The founder of the industry’s biggest fashion prize talks to Dazed about Paris and shaping visions
Only a handful of fashion competitions in the world actually carry cultural significance, with even less matching that with a hefty prize fund. Backed by France’s Ministry of Culture and an army of prominent patrons that include LVMH, Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent and Galeries Lafayette, ANDAM (National Association for the Development of the Fashion Arts) has grown to be one of the world’s most prestigious fashion awards. Martin Margiela, Gareth Pugh and Viktor and Rolf are among past winners whose current success owes something to the mentorship and support they received from ANDAM at the beginning of their careers. This year, the winner will receive a record amount of 250,000 euros and mentorship from Renzo Rosso, founder of Diesel, whose company backs Maison Martin Margiela and Marni. In addition, a smaller prize of 75,000 euros is also awarded to help a label stage its debut show. Winners gain access to the top tastemakers from around the world including the editors from Vogue France and China, Colette’s Sarah Andelman and style.com’s Nicole Phelps, who all sit on the jury.
Since its inception in 1989, ANDAM’s evolution from being solely symbolic to becoming fashion’s biggest fund – in association with Fashion GPS, Fondation Pierre Bergé–Yves Saint Laurent, Longchamp, Yves Saint Laurent, les Galeries Lafayette, thecorner.com, OTB, LVMH, Swarovski, Hudson’s Bay Company, as well as two public institutions, the DEFI and the French Ministry of Culture and Communication – reflects the hard commercial truth behind creating a label today, which is not all about the artistic vision. In conversation with Dazed Digital, founder and director Nathalie Dufour voices the reality behind the glamour of Paris fashion.
Dazed Digital: You’re currently at the shortlist stage where you search for designers who might want to start showing in Paris. Can you reveal anything about this year’s selection?
Nathalie Dufour: It’s usually very complicated as it involves nominations from all the partners and judges. Last year we had very strong finalists like Thomas Tait and Vika Gazinskaya, so perhaps some of the same names will be repeated again this year.
DD: How do you go about selecting finalists for ANDAM and what are you looking for?
Nathalie Dufour: I’m always in conversation with young designers and they know they can ask to apply when they feel ready to start a business. We always begin with a discussion about whether it’s the right move and if it’s a good time for them to start showing in Paris. If the business is fragile, it’s difficult to launch in Paris even with just the award. All the international press and buyers are waiting for you and it’s a big pressure. If your label is not developed or strong it would be very complicated to manage. In the case of Gareth Pugh for instance, it made sense as he was very close to Rick Owens and his wife.
We always ask whether the designers have a good entourage and whether it is natural for them to build a French company and work with the local industry. We want a designer who can build a successful brand as along with the prize money, we have a strong team of partners involved, and designers can find all the help they need from the fashion industry around our table. For example, Thomas Tait could be great in Paris as his aesthetic is extremely luxurious. I’m not sure he has a real place in London as there is a mood from there that is very strong and specific and if you are not part of that mood, it could be better for you to show in New York or Paris.
DD: Most designers would jump at the chance of being in Paris – what should they take into consideration before they make the leap?
Nathalie Dufour: Here, the industry has a couture dimension, and the fact that you can see Chanel showing on such a spectacular scale makes it difficult for young fashion designers, as it’s not in haute couture that the business is done though it is inspiring as the symbol of ‘Paris chic’, still very powerful. Paris is a strong place to be if you want to take part in the international competition.
DD: Do you feel then that Paris shapes a designer’s aesthetic and career path to a certain way?
Nathalie Dufour: I'll use Gareth as an example – when he started in London, his work was very crafty, theatrical and spectacular. It was a strong image. However since coming to Paris, he knew that in order to succeed and have a position on the international market, he would have to make a product. A designer can be very talented but if he doesn’t have a strong vision of where his brand can sit in the larger perspective, it may not be healthy for him to be part of the Paris industry.
DD: The beauty of your job is that you’ve been able to get inside the minds of youngest design talent while having a bird’s eye view of all aspects of the industry. What have you noticed that is particular to the new generation?
Nathalie Dufour: Designers get more mature and professional each year, they consider commerciality a lot more. I think that’s a good thing for Paris. In France we say un créateur de mode, which refers to someone with a very strong artistic dimension but who perhaps lacks a business mind. It’s important that young designers have the ambition to build a brand, and not just want to be a star as the industry is very competitive around the world now. Designers are conscious that they are taking part in a very big, international competition. Being in this creative industry means having to deal with a constant confrontation and most know they have to be very fast with their development both creatively and financially. Our role at ANDAM is to help them.
DD: Let’s go back to the beginning. What were you doing before ANDAM and what motivated you to found the organisation?
Nathalie Dufour: I was studying contemporary art history at university. For me fashion ties into that and I saw the need to bring together the Ministry with the fashion industry in order to take care of the next generation. At the beginning, ANDAM was more about a symbolic recognition from France and the government, as money wasn’t so important then. I remember Martin Margiela [first ANDAM winner] feeling very proud that his work was recognised by Pierre Bergé, ANDAM’s president.
DD: What do you remember about the Paris fashion scene in the late 80s? And how would you describe it today?
Nathalie Dufour: 20 years ago, the place of fashion in the media and sociology wasn’t very clear. I remember the first Martin Margiela show and thinking, 'wow, it would be very difficult to sell this kind of product in Paris as it’s based on a concept around what fashion is.' I thought that this man had a very new proposition. It was far from a product and brand but because he was very intelligent and had a very rigorous way about him, it felt almost revolutionary. Today, things are not so free. The industry is a serious business today. Lots of new worlds like Brazil and China are growing fast and we have to move on from old Europe.
DD: I’m interested in your evolution. Has what you’re looking for in a winner changed over the last years as you’ve seen the fashion industry also evolve?
Nathalie Dufour: These days strategy is very important – the designer has to have an open mind to listen and ask questions.
DD: Is there anything you’d like to do with ANDAM that you haven’t yet?
Nathalie Dufour: I would like to have a huge studio and offer residency for designers who visit Paris. It would stock all kinds of fabrics so when they come just before their show so they can finish prototypes. I want to develop a tool to help designers to live in Paris, to find a home, to find partners, to build a collection. It’s not easy!
DD: What advice would you give to aspiring fashion designers?
Nathalie Dufour: If you don’t want to be the best, it’ll be complicated for you. You have to fight. I like Mary Katrantzou very much – I love that she’s very convinced and knows herself and her place. I would like to say this to young designers: 'Are you sure this is what you want?'
Finalists for ANDAM 2013 will be announced at the end of April and the winners will show on schedule during Paris Fashion Week in October.