Au Naturel in Hyères

Every year, the Festival de Hyères for Fashion and Photography cooks up a variation on the same treasured recipe: it ships a group of blasé Parisians and New Yorkers into the wilderness of the countryside, to recreate familiar competitive rituals. The festival takes place in a villa in the South of France and is a European take on the CFDA awards: big names rubbing shoulders with tiny ones, but with more pains au chocolat and French gardens. This, the 26th edition, took place April 28–May 2 and gathered an eminent fashion jury that included Raf Simons, Cathy Horyn, Proenza Schouler’s Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCullough, Tim Blanks, and Christopher Kane. Over the course of three days, the panel scrutinized the work of ten candidates, in open-air presentations, on a catwalk in a converted barn, and in a showroom in a tent.

Even on vacation, competition isn’t lost on the newbies. “It can be very intimidating for the designers—I mean, it’s quite a jury, eh?” Raf Simons joked to Interview. “But it’s the most pleasant way of experiencing such a contest.”

There was an overarching tendency in the 2011 generation, identified by Blanks: “Not unlike this year Central St Martins show, there is an absolute movement away from structure, and an embrace of a pagan spirit,” he said.

Spirituality and natural influences dominated the winners’ silhouettes. Léa Peckre was awarded the l’Oréal Prize, for a collection that referenced nuns’ habits and tree trunks. It was, she explained after the show, an homage to her love for the cemetery: “A beautiful place, which I don’t perceive as only mortuary.” Peckre used organic shapes and wooden sequins, contrasted by a veiled head, fit for a hippie convent.

The Special Jury Prize went to Emilie Meldem, a Swiss designer, who created a profusely tongue-in-cheek collection inspired by her country’s traditional wear. Lederhosen and coats made from wooden sticks came marching down the runway, to the sound of cowbells. “We’re a tiny country lost in the middle of the mountain, and we’re strict, but we’ve also developed strange rituals like esoteric festivals and naked skiing,” she told Interview after receiving the prize. “It’s these contradictive rites that inspire me.”

“We’d rather see too much than not enough; toning down your designs is something you can work on later on,” said Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler. “These designers should go wild, because it’s the only time in their lives they can have such absolute freedom.”