The last time I was at Hyères was exactly a decade ago. Back then on the blog 1.0 I enthused and gushed about this annual celebration of grassroots fashion and creativity, nestled in the Robert Mallet-Stevens designed Villa Noailles. It was the novelty of seeing seeds of young graduates in fashion and photography flourish quietly away from fashion’s epicentres in an environment so convivial (the sun! the palm trees! The copious amounts of rose!) that seduced me and yet somehow it’s taken me this long to return.
Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography in its 33rd edition in 2018 has of course grown whilst retaining much of its charm. The people “headlining” the festival as it were, are still an impressive mix of fashion OG’s and luminaries with this year’s fashion jury presided once again by Haider Ackermann, and flanked by likeminded cohorts such as Tilda Swinton, Jefferson Hack, Delfina Delettrez and Ben Gorham of Byredo. The sponsors though have become more numerous and illustrious and with that, comes bigger crowds and more people from the highest echelons of the industry convening down in Hyères. Chanel is the grand partenaire but created its presence at the Villa Noailles, with the help of its Métiers d’Arts – this time a public participatory workshop courtesy of Lemarie, where you can try your hand at constructing a feather bee or flower. Other partnerships such as an award given by Chloé, as well as sums of money from Première Vision, Petit Bateau, Swarovski and more means the cash prizes at stake makes this competition not just prestigious because of the calibre of the jury, but also a much-needed financial boost for any young designer or photographer at the start of their career.
Photographed by Daragh Soden (winner of last year’s Hyères Festival Grand Prix Photography prize) from his “Toulon” series
The cutting table of Maison Lemarié’s workshop at Villa Noailles for the Hyères 33rd Festival of Fashion and Photography
What thankfully hasn’t changed is that South of France relaxedness and the feeling that you’re happing onto fashion moments rather than being hell bent on seeking it out. Where you waft from one part of the villa to the other, catching Haider Ackermann’s curated “Vanishing Act” in the piscine and then saunter off to a wall of photographs of local lads in Toulon beautifully captured by last year’s Hyères Grand Photography Prize Daragh Soden.
But the broader takeaway from this year’s edition of the festival is the shift from ten years ago when awe-inspiring techniques and silhouettes were king, to today’s generation of young designers, eager to use fashion as a platform to say something more with their designs and articulate ideas around identity.
These were the designers that ultimately were the winners in the end. Because sure, we can admire say the beauty of dried pressed flowers trapped in silicone created by German designer Regina Weber or the highly technical and precise woven nylons and coppers of Spanish designer Jef Montes but the question this year seemed to be, how can the youth of fashion go beyond their realm and say something bigger and more impactful about society at large.
Haider Ackermann’s exhibition ” A Vanishing Act” installed in the covered swimming pool of the Villa Noailles. An assembly of his own work, Rick Owens, Madame Grès, Undercover and more.
Sarah Bruylant (Belgium) who won the Public Prize of this year’s Hyères Festival with her collection “Meet me in another world”
Regina Weber (Germany) ‘s collection “Fleur Invader” which utilised real dried pressed flowers captured in silicone
And so to the grand prize winner, who people will already be familiar with as a finalist of this year’s LVMH Prize. Rushemy Botter with the help of his partner Lisi Herrebrugh’s presented his MA collection “Fish or Fight” at Royal Academy of Antwerp in 2017 but has since launched their collective brand Botter with this powerful starting point. It’s a love letter to Carribbean style but also articulates something deeper about the uprooting of one’s culture as an immigrant. Botter’s roots in Curacao and Herrebrugh’s in the Dominican Republic (her mother is from there), and their travels to these islands meant they were able to observe a mingling of styles from these former Dutch colonies. The resulting collection is a cultural to-and-fro conversation that both celebrates and probes.
“Whether I am at home or traveling, I can often pick out of the crowd who’s from Curaçao or the Dominican Republic. They just dress differently. I specifically wanted to focus on the cultural clash they experience. A lot of young people come to Europe for what they think and hope will be a better life, but adapting or fitting in is very difficult and oftentimes they end up in trouble. Clothing and appearance become sort of an armour to look like you’re better-off than you actually are,” said Botter in an interview with Another Something.
The stacking of caps and layering of jackets represents an indecisive Sunday Best attire worn all at once, accented by table cloth lurid florals and a tangle of fisherman’s nets, inflateables and knitted plastic bags. Those accoutrements comment on the harm of plastics on the shores of his home island with a more pertinent remark on corporates like Shell (with the “S” omitted) on the eco-system of the coral reefs and the impact they have on the fishing livelihoods of the islands. Recycled materials turn up in the form of Nike’s own plastic bottle-recycled Vapor Max shoes stacked on to leather shoes, as fresh kicks melding with old school elegance.
