LVMH Prize Semifinalists Talk Craftsmanship and Inclusivity

PARIS — Celebrities and designers turned out Thursday evening to check out the creations of the 20 talents shortlisted for the LVMH Prize for Young Designers.

Dior ambassadors Jennifer Lawrence and Xin Liu were among the first to arrive at the headquarters of luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton on Avenue Montaigne, welcomed by cheering fans who waited outside despite the blustery weather.

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Inside, Paris Jackson and models Jessica Stam, Coco Rocha and Liya Kebede mingled with designers including Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, jeweler Victoire de Castellane and milliner Stephen Jones.

LVMH executives were also out in force, led by Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive officer of the French luxury conglomerate; his daughter Delphine Arnault, the force behind the prize and a key talent scout at LVMH, and son Antoine Arnault, the group’s head of communication, image and environment.

Delphine Arnault and Bernard Arnault at the LVMH Prize Cocktail Party held on February 29, 2024 in Paris, France.
Delphine Arnault and Bernard Arnault

Touring the showroom earlier in the day, Delphine Arnault noted the semifinalists were chosen from among more than 2,500 applications and were a good gauge of trends. “It’s already a huge achievement to be here,” she said of the annual event.

“It’s different from seeing it on a screen, as we did not meet with them in person during the selection process. It’s always very interesting to see them here and hear their thoughts, and also to find out how their personality is reflected in the product and how they express their vision,” she added.

The executive, who is also chairman and chief executive officer of Christian Dior Couture, was looking forward to handing out a new award, the Savoir-Faire Prize.

“These are often small companies that are still growing. They do a lot of things by hand, and passing on that know-how is crucial,” Arnault noted. “It’s wonderful to add this new dimension to the prize. It’s important and it also reflects our current concerns.”

“For people to have a view of things in person, up close, it’s a real game-changer for my work especially,” he said. “There are techniques that are developed that you may not see in an image so clearly.”

Irish designer Michael Stewart flipped through a portfolio to show how he crafts the forms that underpin his sculptural jersey creations for his womenswear label Standing Ground.

Stewart does everything himself. “I really love to work with my hands,” the Royal College of Art graduate explained. “I don’t sketch and have someone else. It has to be me from the very beginning.”

Antoine Arnault at the LVMH Prize Cocktail Party held on February 29, 2024 in Paris, France.

South Korean designer Jiyong Kim explained how he uses sun bleaching to create the patterns for his menswear designs under the Jiyongkim label. He hangs garments on a fence and then waits.

“This took a month, actually, but it really depends on the weather,” he said of a black raincoat with ghostly markings. “We cannot control the weather, so every piece is unique.”

Kim, who has more than 20 stockists including Browns, Dover Street Market and Ssense, said he would use the prize money to hire more staff and invest in spaces to house the large-scale installations he uses to showcase his work, instead of fashion shows.

Karoline Vitto would spend the cash on R&D and production. The Brazilian designer, known for her size-inclusive creations, sells direct-to-consumer, mostly in the U.S. and Australia.

“Now it’s the time for us to scale and we would love to go into wholesale and have a bit more of a cash predictability,” she said. She offers outfits in U.K. sizes 8 to 28, which is challenging for manufacturers, who usually take orders in up to five sizes.

“All the pattern grading is done in-house manually,” she said. “As we grow, we need to scale that process. In the next collections, we want to go through maybe new product categories that have a little bit of a more simple grading structure where we can do it digitally.”

Vitto hopes her presence will spark interest among larger brands that have yet to embrace a body-positive approach. “There’s a few of us who are small brands that are doing it, so why are the big players not catching up?” she asked.

Simon Porte Jacquemus at the LVMH Prize Cocktail Party held on February 29, 2024 in Paris, France.
Simon Porte Jacquemus

The LVMH Prize — which last year was won by Setchu by Satoshi Kuwata — has helped propel the careers of such talents as Marine Serre, Nensi Dojaka, Thebe Magugu, Grace Wales Bonner and Simon Porte Jacquemus, who was also in attendance and took his time to check out all the semifinalists.

“Just right now I discovered this New York-based designer,” he said, pointing to Jacques Agbobly, whose booth was located near the entrance.

The Togolese-born designer, who last October received the inaugural WWD Honor for One to Watch, won plaudits for their colorful creations, but also their engaging personality. “[They’re] really charming, [they’re] the one I will remember,” said Jacquemus, who has a cult following on social media and understands the power of charisma.

“I grew up watching a lot of these people on my screen, so it’s been wonderful just to get some face time with them and get to share my world with them,” Agbobly told WWD.

“This year, I’m the only African brand, and it was really important for me to share that Africa is not just this faraway thing, that we deserve to be center stage in the global fashion conversation,” they added.

Tela D’Amore and Everard Best of U.S. brand Who Decides War showed creations including pants made from upcycled motorcycle jackets. “It is redefining Americana through the lens of people of color,” D’Amore explained.

Who Decides War collaborated with Off-White on a 2019 collection, and Best was inspired by the example of that brand’s founder Virgil Abloh, who was a finalist of the 2015 edition of the prize and by 2021 was a member of the jury in his capacity as creative director of menswear at Louis Vuitton.

“We’re just following in his footsteps and just hope one day we could do as much as he did,” he said, noting that Abloh set the template for self-taught designers.

“Basically, my dad’s a tailor, his parents were tailors, and he was able to pass down the trade. Going to design school wasn’t really a thing for me,” Best remarked. “I think now it’s like, OK, you don’t have to go to Parsons or FIT to be a designer, you just have to put the time in.”

The other semifinalists are Aubero by Julian Louie; Campillo by Patricio Campillo; Chiahung Su by Chia Hung Su; Duran Lantink; Elena Velez; Fidan Novruzova; Hodakova by Ellen Hodakova Larsson; Khoki by Koki Abe; Marie Adam-Leenaerdt; Niccolò Pasqualetti; Paolo Carzana; Pauline Dujancourt; by Derek Cheng and Alex Po; Vautrait by Yonathan Carmel and Ya Yi by Yayi Chen Zhou.

Asked if he had any advice for young designers, Jacquemus said: “The best advice is no advice, because everyone will give you their opinion. Follow your heart and at the end you will never be disappointed. It works for life in general. Believe in yourself, and you never make the wrong choice.”

Coco Rocha at the LVMH Prize Cocktail Party held on February 29, 2024 in Paris, France.
Coco Rocha

Charles de Vilmorin, a finalist in 2021, said it was important for the contestants to preserve their uniqueness.

“It’s not very original, but for me the most important thing for them is to stay themselves,” he said. “I think the right question to ask to yourself when you create a collection is: ‘Why is it only me who can make this collection and not another one?’”

As she made her rounds, Stam said she hoped to be surprised. “Especially when times are uncertain, we need more creativity and to dive deeper into that,” she opined.

Rocha, on the other, believes there is no such thing as a new shape. “As much as people like to say ‘This is a new idea,’ I have never seen a new idea,” she said. “But I do appreciate when people try to take [something] and spin it.”

The model praised the format of the event. “I know that there’s other programs that do what LVMH is doing right now. However, it’s nice to see [designers] in the room with their work and being able to talk to them. It’s like they have the chance to network all by themselves,” she said. “If you don’t win, you probably get some phone numbers.”

Launch Gallery: Inside the LVMH Prize Cocktail at Paris Fashion Week: February 2024

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