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There is no other competition quite like the Hyères Festival of Fashion, Photography and Fashion Accessories, an annual concourse in the south of France that has, in its 34 years of existence, become a reference for the discovery and nurturing of independent and emerging creative talents. Its premise is simple: 10 shortlisted finalists in three categories (fashion, photography and accessories), all on show over a long weekend in and around the Villa Noailles – the mythic residence of arts patroness Marie-Laure de Noailles built between 1923 and 1928 by modernist architect Robert Mallet-Stevens on the highest point of Hyères. Some 90 years later, it’s a veritable salon – a bustling hub of fashion and design events that feed into the global conversation of who is pushing the boundaries of what’s new and what’s next.
Furthering this balance of tradition and innovation, the most recent addition to the festival’s impressive stable of awards arrived last weekend care of Chanel, which granted its inaugural Prix des Métiers d’art within the fashion category. Just as Karl Lagerfeld championed the work of the métiers d’art ateliers (even dedicating each Chanel pre-fall show to their work), this new international award continues the late creative director’s legacy, forging a direct link between each of the 10 finalists and the artisans of one of Chanel’s Paraffection ateliers – Desrues, Ateliers de Verneuil-en-Halatte, Lemarié, Maison Michel, Massaro, Lesage, Goossens, Atelier Montex, Causse and Lognon.
The designers, including Tetsuya Doi, Yota Anazawa and Manami Toda of Polomani (Japan), Yana Monk (Russia), Christoph Rumpf (Austria) Tsung-Chien Tang (Taiwan), Emilia Kuurila and Milla Lintilä (both Finland), and studios are matched according to their birthdate (the oldest designer with the oldest maison, and so on), and the resulting accessories are as diverse as the collections they complement – revealing new possibilities for both parties to expand the scope of their creations.
“I was really excited when I found out I would be working with Goossens,” recalls Swiss designer Tina Schwizgebel-Wang, whose menswear collection featured naïve, illustrated tattoo prints and repurposed furs accessorised by figurative porcelain ornaments. “In parallel, I have made a numbered series of ceramic pots that correspond to the same motif: the faces come from my sketches, like travel souvenirs. My ceramics are very fragile and so it was wonderful to be able to make them in metal and to turn them into real jewellery,” she says, referring to the face and ear-shaped brass amulets she first moulded in ceramic and then cast in bronze with Goossens. Some appeared threaded through patterned eye masks, exploring the idea of air travel, while the key piece consists of a pair of life-sized ears that rest on the décolleté, attached as an articulated collar. “We worked in the ateliers to perfect the forms together and explored ways of attaching the pieces to each other,” says Schwizgebel-Wang. “I love working with artisans so for me entering into their universe was very interesting. I enjoyed it a lot.”
For the Latvian designer Dita Enikova, her encounter with the 139-year-old Maison Lemarié resulted in a spectacular cobalt-blue women’s coat with leather lapels, its entire back and sleeves adorned with graduated black-and-blue plumes. “We were going through their archives together and I saw a sample with a plasticised layer over the feathers. I knew straight away that it was the one for me, as it reminded me of the other materials in my collection,” she explains, citing the shiny coating that protects the feathers applied to the top half of her design. “We worked on a wavy motif for the plastic layer over the cuffs, as a reference to water and waves, linking back to the idea of a raincoat. The Lemarié team suggested darker feathers for the lower part of the coat, which is how I began to think about the idea of a gradient and a print on the feathers on the shoulders,” she continues. “They were so precise and there were so many people working on one piece together. I saw very small samples that took many hours to produce. It is such a different attitude when you work with these kinds of materials.”
The work of the Lesage embroiderers was nothing new to French designer Lucille Thievre, who had directly experienced the maison’s lavish possibilities when she worked in the Givenchy studio. But for her own project, she eschewed the extravagant connotations of pearly beads and crystal embellishments to focus on thread work alone. “As the collaboration came along after my collection had already been designed, I was able to reflect on a way to add to it and give it another dimension,” says Thievre, who enhanced her slinky silhouettes with a pair of velvety lambskin sleeves and a ruched money purse. “Usually I am more interested by the simple beauty of materials and not in embellishing them, so I chose a way to work with Lesage that was quite pure and original, I think. We went back to thread embroidery, which was the first type of embroidery, and looked at the 20th-century tapestries of Jean Lurçat for inspiration. We are so often used to seeing old tapestries in faded colours, whereas his are more contemporary and the colours are very bright,” she muses, referring to the fuchsia, marigold, emerald and vermillion threads that form the abstract floral appliqué on each of her pieces. “In terms of process, Lesage was there to help find technical solutions and advise on materials to execute my ideas for the pattern,” says Thievre. “I brought the leather and the pattern to the atelier, they embroidered each skin flat, then I constructed the final pieces.”
Hailing from Dublin, Ireland, designer Róisín Pierce was paired with millinery atelier Maison Michel, a winning combination for which she took home the Chanel Prix des Métiers d’art’s inaugural award, as well as a €20,000 donation towards her next collection. Pierce’s collection, entitled MNÁ I BHLÀTH, or “Women in Bloom”, sheds light on the plight of the “fallen women” interned at the notorious Magdalene laundries in Ireland during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, who were not only subjected to hard menial labour, but also tasked with making exquisitely detailed lace. An all-white vision of smocked broderie anglaise fabric in voluptuous flowering shapes, Pierce’s headpieces followed suit: two petal-shaped bonnets that reprised the materials of her garments while finding new structures thanks to Maison Michel’s age-old millinery techniques. “I showed the creative director Priscilla (Royer) my rough sketches which she really liked. However, she was a bit concerned as I don’t draw as such, I drape. So I actually used 3D Blender, a digital modelling software, so they were really precise, especially for the ruffles. And what she did was incredible, it was almost like they 3D printed it. It is smocked broderie anglaise draped through wire. When the model wears it, she is enveloped by it, as though she herself is a flower in the collection.”