Delphine Arnault on the LVMH Prize; and why fashion is not a sprint but a marathon

Friday will be a big day for Delphine Arnault, when she unveils the winner of the latest LVMH Prize, an award she invented and has developed to considerable acclaim. 


Delphine Arnault - LVMH

The winner's name will be read out inside the Franck Gehry-designed Louis Vuitton Foundation, from a podium upon which the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Nicolas Ghesquière and Marc Jacobs will join her.
 
The LVMH Prize is her brainchild and its top award the richest prize in fashion. Moreover, in four quick years, it's grown to become the most media-attention-winning award as well.
 
Delphine is the eldest child of the five born to Bernard Arnault, the chairman and controlling shareholder of LVMH. It is not only the largest single company in France, measured in terms of market capitalization, it is also the owner of a remarkable series of brands, encompassing fashion, luxury, perfumes, fine wines and high-end retailing. If global luxury has a First Family, it is without doubt the Arnaults.
 
Born in Lille in 1975, Delphine attended French business school EDHEC, the London School of Economics (just JFK and Mick Jagger) and did two years at McKinsey & Company before joining LVMH. First at Christian Dior, and latterly at Louis Vuitton; while raising her daughter Elisa with her partner, French telecommunications and technology entrepreneur Xavier Niel. Reserved yet blessed with a warm smile, Delphine's experience working with such diverse talents as John Galliano, Raf Simons, Jacobs and Ghesquière has given her unique insights into how great designers operate. She is seen by many as LVMH's chief scout.
 
So, we caught up with Delphine, for an exclusive interview on the LVMH Prize and how she skillfully handles career, fame and family.
 
Fashion Network: What first gave you the idea of the LVMH Prize?
 
Delphine Arnault: As a leader in our industry, it is our responsibility to identify the talents of tomorrow, and help them to develop. That's the starting point of the prize. And it's been amazing to witness its evolution and see it gain authority. It's a project close to heart.
 
FNW: Why did you think of having two levels of jury?
 
DA: We received 1,200 dossiers from designers this year. That's tremendous. And we chose 21 of them for what we call the semi-final. That's where they are judged by a large number of real experts: stylists like Carine Roitfeld and Marie-Amélie Sauvé; fashion editors like Suzy Menkes, Godfrey Deeny and Tim Blanks; buyers, such as Sarah Andelman, Linda Fargo and Carla Sozzani; makeup artists like Pat McGrath or Peter Phillips; and photographers such as Patrick Demarchelier. Different protagonists who can aid young designers in their careers. They meet some 50 key people in our industry that they might not otherwise meet. All within two days!

That helps build their reputation and nourish useful contacts. Perseverance is also an important element in the prize. For example, Jacquemus was chosen one year but did not win; but the following year he came back and won a special prize. Marques' Almeida too. That just shows you that fashion is not a sprint. It's a marathon. That you have to work each day and that success comes from perseverance.

FNW: Why did you chose a second jury of major designers?
 
DA: I believe that chez LVMH we have the best designers in the world. From Karl (Lagerfeld) to Nicolas (Ghesquière) to Marc (Jacobs) to JW (Anderson) to Humberto (Leon) and Carol (Lim). We have really incredible creators and they are all surrounded by teams of young designers. 

Karl, for example, began his career by winning a prize. So, who could be better to evaluate and judge a young designer?  It's like when Shchukin (a recent star exhibition in the Foundation Louis Vuitton),  discovered the work of Picasso, if you want an example from the art world. Matisse recommended that he look at Picasso, whom he rated as "vital." It's the same thing for designers, where their eye allows them to recognize talent. Look at Christian Dior, he had Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Cardin in his team. They are the best placed to pick out the talents of tomorrow.
 
FNW: How good a millésime was 2017?
 
DA: I think they very much reflect the spirit of our times. There are five females among the finalists, which makes us proud. Moreover, there are two Frenchwomen, an Englishwoman and a Syrian.  And in terms of creativity, there are creators who design for men, women and unisex. 
 
FNW: So it's very mixed nationality-wise?
 
DA: The LVMH Prize is a Digital Prize. That's how a young designer applies – online.  We started from the principle that everyone today has access to a computer and thus could apply. After that, we wanted the prize to be truly global with multiple nationalities.  All you have to do is be between 18 and 40 years old; and have created two commercial collections.
 
FNW: Tell us about the mentoring that is part of the prize?
 
DA: The winner of the LVMH Prize gets 300,00 euros. But beyond that, what's really important in my view is that for one year, or even more, a dedicated team from LVMH accompanies them. Responding to all sorts of questions about pricing; production; accounting; developing new lines; protecting their brand name; or launching perfumes, accessories or shoes. Young fashion houses are nearly always tiny teams so the designer cannot do all that.
 
FNW: Why did fashion need another prize? 
 
DA: It's about reaching out to youth. It's the only prize that is truly international, really global. Which reflects our epoch. It's the only prize where the jury is made of the best designers in the world, who will elect the most promising new creator. And, I think, to meet Karl, Nicolas, Jonathan, Marc, Phoebe, Humberto or Carol is a very exciting moment in their lives, something they will never forget.
 
FNW: What do you say to people who suggest that the LVMH Prize is also a way for your corporation to discover real talent without hiring a headhunter?
 
DA: For the moment we haven't hired anyone who reached our finals. Maybe one day that will be different. But right now that is not our goal.
 
FNW: What are the special talents that you look for in a finalist?
 
DA: A really unique point of view, style and vision. Ideas in synch with our era. We believe that it is important to express their ideas clearly and to speak about their own house. Each finalist has 10 minutes to present themselves before the jury, accompanied by stockmans, to explain their vision, to convince. After that, there is a lunch with my father (Bernard Arnault) where we discuss each candidate and then we vote.
 
FNW: You come from one of France's most famous families. Is it always a help, or sometime a hindrance to be so prominent?
 
DA: I have a great opportunity to work for this group. It's very exciting. I began my career first with Dior, where I worked for 12 years beside Sidney Toledano.  Now I work chez Vuitton. I think that I am very lucky to have known this universe from a very young age and that my father has trusted me so much.
 
FNW: Many people say that Nicolas Ghesquière was your choice for Louis Vuitton?
 
Nicolas is incredible. I love working with him. I've known him a long time. In my view, he is one of the most talented designers of our generation. But, I simply offered my opinion, and it was my dad who decided along with Michael Burke (CEO of Vuitton). 
 
FNW: How do you juggle being mum and having a career?
 
Whenever I have free time, I spend a lot of time with my family. It's that simple, that essential.

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