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30.06.2022 #fashion

Nathalie Dufour

ANDAM Fashion Awards

“Often young talents find it hard to believe in themselves, but when someone believes in you, it gives you wings.”

Martin Margiela, Viktor & Rolf, Jeremy Scott, Christophe Lemaire, Anthony Vaccarello, Alexandre Mattiussi, Simon Jacquemus, or the Coperni duo. What do all these fashion designers from around the world have in common? They have all won the ANDAM Fashion Awards (behind these five letters, stands the National Association for the Development of the Fashion Arts), one of the most important awards in the fashion industry. The winner of the Grand Prix receives 300,000 euros and a special mentorship program. For one year, he or she is mentored by a CEO of one of the biggest French luxury houses (this year it’s Chanel Fashion President, Bruno Pavlovsky’s turn). Behind this project, which has changed the lives of so many designers, are two women, the founder of ANDAM, Nathalie Dufour and her collaborator Caroline Tixier. We met Nathalie on the eve of the Prize announcements, in the gardens of the Palais Royal, where this evening, like a magician in a fairy tale, she will once again change the lives of young talents.   

The history of ANDAM began in 1989, and your first winner was the legendary Martin Margiela. Could you imagine at the time that this project would last?

No, I couldn’t imagine it. I came to the Ministry of Culture as an intern during my studies in art history and cultural management, where we were learning how to set up cultural projects. At the time, fashion was not part of the Ministry’s field of action. Everybody was talking about the cultural industry, design, photography, decorative arts, but not fashion. The idea was to say that fashion is not just a cultural heritage, but also an industry, managed by designers, by creative people, and that it would be interesting to give this activity its consensus omnium. For it to be saluted in the same way, as other French creative activities. 

But your prize has always been open to designers from all over the world, right?

At the time, everyone came to Paris to show their work – the Japanese, the Belgians. And that’s why Martin Margiela, whose company was not French, was our first winner. He was very present on the Parisian scene. It was important to acknowledge the fact that many designers come to Paris. Afterwards, Martin set up his company in France, because he wanted to stay here. But at the time it was not a condition to win the prize (today, you have to want to parade in France, ed. note), it was much more artistic. The youth dimension was also very important. The luxury groups did not exist, fashion did not have this business side yet. It was a much more creative activity.

How did you get interested in fashion?

I have always been fascinated by fashion: as a child, I had a sewing machine, I made dresses, and even painted on silk. Then I went to the Ecole du Louvre. At first glance, this prestigious art school has nothing to do with fashion, but when you look more closely, you see through the history of art – in Egyptian frescoes or Greek sculptures – that philosophically clothing is something extremely important. When I joined the Ministry of Culture, I could see that I would never be able to compete with the great specialists in contemporary art, who were my teachers at the Ecole du Louvre, and who were also more established in terms of generation. I had to find my place, and no one was interested in fashion. Above all, it was not recognized as an artistic practice. So, choosing fashion was audacious. People told me that it was not interesting at all, but I was very determined. And then, my meeting with Pierre Bergé (president of DEFI, a platform created in 1984 to accelerate and transform the fashion industry, ed. note) changed everything.

How did you meet him?

When I set up the ANDAM project, I based it on the observation that fashion is not only art, it is also an industry. That’s why I wanted DÉFI, chaired by Pierre Bergé, to be part of our initiative, and above all to finance it equally with the Ministry. I arrived in Pierre Bergé’s office a little shy. I had the impression that I was fiddling with things, saying that I would like to set up an association: “The Ministry could give me so much and you could give me so much.” “Could you be the President?” I was sure he was going to tell me no. But he told me the opposite: “Great idea!”. He pushed me to do it. From that point, I couldn’t doubt myself. It was a crazy meeting. He was the only one who thought my idea was great because he was already aware that fashion was going to take off. He knew the subject very well, at the time he was already working in duo with Saint Laurent.

