Fashion loves a good design competition, which is precisely why the industry is littered with them. Launched in November 2013, the LVMH Prize, one of the latest additions to the growing list of contests, was created to "honour and support young fashion designers around the world." Every year, a young brand and two runners up can claim the prestigious prize after showing their work before LVMH’s stable of designers and select executives, after being narrowed down by a committee of 48 fashion industry experts.
The LVMH-funded Prize joins a stable of industry design competitions. Rival conglomerate, Kering, for instance, with the help of Parsons School of Fashion, maintains its “Empowering Imagination” design competition. Swedish fast fashion giant, H&M, has its own Design Award. And the Festival of Fashion and Photography in Hyères – which has partners that include Chanel, LVMH, and the Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers and Créateurs de Mode, among others – hosts an annual design competition.
The discussions about these competitions tend to center primarily on the immediate takeaways for young brands. The grants range anywhere from $25,000 to $400,000 and beyond, which many emerging designers use to stage a runway show or launch pre-collections in order to grow their business. The winners oftentimes land a year’s-worth of mentoring from industry insiders, and sometimes, collaborations/opportunities for distribution, such as in the case of the H&M Award.
But beyond that, there has been a pattern of these brands landing investment deals on the heels of their wins, since the various design competitions prove a fruitful ground for conglomerates and venture capitalists, alike, to identify young talent worthy of funding.
Consider the Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund winners and runners-up. Chrome Hearts, the cult L.A.-based accessories label, acquired a minority stake in The Elder Statesman, the brand established by Greg Chait, the 2012 winner, after the competition. Finalists for the 2011 prize, Cushnie et Ochs welcomed an investment group led by private equity firm Farol Asset Management into the fold after their win. Around the same time, a minority stake in 2011 winner Joseph Altuzarra's eponymous label was purchased by luxury conglomerate Kering.
Creatures of the Wind, the New York-based brand founded by Shane Gabier and Chris Peters, which took home a runner-up prize in the 2011 competition, welcomed an investment from The Dock Group, a Los Angeles-based fashion investment firm, as well. (They have since parted ways and the brand has since called it quits).
Across the pond, the British Fashion Council/Vogue Fashion Fund has awarded prizes to a handful of designers who have gone on to land noteworthy funding. In January 2013, Christopher Kane, the 2011 winner, sold a majority stake in his brand to Kering. Footwear designer Nicholas Kirkwood was named the winner 2013 in May and by September, a majority stake in his company had been acquired by LVMH.
In short, while the exposure that fashion design competition participants gain, and the mentoring and monetary grants that the winners enjoy, are certainly not to be discounted, the takeaway can be larger than that. These competitions are becoming the new way for investors and luxury conglomerates to source new talent, and for young brands to land the outside investments that they so desperately need to produce their collections, expand their studio space, build upon their existing collections, and even open brick and mortar stores.
On the flipside, though, there are the labels that fold after the fact, which is what happened to New York-based brand SUNO, a brand that was given a whole slew of industry awards and design nods. The 2014 LVMH Prize winner Thomas Tait, who has not officially closed up shop, has, however, been off the radar for two years now, whereas Shayne Oliver – the 2014 Special Prize winner – put his brand Hood by Air on “hiatus.”
The closure of brands even after they have been showered with love by fashion industry insiders and given big-name industry accolades is demonstrative of the fact the that fashion press only goes so far. It is also a very clear reminder that even the brands (or maybe, especially the brands) that are touted by the small inner circle of the industry as the “next big things” oftentimes still have a lot of work to do to impress the people who really matter — consumers.