Nathalie Dufour of Andam says the French association has been involved in all of fashion’s trends
At the Andam Innovation Prize’s award ceremony, Nathalie Dufour, founder and managing director of Andam (France’s national association for the development of fashion arts), spoke to FashionNetwork.com about the prestigious emerging designer competition, which will celebrate its 35th anniversary next year and has recognised the likes of Martin Margiela, Christophe Lemaire, Viktor & Rolf, Jeremy Scott, Anthony Vaccarello and Iris Van Herpen. Dufour also spoke about the way in which the fashion and luxury markets have evolved over the past three decades.
FashionNetwork.com: How has the Andam prize evolved over the past 30 years?
Nathalie Dufour: Thirty-four years ago, there were only the Hyères Festival and the Andam [prize]. At the time, we wanted to support a young generation of independent fashion designers who hadn't yet made it as creative directors. Over the years, our competition has helped a new generation to emerge, one that has made a name for itself through several success stories. This success-story phenomenon is recent, it emerged in the last 10 years.
FNW: Can you give us some examples?
ND: There was of course Martin Margiela, the first [Andam prize] winner, in 1989, who was so innovative and close to the notion of art. Also, Alexandre Mattiussi with his AMI Paris label, who won first prize in 2013. More recently, Marine Serre, whose business is entirely based on textile regeneration, and Y/Project, which won the prize in 2020, during the pandemic. I’m also very proud of Ludovic de Saint Sernin, who won the creative label prize in 2018. At the time, he expressed a niche view of sexualised masculinity. A segment that has flourished since then. We have been truly involved in all of fashion’s trends. Every single fashion trend has been represented at the prize. Having a 35-year perspective on fashion is exciting.
FNW: Have you ever felt that you overlooked some potential big names?
ND: Jacquemus and Demna, for example, have ranked among our finalists, but they didn’t win any prizes. They were already well-established. We’re here to take risks, rather than to bolster designers who are already on their way to some success. As it turned out, Demna was named creative director of Balenciaga the following year.
FNW: What makes [Andam] different from other emerging designer competitions?
ND: Andam’s difference is its highly institutional nature. On our board of directors, we have the leading figures of the [French] fashion industry’s bodies: DEFI, the Ministry of Culture, the French Fashion Institute (IFM), and the Fashion and Haute Couture Federation, as well as representatives of the most important industry names, such as Chanel, Hermès, LVMH, and Kering. It’s a bit like a consortium set up to promote the fashion industry in France by empowering emerging labels. Notably, by attracting foreign talents who are encouraged to set up subsidiaries in France and collaborate with local manufacturers, enabling them to tap our exceptional expertise. So that they’re immediately prompted to position their labels more towards luxury.
FNW: This year, the Andam’s total prize money is €700,000, a record.
ND: That's a lot of money. But it’s necessary, given inflation and rising commodity prices. And, as I said, we’re encouraging our international winners to consider sourcing their collections in France. It comes at a cost. For example, last year we awarded our special prize to Hong Kong-born designer Robert Wun, who was then able to join the Haute Couture Week calendar [in Paris], where he showed in January.
The point we’re making is that fashion isn’t just an art, it’s also an industrial activity. But when young designers start out, they are short of resources, especially since nowadays they must adopt a creditable, virtuous approach. Not everyone can afford to. It’s extremely expensive to source certain fabrics or to utilise certain manufacturing processes, and it is increasingly complex to keep up with the transformation that major groups, with their huge resources, are engaged in nowadays. In addition to the prize endowment, we give [emerging designers] free, top-level advice.
FNW: What characterises the Andam Prize today?
ND: What’s new is how the industry has become involved, paying a lot of attention to the younger generation. Industry players and major groups have become more acutely aware that young talents must be encouraged. They have fully grasped the importance of having an independent talent pool that is also linked to an SME ecosystem. In fact, beyond the financial endowment, each of our patrons provides a superior level of support to the winners, through mentoring that is extremely detailed, specific and valuable. There's every intention to do all that’s possible to drive this generation forward. Starting with giving them some room, because major French luxury groups are ubiquitous and it’s sometimes hard for young people to make their voices heard.
FNW: When did you create the Innovation Prize, and why?
ND: In 2017. In five years, we have helped five start-ups. I visited the Los Angeles area, where a technological revolution was taking place. In France, it was still early days. Today, there is much more investment in this field. At the time, we didn’t talk much about it, but a spate of innovative solutions were becoming available to the fashion industry through digitalisation and AI, whether in manufacturing processes or in anything related to sourcing, bio-fabricated materials, and more. A lot was at stake for luxury labels, and I decided to create an ecosystem by identifying young talents and start-ups in all areas.
FNW: You will soon announce the Andam Prize finalists; what are the distinguishing traits of the class of 2023?
ND: In terms of style, we’ve tried to cover all currents, from baroque to minimalism. Many international labels are competing for the final, coming from Japan, China, Africa and Brazil. Many are characterised by an extremely hybrid culture. What’s refreshing this year is the freedom to expose the body. Piece by piece, it is entirely revealed, through very bold effects, with no taboos or sexualisation. I’d never seen this before.
FNW: What does being a fashion designer mean today?
ND: Young designers are entrepreneurs, this aspect is very much a reality now. When they launch, they must already have an embryonic desire to take their place in the market with some purpose. There is also sustainability, an increasingly powerful, essential aspect. Everyone does it, but in a more or less committed way. Style is important. We no longer create a garment just to make a garment. The undertaking must have a rationale, a plus that will differentiate the label and make it more desirable.
FNW: Next year, ANDAM will celebrate its 35th anniversary. Can you tell us a little more?
ND: In 2024, the Andam Prize will be sponsored by Francesca Bellettini, CEO of Saint Laurent, who will succeed Riccardo Bellini, CEO of Chloé, sponsor of the 2023 edition. It will be the opportunity to pay tribute to Pierre Bergé who, together with the Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent Foundation, was involved in setting up the award in 1989, and was the Andam’s president until 2017.
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