LVMH Prize finalist Rushemy Botter took home the top fashion prize at the annual event in Provence
Every year, the sleepy Provence town of Hyères transforms into a hive of activity during the International Festival of Fashion and Photography, now in its 33rd incarnation. Emerging designers, photographers and jewellers – as well as jury members that have included Tilda Swinton, Carol Lim and Humberto Leon of Kenzo, and Jefferson Hack – descend on the Villa Noailles for four sun-drenched days on the riviera.
The result is an event that’s part art fair, part fashion week, as those nominated for prizes at the festival exhibit their work in the maze of rooms that make up Robert Mallet-Stevens’ modernist villa. Running alongside are a series of wider cultural events that include panel talks, couture workshops and Mercedes-Benz showrooms showcasing previous winners of the festival, all of which are open to the locals.
This year, it was Haider Ackermann who presided over the fashion jury, Bettina Rheims the photography jury, and Koché’s Christelle Kocher the second-ever accessories jury. The three follow in the footsteps of past judges including Karl Lagerfeld, Martin Margiela, Raf Simons, and Azzedine Alaïa. And it’s not just the juries that are star-studded – previous winners at Hyères have included Viktor & Rolf, Anthony Vaccarello, and Paco Rabanne’s Julien Dossena. Returning this year having won in 2017 was Vanessa Schindler, whose most recent collection was made in partnership with Chanel’s haute couture workshop and shown at Berlin Fashion Week.
What united this year’s winners and their fellow nominees was their intention to challenge the production and purpose of fashion. Botter, the Antwerp-based label by Rushemy Botter and Lisi Herrebrugh (partners in life and design), took home the top fashion prize for their environmentally-minded collection. Botter and Herrebrugh’s work explores the effects of pollution and washed-up plastic on the shores of native islands of Curaçao and the Dominican Republic. There were colourful piled-up baseball caps, fishnet vests and up-cycled materials – as well as logo graphics (‘Shell’ without the ‘S’) and inflatable toys that proved themselves playful yet somewhat sinister accessories. Throughout the collection, it was the spliced check tailoring, re-appropriated with plastic string and makeshift belts, that stood out and touched on the dialogue between Caribbean dress codes and the pair’s upbringing in Amsterdam and training in Antwerp.
Like Schindler before them, the duo will be given a slot on Mercedes-Benz’s International Designer Exchange Program, which means they’ll be considered to show at Berlin Fashion Week – as well as €15,000, the equivalent in Chanel’s Métiers d’Arts production, a Petit Bateau grant of €10,000 and royalties from the collection of items to be sold by the company.
There are many other prizes at Hyères, too, including one sponsored by Chloé. This year, it went to Marie-Ève Lecavalier, a Montréal-based designer who is a graduate of UQAM and the master’s programme at Geneva University of Art and Design. Lecavelier’s collection of knitted leather, marbled shirting, wide-leg denim and sculptural leather outerwear was perhaps the most polished of her peers, taking inspiration from Frank Zappa, the psychedelic movement and the distortion of suburban mundanity.
“I wanted it to be minimal and well balanced,” she said. “I didn’t want it to be cliché because I always imagined luxury as a woman in a beautiful long leather coat.” The designer is currently interning at Raf Simons and may return to Montreal to set up her own label and show during Paris Fashion Week. “It doesn’t affect how I think, but how I work,” she said of the experience. “I have found my own DNA and I would love to continue, but everyone has their own label and I feel hesitant about it. But at the same time, there are no jobs. Everyone leaves school and you’re like, what’s happening?”
Elsewhere, American-born Eva O’Leary took home the top prize for photography for her close-up portraits of tween girls in her hometown of Happy Valley, Pennsylvania, which were taken through a two-way mirror. “The original idea was to have them create a kind of selfie,” explained O’Leary. By taking in their reflection and asking them to look at themselves, before stopping when they were happy with what they saw, the photographer captured a sense of thoughtful reflection and self-esteem. “The project ended up becoming about their reaction to their own image and also thinking about a generation who are growing up with cell phones as mirrors,” she added.
In the accessories category, design trio Kate Fichard, Flora Fixy and Julia Dessirier of H(earring) were awarded the top prize for their collection of hearing aid jewellery, which is a market that has, perhaps surprisingly, been neglected until now. Fixy and Dessirier both studied product design and befriended Fichard, a photographer who is partially deaf. The friendship led to a collaboration of understated gold-plated jewellery. “The technology is evolving a lot and hearing aids are becoming more discrete, but the jewellery makes it a statement,” said Dessirier. “We are not artisans – we make use of 3D modelling, wax casting and thread bending to make products that serve a function.”
Other notable candidates in the same category included Cécile Gray, an architect-turned-designer whose steel wire garments riffed on historical costumes and are made using intricate mesh grids. “Fashion is usually about inspiration, whereas architecture is about material, proportion and volume,” said Gray, before adding that she’d like to experiment with real gold and is intent in exploring new directions in fine jewellery. There was also Jinah Jung, a South Korean bag designer who used the unwearable footwear prototypes from sportswear manufacturers (in this case, Le Coq Sportif) to create collaged bags that highlight the ridiculousness of overproduction and mass waste in clothing production.
Jung’s DIY spirit and eco-minded approach resonated with the wider trends at the festival – most of all, though, it showed that winning isn’t everything. It’s the platform – and the opportunities to meet like-minded creatives and potential mentors – that really counts in Hyères.