Last Saturday, at the end of an hour-long spectacle showcasing the work of ten contestants at the Hyères Fashion Festival, all the designers, hairdressers, make-up artists and models stormed the runway, clutching each other, larking, and cavorting. Yet this youthful glee and carefree abandon was missing from most of the collections. In fact, one got the feeling that these up-and-comers were only interested in pleasing the audience with predictable “shock tactics,” not in opening any creative new doors. One German contestant, Janosch Mallwitz, for example, displayed truly enticing, urban pieces, but they ultimately looked derivative of other things—those i-D editorials, that Raf Simons aesthetic (whom, by the way, he assisted two years ago).
Simons presided over the high-profile jury this year, and they rightly awarded the €15,000 first prize to Léa Peckre, a French designer whose irresistible collection, grimly inspired by mausoleums, could be summed up as nuns with a hourglass figure. The silhouette consisted of a habit on the head and jackets or skirts with full hips and intriguing wooden sequins. It made for a multi-layered and original point of view.
Two secondary prizes went to Céline Meteil, a former assistant at John Galliano and Balenciaga, who crafted see–through white dresses out of jaconet, the sheer muslin fabric designers use for samples. Meteil was a favorite among journalists throughout the festival, but her outfits looked fairly banal and sexless to me. Emilie Meldem went home with a special jury prize. She explored her Swiss heritage with buttery leather pieces, and even a dress made of thin branches.
One designer who should have been honored is Michael Kampe, a young German consultant at Diesel who won a special prize at Trieste last year. The pieces he sent out, jeans with geometric stitching and architectural coats with an “exploded” effect, indicated a modern-minded talent to watch.
The contestants’ show was followed by that of Alexandra Vershueren, last year’s Belgian winner. Bland is the only word I can think of to describe the procession of loose, summery dresses and jackets.
Jean Pierre Blanc, founder of the festival, said attendance was significantly up this season. Besides its shows and exhibitions (Raf Simons and Erwin Blumenfeld), the event—held in the picturesque village in the south of France—offers fashionistas a pleasant spring break with long lunches in verdant gardens, pleasant strolls through the city center, and late-night beach parties.
But the star attraction this year was the jury, which, besides Simons, included fashion scribes Tim Blanks and Cathy Horyn (a staunch admirer of Simons), DJ extraordinaire Michel Gaubert (who does his soundtracks), the legendary Carla Sozzani of 10 Corso Como, and young designers du jour Proenza Schouler and Christopher Kane.
I pointed out to Blanc that the festival has international appeal, but this year included exclusively European designers. “There were 50 nationalities between the 300 first contestants,” he replied, “but they unfortunately didn’t make it to the final selection. Hopefully other countries will take part next year.”