Marine Serre may only be 25, but you wouldn't think so from looking at her C.V. Stints and Christian Dior and Maison Margiela have informed a collection that treads a new line between sportswear and luxury - think full, ballgown skirts with sports mesh tops, and elbow length gloves against Lycra.
The sportswear concept appealed to her as "when you put on a football shirt, you know that's who you're going to be today". Dressed in a pink t-shirt, black leather trousers and red boots, French-Belgian Serre’s starting point was the attacks in Paris, she tells The Telegraph, but the result, ‘Radical call for Love’, is nothing if not celebratory.
The LVMH Prize is an annual award and funding boost, given by the heads of the luxury conglomerate to an up-and-coming label that they believe could put their 300,000 Euro investment to good use. Being shortlisted means time in front of the stellar judging panel (comprised of industry heavyweights Karl Lagerfeld, Maria Grazia Chiuri, J.W. Anderson, Nicolas Ghesquiere, and Carol Lim and Humberto Leon from Kenzo) and so even if you don't actually win, it likely feels a lot like winning.
As Serge takes to the stage in the Louis Vuitton Foundation (LVMH's Frank Gehry-designed gallery) to receive her award from special guest Rihanna, last years’ winner Grace Wales Bonner looks on. The menswear designer remembers the experience as ‘pretty nerve-wracking’, but without it, she wouldn't have had the past year that she has. There's "a lot more confidence around the brand" now, she tells us, and a lot more visibility thanks to not only the financial grant that comes with winning the prize, but also the mentoring she has received from some of the biggest names in the fashion industry. It's been "an amazing experience," agrees Bonner quietly.
This year’s competition was stiff indeed. The eight brand shortlist boasted two Brits - Molly Goddard and Nabil Nayal - against American, Danish, Russian and, of course, French designers. "I can't really remember everything," confesses Goddard of her closed-door ‘audition’ with the judges: "I’m sort of having a blank. But I felt I couldn't do much more, so I'm happy."
Second prize went to the Japanese-born Central Saint Martins graduate Kozaburo Akasaka, for his menswear label Kozaburo. There is a focus on technical innovation here: a classically tailored jacket is felted at the shoulder to hide any seams, fabric off-cuts from a suit jacket are not thrown away but instead woven to make heavy-weight jeans. It's called ‘mottainai’, he says - it's a regret concerning waste. "Growing up in Japan, my mother would say- don't waste it, eat all your dinner," he smiles.
As Serre and Kozaburo pose for photos on stage, there is disappointment for the six names not called. But they are not just being polite when they say it's brilliant just to be there.
The real woman to impress, though, is Delphine Arnault, executive VP of Louis Vuitton, board member of the LVMH conglomerate, and heir apparent to her father, LVMH head Bernard Arnault. For those not leaving today with an oversized cardboard cheque, just meeting the Arnaults and their panel could be career-making. Especially as, with the final decision having been made over lunch in a private room, there's no knowing who else they were rooting for...