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From the series "Poem", 2013
From the series "Poem", 2013Charlotte Tanguy

In the air at Hyères 

We take a bird’s-eye view of the famed Provence fashion and photography festival’s 29th edition

The Hyères International festival of Fashion and Photography, with its wide offer of visual stimuli, live concerts and even complimentary scents, is a multi-sensory experience. 

Held mostly at the modernist Villa Noailles, an imposing building perched atop a hill and accessible via a winding road, the goings-on are framed by a customized scenograpy – all powder pink curtains and girls in lampshades – charging this three-day festival with an apt sense of abundance and discovery. 

“The level of work is quite high and some collections definitely stood out”, said Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, creative directors of Kenzo and presidents of the fashion jury. “It will be interesting to see each collection in different contexts. We’re not looking for anything specific, but for a clear point of view that, combined with craftsmanship, research and technique, makes sense to us.” 

Kenta Matsushige, the fashion laureate who scooped the Jury Prize, proved to offer the winning combination. “I’m inspired by art, theory, nature, the urban and the traditional”, he said after presenting his collection. His divergent inspirations from traditional Japanese dress, the minimal beauty of Japanese architecture and the beauty of its countryside came together in a coherent collection of structured pieces in grey and white. “I want to express a quiet serenity”, he added. 

Kenta sees his future in the luxury market, a determined vision that was noticeable in all finalists. This is a generation of designers and photographers who are much more aware of the need for self-promotion. Unafraid to approach press and representatives of the big fashion houses, they know which road they have to take to succeed. 

Yulia Yefimtchuk, an Ukranian womenswear designer, won the special mention from the jury and the Opening Ceremony dotation for her stark 1920’s Russian Constructivism-inspired collection. It’s an example of how the different prizes awarded by different jury bodies allow designers and photographers to be recognized for their respective qualities – a testimony to Hyères’ mission of cultivating creativity and harnessing it with an egalitarian sense of support. 

Arnaud Lajeunie, a French photographer who amplifies the force of breaking waves by adding artificial colour in his series ‘Water Meets Colour/Colour Meets Water’, has already diversified his activities. “This was just a phase for me, a moment in my life. I’m working on other projects now.” He is planning to move to London soon, and has built up an impressive list of editorial clients ahead of time. 

In stark contrast to these switched-on attitudes was the British photographer Steve Hiett’s endearing unselfconsciousness amid the bustle at the opening of his retrospective exhibition in the Villa Noailles squash room. “I didn’t make the edit myself”, he admits. “It would be too overwhelming to look back at all the pictures I took in the past 40 years.” Visibly surprised by his own oeuvre, he points at a row of photos he recalls French Vogue didn’t like at all. He mentions how he never retouches any of his images, and it’s striking to see that his signature style of chromatic exaggeration through the use of a bright flash has not aged one bit. 

For both photographers and fashion designers, Hyères is a great way of gaining feedback from industry professionals. It’s a learning experience that impacts the future course of their careers. Former winner Didier Vervaeren says: “When I won the fashion prize at Hyères about 20 years ago, the competition was much smaller – Martin Margiela was a jury member.” He was offered a job for a brand in Tokyo straight afterwards, and later became creative director at the Belgian leather goods brand Delvaux. “The people I met here kept their promises. It makes things happen.” 

For many, it’s also a way to take their work outside of an academic context and improve it before entering the professional side of the creative industries. Photographer Orianne Lopez, winner of the School of Visual Arts prize, said: ”I’m in that transitional period between graduating and figuring out how to balance my artistic work with my commercial work. School is a bubble, so when a different audience recognizes your photography, that feels really great.”