But beyond the war on plastics, Botter really represents a strand of conversation in fashion that I’m particularly interested in – what happens when culture is displaced, transported and returns to its roots? The work of Botter and Herrebrugh is the product of migration, from their island lives on Curaçao and the Dominican Republic to Amsterdam and then subsequently to Antwerp, where their label is based. There’s no explicit criticism in Botter and Herrebrugh’s collection but rather an open-ended question of what happens when people want to use dress to communicate their heritage in lands far from their homes. More impressively, the actual clothes stand up to scrutiny, Botter will getto present a collection at next year’s festival made in partnership with one of Chanel’s Metiers d’Art, as last year’s winner Vanessa Schindler did, and will also be going on to present this collection at the final of the LVMH Prize later in May. No doubt, we’ll be hearing more of Botter in the future.
Vanessa Schindler’s collection made with the employment of Maison Lesage embroidery and jewels from Maison Goosens
Ester Manas was my other definite pick to win the Grand Prize but instead, like fellow La Cambre graduate Marine Serre in last year’s edition of the festival (and we all know what SHE has gone on to do…),she won the Galeries Lafayette award to design a capsule collection that will be sold next year. I hesitate to use the word “plus size” and so does Manas but evidently, her collection “Big Again” presented on a carefully casted group of atypical models of all sizes will be framed within that problematic terminology. In fact, Manas wants to design for the breadth of FR34 all the way to 50. And she can do so with her contrasting layers of tailoring, shirting and tulle flou that exposes the body, amplifies the bust/hips and deliberately exaggerates the waist and thighs. There’s nothing more self-explanatory and powerful than the statement on Manas’ website.
“My collection is a testimony. It’s the result of a discussion I had with 12 girls. I was touched because everybody should have the right to dream and see oneself in a look that defines them. A piece of clothing can change a person’s behaviour. When you buy clothes, you want to give a message about yourself, to be part of a group but also to feel good. Every type of body should be allowed to expect this feeling from clothes. All the fabrics are related with the skin and body, showing elasticity, brilliance, cracks and flaws. Sometimes the outfit is skin only, sometimes the skin expands, creates new volumes in interaction with the rigidity of what’s left of the armor. For me, this collection is for everybody. Women’s skin and body exist more than ever.”
In this portfolio of images, Manas’ group of women tower over you, in an imposing combo of flesh and fabric. Within the folds of a woman’s elastic skin, jewels shine. What are perceived and deemed by society to be flaws are made beautiful in the hands of Manas and overall her designs open up a whole can of worms of questioning where larger sizes in fashion are concerned – why are there still oversized tents and tunics that persist as the limited options, why is the default strategy to cover, obscure and flatter so that slimness is the primary objective? Here, flesh in all shapes and forms is as much a part of the collection as the clothes are and I cannot wait to see what Manas does to take her work further.
In another thesis of beauty ideal probing, Eva O’Leary won the Grand Prix in the Photography category, selected by a jury presided by Bettina Rheims. Her series “Spitting Image” of 15 year old girls reacting to their reflections in a two-way mirror is a compelling one.
One of the overriding themes, particularly in the Accessories prize category, which was only introduced last year at the Hyères Festival, sponsored by Swarovski, was that of course of sustainability and in particular, upcycled and recycled materials. This made its way into the fashion competition as Marie-Ève Lecavalier utilised surplus leather from factories to create interlocking vests and dresses as well as trims on upcycled Levi’s denim that had been unstitched and repurposed. Other finalists such as bag designer Ludovic Leger, who is currently working for a house, is trying to combat the waste of his field by physically gathering up leather offcuts from his jobs to create a line of bags.
Marie-Ève Lecavalier’s collection “Come Get Trippy With Us”. Her design was the winner of the Chloé prize made out of interlocking leather that comes from surplus scraps.
Marina Chedel, winner of last year’s inaugural Swarovski Accessories prize presents her latest collection “A Raised Line That Moves Across the Surface”
Inès Bressand’s collection of bags made by artisan weavers from Ghana
Ludovic Leger’s bags made out of off-cuts and materials accumulated from his time working at houses such as Dior and Burberry
But perhaps the project that captured the zeitgeist of a competition that sees designers more conscious and inclusive than ever was that of Flora Fixy and Julia Dessirer, and their collaborative collection of hearing aid jewellery for their friend photographer Kate Fichard, who is hard of hearing. Fixy and Dessirer are product designers and thus their approach towards jewellery is less about flights of fancy but more about real needs. The hearing aid normally disguised in “skin” colours (that are inevitably not actually close to any real skin colour) becomes a sculptural object in itself, accentuated by gold accents and resin pieces. “The aid is emphasied, extended, thickened, exaggerated. It shines, and becomes remarkable.” For Fichard, this collection fulfils a personal desire to make her impairment beautiful and visible. It was an outstanding project that again, opens up conversations beyond the jewellery itself.
Diversity and inclusivity can feel like throwaway buzzwords when fashion is busy trying to tick every box and cater to a “woke” public but when they come at you in a genuine and heartfelt way, you think about the real impact on the industry that could take place further down the line when this generation becomes, “agents of change” (my own buzzphrase that has stuck with me since Hannah Jones’ wonderful talk at the V&A last week as part of their Fashioned from Nature exhibition). At Hyères, this year, we saw those young agents of change, making themselves heard, loud and clear.