Festival de Hyères 2017: Rencontres and Round Tables

It’s the ultimate insider fashion festival. An annual pilgrimage to this historic seaside resort at the most southern tip of the Côte d’Azur for the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography.  Moreover, it’s also a key weekend, where industry leaders discuss, brainstorm and ruminate on the future of fashion in a series of master classes and round tables, a program called Les Rencontres, or The Meetings, driven by the Chambre Syndicale, French fashion’s governing body based in Paris.


Schiaparelli Shocking Pink proudly flies over the Hyères Festival at the Villa Noailles

 
No career in fashion is complete without a visit to Hyères, which celebrated its 32nd edition this weekend – and that’s true for designers, editors, photographers, CEOs and fashion apparatchiks. A four-day fete with three key competitions for young talent: fashion, accessories and photography; a series of impressive exhibitions - ranging from rare Michael Jackson photos, a superb installation by illustrator Nicolas Ouchenir to a display of the correspondence between Jean Cocteau and Marie Laure de Noailles; and high-level round table debates all centered on the Villa Noailles. Named after Marie Laure de Noailles, who for the uninitiated was probably the last great hostess of a major private Paris salon, and a remarkable patroness of the arts. Her utterly charming villa was designed by Robert Mallet-Stevens and built in stages in the 1920s.
 
Winning Hyères has launched numerous careers. Consider this: previous winners have include such contemporary leaders as Anthony Vaccarello, Viktor&Rolf and Julien Dossena, currently the designer of Paco Rabanne. So winning the top Grand Priz du Jury prize is seen as a catapult to stardom. This year it went to Swiss-born Vanessa Schindler, though it was significant that the famed Paris emporium of shopping, Galeries Lafayette, gave its award to France’s Marine Serre. Meaning Sarre’s collection, entitled Radical Call for Love, will actually be made into a capsule collection by the department store chain.
 
Master classes – notably a debate with UK photographer and the president of the photography jury Tim Walker – and round tables all are held in the garden of the festival’s nerve center, the legendary Villa Noailles.
 
This year, topics centered around technology, with a key discussion on the block chain – the digital protocol designed to create entirely accurate records of exchanges on the Internet and the basis of the virtual currency, the bit coin.
 
Though the key animator is Pascal Morand, the president of the Chambre Syndicale, who frequently drew each discussion to a gentle conclusion. The round tables opened with a master class by Bertrand Guyon, speaking with Pierre Joos, on how he is reinventing and reviving Schiaparelli. The legendary Italian designer’s shocking pink evident throughout the festival: a massive flag atop the villa; a splendid fashion installation by Guyon; the backdrop of the talks; and a truly magnificent fabric décor of several hundred meters for the finalist joint runway shows staged inside a warehouse at the Salin des Pesquiers. Entitled They Didn’t Burn my Inner-Elsa, artist Xénia Laffely’s massive material wrap was pretty awe inspiring.
 
Perhaps the busiest debate was on Europe and its New Creative Frontier, where Eric Peters, the man responsible for coordinating the European Union’s drive to guarantee a Single Digital Market.
 
Peters stressed “the moral element in fashion, and how, whatever designers create are also expressions of values like tolerance and openness to other cultures.”
 
Others noted that in the long arch of history, the Villa Noailles was built in the Roaring Twenties, known as Les Années folles in France, when legendary writers like James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway; artists such as Cocteau and Picasso; sculptors like Alberto Giacometti and photographers like Man Ray – many of them associated with the villa - all revolutionized their respective disciplines. And that maybe our next decade might just herald another such dynamic era.
 
Though several speakers, notably Rome-based La Repubblica fashion editor Simone Marchetti lamented the lack of support for young designers, the seaside festival of Hyères seemed awash with sponsors, like Swarovski, which finances the accessories award, and Woolmark, which supplies designers with advanced wool.
 
“We’re very happy to sustain this Festival. And very proud to supply these young creators with Australian wool for their collections. Supporting, cultivating and encouraging the use of merino wool and promoting its polyvalent qualities is an essential part of our long-term strategy,” explained Stuart Ford, Woolmark’s Western Hemisphere director.


Hyères Festival founder Jean-Pierre Blanc with Audrey Marnay

 
The festival is the brainchild of Jean Pierre Blanc, for whom it remains a deep labor of love. His introductory letter to the elegantly produced 354-page program for 2017 includes the entire lyrics to Queen’s Take My Breath Away, which Blanc describes as “an ode to love by a queer British legend,” i.e. Freddie Mercury.
 
“So please don’t go
Don’t leave me here all by myself
I get ever so lonely from time to time”
 
Almost a paean to Hyères itself as each spring it awaits the return of tourists and fashionistas, an annual trek that begins with this festival in the last weekend of April. A happening monument to fashion and to the dogged determination and imaginative commitment of the much–loved Blanc himself.
 

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