The Hyères Festival of Fashion and Photography

Fashion and Photography

While most style watchers spent last weekend glued to the nearest television awaiting Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, a crowd of fashion devotees gathered in the South of France for a different sort of unveiling: the winners of the 26th Hyères Festival of Fashion and Photography.

The annual competition, which crowns a winner out of 10 nominees in each of its two sections, is held at the Villa Noailles, a classic modernist property that has been a breeding ground for the avant-garde since the 1920s. (Its owners, Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, championed the works of Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dalí and Man Ray, who filmed “The Mystery of the Château of Dice” there.) Each year a jury of international designers and tastemakers gather to judge the contestants; this year’s panel included the designer Raf Simmons, Tim Blanks of, Tom Watt from ArtReview and Proenza Schouler’s Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough — all of them browsing through art exhibitions in the converted swimming pool, watching runway shows in a barn and mingling in the garden, croissants in hand.

“This can be an intimidating experience for the nominees, but the circumstances are unbelievably soft,” said Simmons, president of the fashion jury. “At the end of the day, we’re all in a garden with dusty shoes.” Despite the laid-back atmosphere, Hyères is a high-stakes event for the contestants, a chance to have their worked viewed by professionals who would otherwise probably never make it to their shows.

The selection process went on for three days, punctuated by conferences, concerts in the grass, and midday rosé. The fashion jury considered collections — presented as both finished garments and accompanying sketches — that ranged from neo-Gothic women’s wear to sculptural pieces for men. If there was a common thread among the work, it was what Blanks described as “a focus on religion, but also nature, a taste for paganism perhaps?”

“Hyères is interesting because we get to see the back story, look through the sketchbook and understood what led them to the final product,” McCollough said. Hernandez added that “it’s very hard to be a young designer today, because there is a lot more competition, a lot more noise. But what we’re looking for is a clear voice. We’d rather see more ideas than less, even if it needs to be toned down — rather than something that is neither here nor there.”

After much speculation from the crowd, the top two fashion prizes were finally awarded: the L’Oréal Prize went to Léa Peckre for her loose, nunlike looks, and the special jury prize to Emilie Meldem for her kooky, Swiss-costume-inspired pieces. In the photography contest, the winner was Anouk Kruithof, who presented a series of self-portraits in the form of a newspaper entitled “The Daily Exhaustion.”

“Anouk walks a tight rope between an emotional and an academic response,” said the photographer and jury member Jason Evans. “We’re not looking for career artists but for work that is sincere, interesting, thoughtful, and she’s all of those things.”

The ceremony concluded with a cocktail by the sea, with models, critics, students and locals rushing the lavish petits fours buffet. The scene was like something out of a Chabrol film — a lazy afternoon of espresso shots and philosophical debates. Exactly the way everyone likes to think of France.