Today, being a fashion designer means being a public person, giving interviews, speaking out on many subjects. Could someone discreet, like Martin Margiela or Yves Saint Laurent become the designer of the moment today?

There are different ways to embody a brand. We didn’t see Martin’s face but at the same time he was very present, he embodied the brand through his workshop and his creative process, which he put forward. He had a very strong voice, it was just less related to his image. For example, Hermès does not communicate much about the identity of its designers. The founder of Acne Studios, Jonny Johansson is not visually present, either, it is his world and his positioning that are put forward. Then there are star designers, like Jean-Paul Gaultier or Simon Porte Jacquemus, who have a very strong personality. But you can also be discreet and have a very strong statement.

What are your criteria? What qualities do you look for in young talents?

The very first one is creativity. You have to feel that the designer has a vision that makes you dream. A generous vision, or on the contrary, a very specific one, with a potential for development. After that, it’s the ambition and the positioning. Why he/she has set up his/her brand, what he/she intends to bring as added value compared to others. The ambition of the brand to be as sustainable as possible, as ethical as possible, is a very important concern for young designers. Young brands, who live through pollution, pandemic, crisis, war, can propose fascinating alternatives for the generations to come. What we ask from brands is not just to create a garment to create a garment. We are looking for a commitment that goes far beyond that.

This year’s 7 nominees for the Grand Prix – Botter, Cool ™, Heliot Emil, Ottolinger 1000, Lukhanyo Mdingi, Peter Do, Robert Wun – what do they have in common?

First of all, they all want to settle down in Paris and show during Paris Fashion week. Lately, there were editions of ANDAM, where all of the nominees were politically-committed. This time, it is more about their know-how, their fabrics, all the added value of ennoblement that the designers will be able to bring to their garments. This year, they are working a lot on sustainable development but are very focused on the quality of the fabrics, and the know-how.

Bruno Pavlovsky becomes the mentor for the second time (he was Stéphane Ashpool’s mentor in 2017, ed. note). Why did he decide to take part in the adventure again?

In fact, there is a rotation. Each French luxury house is in turn a mentor for the award. It’s a loop. Last year it was François-Henri Pinault (Kering) with Cédric Charbit from Balenciaga. We were lucky enough to see Balenciaga enter as a sponsor and mentor with Bianca Saunders. This year it’s Chanel that’s coming back, and next year it will be Chloé with the Richemont group. 

Your jury is made up of very diverse talents. There are CEOs, journalists, models, and now a designer-former laureat Stéphane Ashpool, unlike the LVMH prize, where it is the designers who decide who will be the winner. How do you select your jury?

It’s true that at the time of Pierre Bergé we didn’t have any designers on our jury. It’s not so much that he was against it, but rather that he considered that it’s very complicated when you’re a designer to have a generous eye and the necessary distance to designate your own successor. It’s true that when you’re a designer, it’s complicated to judge somebody on his creative dimension. Stéphane is the exception. He is part of the family. He knew Pierre Bergé, who liked him a lot. He is very attached to the idea of transmission. He supports a lot of young people through his sports clubs and his workshops for craftsmen. So we know that he wants to surround himself with people and pass on his know-how. Moreover, he called us saying that he was at the disposal of the candidates if they wanted to be reassured, to know how things are done. In fact, it was Bruno who proposed Stéphane Ashpool to be a part of the jury. He was also the one who chose other personalities on the jury, like the Ibeyi  duo or Miren Arzalluz. There is also writer Anne Berest, dancer Blanca Li, rapper Abd Al Malik. The idea is to cross disciplines because fashion has many influences beyond fashion.

Fashion has become a big industry. Is it always easy to spot talent? How do you make your choice?

Many people apply for the Grand Prix spontaneously. Before the jury selects the nominees, we make a first selection. What is important for us is their desire to settle in Paris permanently, their creativity, but also the timing of the business: it must be the right moment for the brand. The 300,000 euros must have a real impact and leverage on its development.

