Since the beginning of February, hundreds of brands have debuted their Fall 2019 lineups during the shows in New York, London, Milan, and Paris. And while it’s all exciting and glamorous, after a month of nonstop runway romps, the collections start to blend together. The fashion industry is a crowded space, so how can a newcomer stand out? That was a key question at Friday night’s LVMH Prize cocktail which, held at the company’s Paris headquarters, saw models, editors, executives, and creative directors turn out to preview the work of this year’s 20 shortlisted designers. Over the weekend, the group presented their collections to a panel of 63 experts, who will narrow the pool down to eight competitors. The finalists will go on to vie for the Prize’s top honor, which includes a 300,000-euro grant and mentorship.
“I think they have to be very focused and authentic about what they do and be really passionate about their business,” said industry vet and consultant Julie Gilhart, who sits on the jury of experts and has worked on the prize since its 2013 inception. “They need to know their purpose.”
Hed Mayner, a Tel Aviv-based designer who makes immaculate menswear (which isn’t technically unisex, but does attract female clients), agrees that passion is an essential quality. “You have to be obsessed with what you’re doing,” he said before model-turned-archivist Anouschka, who was dressed in one of his neutral, monochrome looks, pulled him in for a hug. (Judging by her enthusiasm, she was just as passionate about Mayner’s collection as he is.) Emeric Tchatchoua, the French-born, Montreal-based talent behind 3. Paradis, stressed the value of honesty. “All of us are different, and if we each tell our own story, we’re going to bring something new to the table.” Kunihiko Morinaga of Tokyo-based brand Anrealage called out “imagination,” something his latest lineup, which explores perception vs. reality, has in spades, while Dutch designer Duran Latnik, whose clever confections collage and upcycle unsold luxury wares by everyone from McQueen to Gucci, suggested that “uniqueness” was the winning factor. After a thoughtful pause, Nigerian designer Kenneth Izedonmwen said that his primary focus was working with weavers and artisans in his native Lagos. “I want to create a structure in my own country—it’s about exploring diversity and sharing love,” he said with a smile. Meanwhile, Emily Adams Bode, a New Yorker whose menswear range incorporates repurposed vintage textiles, feels a successful designer must inspire an emotional connection. “I begin each collection by following a personal narrative of someone I have a relationship with,” she said, “so our collections always have a very strong story.”
Standing behind a flurry of photographers snapping away at Gigi and Bella Hadid, Gilhart reflected on the Prize’s importance and evolution. “It’s a global prize, and it really curates a lot of what new talent is out there—we received almost 2,000 applications,” she offered. “This year, we’ve seen an [increase] in collections that are non-gendered and there’s more of an emphasis on sustainability—upcycling, recycling, and handcraft. [The finalists] are thinking more about the final use of things.”
Sustainability is the backbone of 33-year-old Spencer Phipps’ eponymous menswear label. “I call it ‘purposeful luxury,’” said the San Francisco-born, Paris-based designer, who cut his teeth at Marc Jacobs and Dries van Noten. While he admits that being totally sustainable is “impossible” (his assistant smokes cigarettes, they ship products via DHL), Phipps insists that his researched-based brand, which works with certified organics, reconstituted wood pulps, and regenerated nylons, produces “clothing with a mission” and has “a purpose on the planet.”
For his part, South African designer Thebe Magugu donates cut-offs from his collection to an organization that makes dolls for underprivileged children. “I’m always thinking of ways to be socially conscious,” said Magugu, whose work combines aesthetics from his native culture, deft tailoring, and precise construction. “I think fashion is most effective when it’s creative, innovative, intelligent, and sustainable.”
London-based Richard Malone, the only returning semi-finalist this year, is also dedicated to conscious design. Since his initial run for the prize in 2016, he’s focused on developing sustainable textiles, including some made from recycled fishing nets. He’s also spent a lot of time understanding exactly what his clients crave. “It’s so important to make something that’s really desirable and exciting,” he said, noting that his customers gravitate toward his most vibrant creations. “There’s nothing more unsustainable than making something no one wants.” At 27 years old, Malone may be young, but that’s some wisdom everyone in today’s fashion industry—whether emerging or established, corporate or independent—should take to heart.