Hyères Looks to Helsinki

The Hyères Fashion and Photography Festival’s 28th edition came to a close on the rainy French Côte d’Azur today. After the announcement of this year’s winners, it’s clear that the world’s hottest fashion capital is no longer Berlin, Rome, or Antwerp: rather, the smart money’s on Helsinki.
Satu Maaranen, 29, a recent Masters graduate of Finland’s Aalto school of Arts, Design and Architecture, bagged the competition’s $20,000 Premiere Vision fashion grand prize for her “Garment in Landscape” women’s collection. The spoils are plentiful: Ra, the Antwerp/Paris concept store, topped off the grant with its own $4,000 prize; France’s Petit Bateau will produce a Maaranen-designed collection; and Paris department store Galeries Lafayette will open its doors for a promotion during Fashion Week.

Helsinki and Aalto are certainly à la mode at Hyères. Maaranen follows in the footsteps of last year’s menswear winners, the Finnish trio Siiri Raasakka, Tiia Siren, & Elina Laitinen, who returned this year to show. In addition, China’s Shanshan Ruana from Esmod Paris won Hyères’ Public and Palais de Tokyo prizes; and festival Partner Chloé awarded its $20,000 prize, including the production of a Chloé-inspired design, to Switzerland’s Camille Kunz, of the line Geneva’s Head.

Greece’s Petros Efstathiadis, 32, won this year’s photography grand prize for “Bombs,” his series of ephemeral sculptures of toy cannons and Molotov cocktails inspired by the riots in Athens. And Poland’s Anna Orlowska won the Public prize for “Leakage,” her take on man’s uneasy transition from nature to society.
It’s always great to win a prize, but the 10 young designers and photographers who competed were also at Hyères to network with the fashion headhunters, museum curators, and luxury brand executives who shop the festival looking for the next big thing. And that’s not to mention the prestigious jury, which this year included Lacoste’s Creative Director Felipe Olivera Baptista (who won the competition himself back in 2002) and Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood.
Reached before her return to Helsinki, the blonde, fresh-faced Maaranen said she creates her own fabrics first. For this collection, she hand-painted stiff cottons and then twisted them into immense, 3-D shapes. She cites land art, and Audrey Hepburn’s 1960s haute couture style furnished by Hubert de Givenchy, as influences—and also Finland’s own Marimekko. “When I was a child, that was the only fashion company I knew,” Maaranen says. “I see a correspondence in the bold colors and the richness of their prints.”

Maaranen credits Helsinki’s growing fashion status in part to the quality of the studio work at Aalto University’s fashion department, guided by teachers like Toumas Laitinen, who also designs for his own Laitinen menswear brand. Maaranen hopes her Hyères win will help her land a job with a major label like Kenzo, one of her current favorites. “There are only a few sports brands and Marimekko in Helsinki, so the only thing you can do there is start your own brand, but I want some experience first,” she explains. This summer, she plans to relax with her friend Otso Lindfords, who recently launched his own fashion and furniture label, Siloa & Mook, which translates to “soft and hard.”
Jean-Pierre Blanc, who created the Hyères Festival in 1985, says those interested in cutting-edge fashion should look to points north. “We’ve gone from Belgium to Holland, Germany, and now Finland,” Blanc says.

“It’s not so much the countries themselves, but their schools which are turning out great designers. Belgian fashion, when it was extraordinary, and the wave of Dutch designers in the 1990s, came about because there were great people directing their fashion schools at the time,” Blanc continues. “And I’m sure that designers from Eastern Europe, Poland and Russia will be showing up increasingly at Hyères.”

Blanc says that it’s the festival’s biggest challenge these days is the tight budget—a little over a million dollars from public and private sponsors—for the annual four day event, which includes several shows a day and a handful of ongoing exhibitions at Hyères’ Villa Noailles. “I’m already thinking about next year,” he says. “There’s so much to do, but I come through every one of these feeling exhilarated.”