connections. “You have stylists, buyers, journalists, photographers. It’s valuable to get feedback,” she said.
Creatures of the Wind designers Shane Gabier and Christopher Peter were planning on landing in Paris at the end of the week to meet with international press and buyers, but they happily arrived early for a chance to compete. “Honestly, it’s just a part of the process. You have to do the competitions, and you have to meet people, and you have to do the collection itself,” said Peters of the demands of an upstart label.
But for some, the process is still new. For instance, it was the first-ever competition for Ukrainian designer Anna October, who was recently profiled by Vogue’s Sarah Mower. “It’s already a victory that I’m here,” she said.
Given the resources and access these finalists are being granted, this certainly doesn’t feel like a typical design competition. “If I was a designer, I would be excited to know that Nicolas Ghesquière, Phoebe Philo and Riccardo Tisci were going to be the final judges,” said Business of Fashion founder and editor Imran Amed, who is one of the 40 experts helping to select that top 10. But it’s also about the global reach: not only are the designers from several different countries and regions, but so are the panelists and judges.
“The ANDAM, the Vogue Fashion Fund, those are really important prizes, but they’re focused on specific countries," Amed mentioned. “It’s nice to see that they’ve cast a global net.”