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Raf Simons x Hyères Festival

The Belgian designer is heading up the annual fashion festival to find this year's most promising young design talent

After Dries Van Noten and Kris Van Assche, it is now Raf Simons’ turn to lead the jury of annual fashion festival, the ‘Festival de Hyères’. Held at the Villa Noailles, it has in the past elected Felipe Oliveira Baptista, today head designer of Lacoste, and last year, the Belgian Alexandra Verschueren. On Monday, the 300 applicants were boiled down to ten competitors: Céline Meteil,  Léa Peckre, Oriane Leclercq, Michael Kampe, Maryam Kordbacheh, Emilie Meldem, Juliette Alleaume and Marie Vial, Mads Dinesen, Oda Pausma, Janosch Mallwitz. While the winner will be crowned on May 2, we had a look at the young designers’ work with Raf Simons who discussed modernity, his role as a teacher, and what he looks for in contemporary fashion. 

Dazed Digital: Why was participating in the Hyères festival appealing to you ?
Raf Simons: It’s exciting because it is the young generation, and I really like to communicate with them. They are the ones who are eventually going to stand alone, and bring renewal fashion. This is key to the industry: it evolves and exists because of renewal.

DD: What were you looking for when selecting designers?
Raf Simons: I wasn’t looking for something specific. In a situation like this you have to be very open-minded. I’m looking for something I haven’t seen, or haven’t seen done that way before. I’m always looking for modernity, and it’s difficult because modernity is something you have to also learn to have in your communication with the audience. These days the audience is much more aware of things, they are used to a lot of things, they are very spoiled but in a good way: they get a lot of quality and this is something the designers have to be aware of. Modernity is something that you have to grow into, because what we see today as modern can be very unmodern the next season.

DD: And what have you seen so far?
Raf Simons:: The designers are quite different, it’s exciting. It’s not that I like or agree with everything I see, but with the jury, we decide who it makes sense to give a shot to, a place to show, something the audience will react to. It’s not so much about the prize, about being the winner. The main thing is for them to start building a relationship with the audience. They get the stage, light, the model, and that’s where the dialogue starts. You have to see how they can touch and attract a viewer. In that sense I’m excited about putting people in who I’m not entirely sure about, because I am questioning how sure the person who makes this really is.

DD: In a recession-hit, saturated market, is it still realistic to launch a new label?
Raf Simons: Things are seriously cleaning up lately, sales are going up in established places which means that people will start looking for new things again. There is a lot around, a lot to chose from, a lot of quality – but we have to believe the new generation will renew fashion because if we don’t, fashion dies. But it is an industry that likes to bring in new talents.

DD: Why is it exciting for the young designers to have you as a ‘teacher’?
Raf Simons: I don’t see my role as a teacher in the context of the Hyères festival but as a place where I will work with other people, in one common force. I will happily comment on their work, but it is not so much about teaching them because they know where they want to go. I used to be a teacher, but it was different, because I did the whole process with them. If I told a student something wasn’t modern, it was my duty to tell them how to change it – and I’d still always tell them it was only my judgment  that they could chose to follow or not. But in the context of Hyères we can’t do that, it is as a whole jury group that we decide who are the people we want to put on stage and have a dialogue with. This doesn’t mean we won’t hear of the ones who don’t come on stage, we make mistakes too.