Every year, the first movers of high fashion make a beeline for the International Festival of Fashion and Photography at Hyères to crown the most promising young designers. One of these inspired ingénues, Canadian Steven Tai, will soon present his outré designs at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin.
International Festival of Fashion and Photography at Hyères.
A futuristic, Bauhaus-style artist’s villa, the air redolent with the alluring scent of lavender blossoms, a stunning view of the glistening Mediterranean: While the major fashion weeks in Paris and Milan tend to be defined by manic flashbulb thunder and the hectic rush of double-booked schedules, the International Festival of Fashion and Photography at Hyères (France) exudes the charm of a cozy summer camp. Those who wish to ascend the steep, rock-lined approach to Villa Noailles need to swap their heels for flats – and the festival’s showrooms are closer in spirit to curated exhibitions than standard fashion fair fare. At lunchtime, everyone assembles on the expansive patio and sundown means champagne for all. However, it is not just the setting, scenery and relaxed atmosphere that make this oasis of fashion laissez-faire such an attractive proposition.
Europe’s fashion elite.
Beyond the strictly limited selection of just ten newcomer designers and photographers, Hyères’ reputation rests, most of all, on its invariably prestigious jury: Previous presidents include Azzedine Alaïa, Karl Lagerfeld, Raf Simons, Dries van Noten or, this year, Japanese design icon Yohji Yamamoto. So, should you find yourself among the chosen few invited to present your first collection in front of these hand-picked professionals, you can be sure that your craft will be discussed in the fashion circles that count.
By now, Hyères has become Europe’s foremost springboard for up-and-coming talents, with previous discoveries including Viktor & Rolf, Henrik Vibskov and Sandra Backlund, while Felipe Oliveira Baptista – now chief designer at Lacoste – was inspired by his 2005 award to launch his very own label.
Symbiosis of art and fashion.
While the industry might stage similar events in Trieste or Tokyo, Hyères is in a league of its own thanks to its unique, genre-crossing blend of art and fashion as well as its deliberate juxtaposition of fashion and photography from Day One. Many sketches and designs by the festival’s promising newcomers rather resemble aesthetic objects with their own agenda; objects that seem to pursue no commercial goal but rather serve to give us a glimpse of future sartorial adventures. An approach and attitude incompatible with regular fashion shows or anonymous trade fair stands, as the Hyères team have clearly understood.
In this spirit, they give participating designers plenty of time to style and decorate their own room with props, images and sketches displayed in the way the designer intended as well as ample space for additional inspirations, styles and explanations. A must for pieces that require a second glance to reveal their elaborate structure, details and production.
The nerd avant-garde of 2012.
Take Steven Tai, set to show his inspired wares at the next Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin in July thanks to a cooperation between Mercedes-Benz and the German edition of Elle. While the Canadian designer’s women’s collection might dazzle with smart drapery and sculptural dresses, there is a lot more to Tai’s multi-faceted designs. Take his ambitious work featuring hundreds of fountain pens, connected to twist and twirl when worn. Called Nerd Culture by the sartorial artist himself, this intellectual and avant-garde collection transforms traditional button-down shirts into the semblance of a book pile carried by the wearer. After all, the Hyères festival continues the tradition of Villa Noailles: Its hosts and patrons, Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, have always had an eagle eye for promising artists, spotting the talents of Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau or Man Ray long before their avant-garde creations propelled them into the international art hall of fame.