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Phipps LVMH Prize
PhippsPhotography Amit Israeli, styled by Ellie Grace Cumming, via @phipps.international

One of these eight designers will win the €300,000 LVMH Prize

Ahead of September’s grand final, those in the running discuss their journey so far

The LVMH Prize is drawing to a close – after talking industry insiders through their collections in a Paris showroom back in March, the 20 shortlisted designers have become just eight, with the final set to take place in September at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. There, the candidates will have their work judged by fashion A-listers including Jonathan Anderson and Nicolas Ghesquière, with the winner taking home a grant of €300,000 and personalised technical and financial support from the Group for a 12-month period. So, no pressure then. 

A refresher on the finalists: Two of the designers in the running live and work in London – there’s Stefan Cooke, who creates in partnership with Jake Burt, shows during London menswear, and is known for trompe l’oeil, elastic creations. His mission? “To create wearable, honest, and desirable clothes that you will keep forever.” Then there’s London College of Fashion alumna Bethany Williams, who already scored the second-ever Queen Elizabeth II Award for Positive Change, and who supports charitable organisations through her design – she’s previously collaborated with female prisoners, as well as a women’s shelter in Liverpool. “As a designer, I am a problem solver,” she says. “I believe that social and environmental issues go hand-in-hand, and through exploring the connection between these issues, we may find innovative design solutions.”

In a first for the Prize, the finalists include a designer from Israel, Hed Mayner, and two from Africa, Kenneth Ize, based in Lagos, and Thebe Magugu, from Johannesburg. Mayner explores the sacred and traditional through his menswear, while Ize’s work is focussed on merging modern fashion with the traditional craft techniques of Nigeria, and has been worn by the likes of Naomi Campbell. “We are devoted to the long-established traditions of craft and local artisanship, merging a contemporary design aesthetic with a specifically local handcraft practice,” he explains. Magugu, on the other hand, takes inspiration from challenging perceptions about his home: he seeks to “reframe damaging stereotypes and beliefs about South Africa and the continent in general”, proving “that it is possible to find modern yet culturally-rich clothing that can hang anywhere in the world”.

Nature-inspired label Phipps, headed up by San Francisco native Spencer Phipps, is one of several of the brands carrying the torch for more sustainable ways of creating. “My mission is to reconnect people to the Earth and help people to feel empowered about global preservation,” the Parsons grad, who started the label as a small t-shirt project, explains. “We want to redefine the modern concept of luxury by creating environmentally responsible, purposeful pieces that can educate and enhance lives.” He’s joined by fellow American Emily Bode, whose label Bode seeks to “reinvigorate American menswear through the act of storytelling”, and who says the process of the Prize has taught her one important lesson in particular: “There are multiple ways to have a successful international brand.” “It’s such an honor to be representing American design, and I really look forward to September,” she adds.

Anrealage designer Kunihiko Morinage, who started his label in Japan back in 2003 with a focus on fusing technology and fashion, cites “meeting the many designers who come from various cultures and backgrounds” as an inspirational part of the Prize experience. For Williams, that sense of community has been particularly valuable: “I feel like the whole experience and this year has been so surreal and amazing, but the feeling of being part of the prize and amongst very talented designers that I would consider friends – it was just so great to celebrate the semi-finalists together.”

Despite their varied inspirations, the designers are all clear on one thing. “Even making it this far has helped open a lot of doors,” says Phipps of the “intense but fun” experience. “The showroom was an out of body experience,” admits Magugu, who says he grew up watching FashionTV, and cites chatting to Anna Wintour as his most surreal moment. “It’s quite an honour, which comes with a serious dose of validation from our industry gate-keepers. It also makes me proud that I am able to share my heritage and culture, which are infused into my clothes, with the judges.” For Cooke and Burt, the Prize has been proof that their “be nice and work hard” mindset is paying off. “(It’s been) Incredibly validating for us and our work. Some of the designers we look up to went through this process too.”

Stay tuned in September to see who scores the top prize. One thing’s for sure, though – they’ve all got very bright futures ahead of them. 

@lvmhprize