PARIS, France — As A-Cold-Wall, Eckhaus Latta and other emerging designers vie for today’s ANDAM prizes, the crux is how they will leverage this award long after the spotlight moves to next year’s winner.
Big fashion awards are proliferating, with over $11.5 million handed out since 2014, when LVMH added its €300,000 ($350,000) prize to the mix. Today’s ANDAM prize will see the winner walk away with €250,000 ($290,000), with smaller awards going to winners in three other categories. The Woolmark Company awards AU$200,000 ($150,000) to a menswear and a womenswear designer each year, with addition cash prizes for 12 finalists. Graduates at the Festival d’Hyères can expect a sizable check with the grand prix winner eligible for royalties on items sold from a collaboration with Petit Bateau. Then there are the Vogue Fashion Funds in the US and UK, with the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund offering a top prize of $400,000, while the BFC/Vogue Fashion Fund awarding £200,000 ($260,000).
Recent winners have seen their careers blossom. Paul Andrew, winner of the 2014 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and the 2016 CFDA Swarovski award for accessory design went on to helm womenswear at Salvatore Ferragamo. A CFDA emerging talent award helped reinforce the upward trajectory for Monse founders Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia, who also serve as co-creative directors of Oscar de la Renta.
But the prize money alone doesn’t guarantee success. Once dubbed one of the two best young talents in London by the New York Times, Thomas Tait, who won the first LVMH prize in 2014, no longer produces collections. Former London Fashion Week stalwart, Sibling, which won the BFC’s Fashion Forward award and the Dulux Colour Award, shut down last year.
Successful designers have a long-term plan in mind long before they win an award.
Those who turn a major award into lasting success have a few common traits. They spend their money wisely — tempting as it is to blow the LVMH prize on the latest technology or a couple of highly produced runway shows, it’s better invested in luring top talent and developing the right infrastructure to produce top-notch collections. Successful designers have a long-term plan in mind long before they win an award. And there’s a bit of luck as well.
Ruchika Sachdeva, whose label Bodice won the International Woolmark Prize in January, used some of her winnings to move into a new studio with a production unit and sampling facility in central New Delhi. She said this was her plan even before winning the prize.
“I have had this label for six years now so I had savings that I wanted to spend earlier but I wanted to keep some,” she says. “But now I could spend it because I know the money is coming.”
Jonathan Simkhai invested part of his award from the 2015 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund into growing his e-commerce business, picking “the things that are most essential to moving the brand forward,” he says.
Masayuki Ino of streetwear label Doublet, this year’s LVMH Prize winner, plans to invest in public relations to help grow his business outside his native Japan.
Building relationships with judges and mentors can also pay dividends.
“Good advice from people who have been successful in business and in the fashion industry is more important than money,” says Andrew Rosen, Theory’s chief executive and co-founder, who is also on the selection committee for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund.
The BFC/Vogue Fashion Fund includes legal input from the law firm Mishcon de Reya on topics such as intellectual property. The 2017 creative brand winner of the ANDAM prize, Avoc, had three sessions with Matchesfashion.com’s head of menswear, Damien Paul, with additional buying, e-commerce and other support from the company.
“I took a bit from everybody and consolidated it," says Sachdeva, the Woolmark winner, who is following advice to stick to her aesthetic even if retailers ask her for tweaks.
Charles Jeffrey, creative director and owner of Loverboy, says winning the Fashion Awards for British Emerging Talent encouraged him to become more creative, while his nomination for the LVMH prize forced him to think about the long-term trajectory of his company. He says he better understands now how different designs drive sales. The positive reviews of his Spring/Summer 2019 collection at London Fashion Week Men’s earlier this month suggests his plan is working.
“Sometimes you can get into a design bubble just concentrating on the next collection and sometimes you lose your foresight and these awards helped me see into the future,” he says.
Designers often invest in employees with their new funds, from tailors to accountants.
“Anytime you can hire someone extra you have freedom as a designer or business manager to concentrate on creativity,” says Belgian designer, Christian Wijnants, whose roll call of awards include the ANDAM, Swiss Textiles Award and Woolmark.
Matthew Harding, half of shirt-making duo, palmer//harding said he used part of his winnings from the 2017 BFC/Vogue Fashion Fund to hire a more experienced production manager, who was able to streamline the brand’s factory processes in ways “that we had no idea about,” he says.
The allure of spending the award money on flashy things can be too tempting for designers looking to impress or validate their newfound winner status.
Some plough the money into setting fashion shows in swanky locations and featuring top models. French designer Lea Peckre used some of her €15,000 ($17,500) winnings from ANDAM’s First Collections Prize in 2015 on two shows because, she says, “everyone was waiting for it.” But the shows didn’t lead to higher sales. Now Peckre eschews the traditional runway and retail network for selling an annual collection direct-to-consumer. Her online shop launches July 1.
Others splurge on exquisite fabrics for their next collection. When the money runs out, they are unable to recreate that magic.
Tina Sutradhar, co-founder of Mumbai-based label Miuniku would spend the €100,000 ($116,000) from the inaugural LVMH Special Jury Prize differently today than she had done in 2014. She imported high-end fabrics from Italy and the UK to India, paying steep import taxes that forced her to raise prices.
The allure of spending the award money on flashy things can be too tempting.
“I think I would have made my product at a lower price point in the contemporary or advanced contemporary market” by using local suppliers instead, she says. The prize money would have been better spent on a showroom or lookbook shoot, she added.
This year’s Woolmark co-winner Matthew Miller is capitalising on the company's partnership with luxury online showroom Ordre, and is showing his latest catwalk collection in virtual reality and in rotating 3D at Milan and Paris Fashion Weeks so he can experiment with new technology for future development at a lower risk.
For Cozette McCreery, who won many awards as Sibling’s co-founder and is currently a consultant to Iceberg and other fashion brands, understanding range planning, accounts and cash flow is crucial.
“If you can’t do it then find someone to come into your business who can, even part-time. A good bookkeeper and or or a great accountant is worth the money,” she says.
McCreery and her business partner shut down Sibling after some projects fell through. Personal tragedy also played a role in the decision, as they were reeling from the death from cancer of Joe Bates, one of the brand's co-founders, in 2015.
Some designers opt to maintain the same course they were on before winning a major award. Uruguayan designer Gabriela Hearst has stretched her 2016 Woolmark win by retaining and expanding her space on Mytheresa.com, a retail partner that sold her winning merino wool capsule collection.
“Her delivery and production is impeccable which many new designers sometimes fail to achieve,” says Tiffany Hsu, the luxury e-tailer’s fashion buying director.
Ultimately, designers have to show that they can deliver more than a compelling project or vision, says Karen Harvey, chief executive of her eponymous consulting group.
“They have to show that they have longevity in the market and they ... understand building a brand,” she says. “At the end it really comes down to their creativity and their maturity to handle the pressure of leading a team.”