Are fashion competitions the new way to find talent?

Thursday, 15 May 2014
It used to be that designers began their careers as apprentices, working their way up under the tutorship of their masters, then one day having the savoir-faire to start their own houses. Take for example Yves Saint Laurent who worked under Christian Dior, or Marc Jacobs who started off as a stock boy at trendy New York boutique Charivari.

It was the skill of the trade that led designers to grow into their role and later becoming the fashion leaders of their time.

How to spot a visionary in a sea of brands?

But these days to be noticed amongst the sea of brands and designers it is often difficult to find the visionaries, let alone to nurture them. It takes endless funds to launch a fashion label, something most designers do not have access to. And in the age of Instagram and social media, every fashion moment is documented so designers have little time to experiment and let alone to fail.

The search for tomorrow's designer seems to be no longer at the colleges, like Central Saint Martins or Parsons, nor at the apprentices or for the employees working for the world's most glamorous stores. The graduate shows potential but at they same time have a student connotation that do not necessarily allow a visionary to shine through. Rather, we look for tomorrow's talent via design competitions and awards.

In recent seasons a multitude of competitions have brought a new importance to the search for young designers. From the Vogue Fashion Fund to the Woolmark Prize, the LVMH prize, Fashion Fringe, CFDA Fashion Fund, Swarovski Award, and Ecco Domani to name but a few, each of these awards offers talented designers financial backing, industry support and recognition.

But does offering these young designers a giant check and a big-name mentor somehow deny them the chance to find their own way, to make mistakes, and then, in the case of the great ones, rebound from them? Is it not this process that they can later fall back on in their careers when the inevitable setbacks come?

Perhaps the older generation of designers were under a different type of pressure. Some say that the proliferation of these awards is only practical. Not only due to the significant cash infusion but because of the support system that comes with the prize. Take the LVMH Prize, for example, which offers 300,000 euros and mentorship from Marc Jacobs, Jenna Lyons (J Crew) and Delphine Arnault.

In a global market it is precisely the business support that will propel a designer forward. The old-fashioned way to the top appears fashionably impossible.

Image: Fashion Fringe Covent Garden