You often say that ANDAM is more than a prize, it’s an agent. Why?

Or even a talent incubator. There is a permanent dialogue between the alumni, the nominees, and the sourcing too. Unlike the LVMH Prize, we don’t have to present ten new talents every time, our sourcing doesn’t change from one year to the next. For example, I’m very happy that the girls from Ottolinger 1000 were nominated this year. We’ve known them for a long time, we’ve seen them grow, and it was the right time to present their brand to the jury. There is also a real ongoing dialogue with our former partners – for example, beyond the mentoring of Cédric Charbit from Balenciaga, our door will always be open to last year’s winner, Bianca Saunders. Another example, D’heygere, who will collaborate with Longchamp again at the end of the year.

How does the mentoring program work?

There is a financial contribution, dedicated to the laureates. It is thanks to our patrons, in particular, that we have recently been able to develop the Innovation Prize and the Special Prize. But we also want our patrons to share their know-how with the young talents. For example, through workshops and master classes. Galeries Lafayette buys the winner’s collection. L’Oréal does backstage make-up. Google organizes digital workshops to digitalize the finalists’ brands, and Mytheresa works on developing their visibility on e-commerce platforms. The Tomorrow crew explains how to sell collections and find buyers, etc. The CEOs of the luxury brands accompany the winner for a year and help him/her define his/her development strategy. That’s why we are also very selective with our brand partners. Each time we ask ourselves: what can this new patron bring to us? And we can’t work with fast-fashion companies, it doesn’t make sense.

Even if Uniqlo asked you, would you refuse?

With Uniqlo, it would make sense, they are quite strong in research and development in terms of fabrics. They could put their laboratories at the disposal of young brands, or organize a collaboration with a former winner of the ANDAM Prize.

 

This time, you have a new Special Prize. Could you tell us more about it?

Last year, we realized that among the nominees there were a lot of strong talents. Bianca Saunders received the Grand Prize, but there was also Grace Wales Bonner, and the Casablanca brand…  Cédric Charbit was very keen to give a second prize, but we didn’t have this option. So, this year, the Special Prize is one more possibility to help the young talents. The concurrence for the Grand Prix is at such a high level that it is nice to have this Special Prize of 100,000 euros. 

Nathalie, you’ve been in this business for more than 30 years. What’s the secret of your success?

I love helping and pushing talents I believe in. I like to give them a chance. Often young talents find it hard to believe in themselves, but when someone believes in you, it gives you wings. I was lucky enough to meet people who believed in my project, that’s why it worked. It’s something I want to give back. Not only do I know that what I am doing is useful and important for designers, but also I am not alone, I am surrounded by people who believe in it as well.

We talk a lot about the designers when they win the Prize. But then, sometimes they are out of the spotlight (for example, Marques’Almeida who won the LVMH prize in 2015, or Wanda Nylon who won the Grand Prix of ANDAM in 2016). Does ANDAM have a solution to this problem?

Per decade, there are never 25 brands that will have a long-lasting success story. There will be three or four. Marine Serre is a success story, Jacquemus and Alexandre Mattiussi, too. That’s already a lot for France! But that’s not all. For example, Glenn Martens at Y/Project has another type of success story and he is developing it well within Diesel and its other collaborations. We can accompany designers, but not direct them. Our Grand Prix winner (2018) Antonin Tron doesn’t want to produce too much, he believes strongly in the ecological cause. So he wants to keep his brand very confidential, because this system that always produces more does not suit him. Like Azzedine Alaïa, who did not want to produce much. It’s a very demanding industry, you have to raise money at some point, to continue to grow. I don’t mind that not all the winners grow their companies to earn millions in sales. What matters to me when we give our Prizes is to look at the results over ten years, and to see that people have stayed in the industry. Every man has his own destiny.

 

Interview: Lidia Ageeva

Photos: Jean Picon

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