Last night was about leaving the South of France after a tremendous closing Sunday at Hyères. The bucolic city is located near Toulon airport (and not far from Saint-Tropez for the jet-setters) and shelters the exquisite Villa Noailles, a specimen of architecture built in the 1920s by Rob Mallet-Stevens and named after his first owners, two of the biggest French sponsors of that half of the century : Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, who welcomed there the artists they actively supported like Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dali, Alberto Giacometti…
The current Festival is based on an original idea by Jean-Pierre Blanc, a self-taught kid from the block whose parents held a pizzeria in Hyères. He thought that the city, which used to host a Nouvelle Vague Cinéma Festival, could be the perfect spot for revealing young fashion talents, and so the Festival was born in 1986. What was a DIY project at the beginning has become in more than 30 years of existence an international platform which revealed some of the most talented fashion designers of their generation : Viktor & Rolf (1993), Gaspard Yurkievich (1997), Felipe Oliveira Baptista (2002), Anthony Vaccarello (2006)…
Presided by Pascale Mussard, the Festival annually encourages and supports young artists in the fields of fashion and photography. Thanks to the support of the Festival’s various partners (American Vintage, Chanel, Chloé, Elie Saab, Elsa Schiparelli, Petit Bateau, Swarovski …), each prize is granted with two or more endowments, which allow at least to two artists to emerge and to be supported throughout the upcoming year, thanks to a trip, a collaboration, an exhibition, and of course for all a substantial sum of money to help them pursuing their work.
The 2017 edition was special for it saw the creation of a new Fashion Accessories Prize sponsored by Swarovski. It also allowed a special endowment from the Jury that added the promising Maria Körkeila to the winnwers’list (kind of a millennial female version of Jean Paul Gaultier, with reversed gender codes and pop colors).
This 32nd Festival had also the particularity of double pushing a designer and a photographer, who won two prizes each : Vanessa Schindler, Switzerland, for Fashion, and Luis Alberto Rodriguez for Photography.
Jean-Pierre Blanc’s southern sense of welcome and organization makes Hyères a very special place in the fashion calendar. Everyone is there, but on a laidback mode, flat shoes and rosé wine in hand instead of the usual high heels- champaign combo.
The labyrinthine architecture of the Villa Noailles gets one lost into the various discoveries it shelters : here an installation by the shoe designer Pierre Hardy (who was also the President of the jury for the Accessories Design prize) and called « Equilibrium », there an intriguing and dark exhibition of Tim Walker’s selected works (he was the president of the Photography Jury), while the multiple corridors and staircases can open to a free-access atelier like the one dispensed by the joyful and extra-talented calligrapher Nicolas Ouchenir.
These permanent crossroads make everything possible in Hyères ; perhaps they infuse a flow of joy and energy to both the talents and the audience. Very unusual also for fashion, the fact that people from the city are welcome to mix with the professionals : during Paris Fashion Week or Cannes Film Festival, you always have a big security guy between you and whoever from the pack ; at Hyères, never, that is why even the most renowned designers love walking free in this environment : these few days are a breath of fresh air and inspiration for everyone alike.
And that is when the magic happens. Like when you litterally bump into the photographer whose work impressed you the most, with his raw and powerful aesthetics, mixed in his Hyères presentation with words that are just as poetic and colorful as his pictures ; when you start a conversation with him about Dublin and Anton Corbijn’s movie Control. When you believe something is going to happen because his photographs on the wall are actually revolutionary, and that France, like Ireland, is pretty familiar with the term (especially at this moment…) so his talent will surely be acknowledged in Hyères.
The Irish photgrapher Daragh Soden is definitely this year’s big discovery : facing a well- behaved Fashion laureate an arty Accessories winner, he embodied the perfect balance between creativity ,singularity and reality. His Grand Prix was more than well-deserved, according to Tim Walker : «We believe this young photograher has the potential to produce new work that rewards the viewer’s mind as well as the eye… We applaude his bravery, his honesty and expect future suprises and thought provoking visual imagery. »
Hyères, a place to see and to be seen, but for once in fashion, both terms take another, deeper meaning.
International Festival of Fashion and Photography at Hyères
Exhibitions until May, 24th