‘They have total freedom’: inside the Hermès Fashion Accessories Prize for young designers

Blonde woman in white wears belt with Hermés logo for Hermès Fashion Accessories Prize
Left, the winning entry for the Hermès Fashion Accessories Prize 2022 by Lola Mossino and Indra Eudaric. Right, another entry by Louise Leï Wang
(Image credit: Photography by Julia et Vincent, courtesy of Hyères International Festival of Fashion, Photography and Accessories)

On the upper floor of Hermès’ Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré headquarters in Paris is the Emile Hermès Collection (informally, ‘the museum’), named for its founder, a scion of the prestigious family who once used the rooms as his personal offices. Behind lock and key – open only for rare visits by the house’s employees and occasional esteemed visitors – it comprises the extensive collection of objects both collected and created by the Hermès family, from rare equestrian equipment and ephemera (the house began in 1837 as a harness-maker for horse-drawn carriages) to various artworks, furniture and curios discovered on travels around the world.

Earlier this year, its doors were opened for the 11 young accessories designers (nine working solo, two as a pair) nominated for this year’s Fashion Accessories Prize at the Hyères International Festival of Fashion, Photography and Accessories, which took place 13 – 16 October 2022. Now in its 37th edition, the unique celebration of emerging creative talent centres around the small town of Hyères on France’s south-eastern coastline; more specifically, the modernist Villa Noailles, which has hosted the international avant-garde since the 1920s (built by patrons of art Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, Salvador Dalí, Jean Cocteau, Luis Buñuel and Man Ray have all passed through its doors, the last filming Les Mystères du Château de Dé in its grounds).

Woman lies on back wearing shirt and belt

A belt by French designer Adèle Dentaletche, part of the Hermès Fashion Accessories Prize 2022

(Image credit: Photography by Julia et Vincent, courtesy of Hyères International Festival of Fashion, Photography and Accessories)

Alongside the Grand Prix for Accessories – which this year saw designers span disciplines including handbags, leather goods, jewellery and shoes – the coinciding Hermès Fashion Accessories Prize asks the same nominees to create a singular accessory, combining the might of the Hermès workshop and craftspeople with the ‘boldness and innovation’ of a new generation of creatives. This year, the accessory chosen was a belt, one of the house’s most recognisable exports; the two years prior centred on a leather-based piece of jewellery (2020) and a pair of gloves (2021). The winner is awarded a grant of €20,000, and the house notes that it hopes to forge an ongoing link with the creator (a version of the bangle that won in 2020, for example, is currently being ‘edited’ to appear in an upcoming collection). 

The project begins with an invitation to the Hermès museum to glean inspiration from the unique archive of objects, which are also used by the house’s various métiers to find reference points for their own collections and products. This year, by coincidence, the designers’ visit coincided with that of Clémande Burgevin Blachman, who was installed as Hermès’ creative director of Fashion Accessories in February of this year. ‘It was my first visit to the museum, too – we were there for different reasons, but in the same spirit,’ she says.

The French designer, who was born to antique dealer parents in Paris, has previously consulted for various houses – Chanel and Berluti among them – as well as served as the creative director for advertising agency BETC Paris, where she led a rebranding of Paris’ Museum of Decorative Arts. Meeting Belgian designer Raf Simons proved formative; when Simons was made chief creative officer of Calvin Klein in New York she joined him, overseeing the American brand’s home division, visual merchandising and artistic collaborations (including that with the estate of Andy Warhol). More recently, she worked with fellow Calvin Klein alumnus Pieter Mulier as the designer’s right hand at Alaïa. 

Woman stands in dark in black dress with belt

French designer Scylia Chevaux’s entry for the Hermès Fashion Accessories Prize 2022

(Image credit: Photography by Julia et Vincent, courtesy of Hyères International Festival of Fashion, Photography and Accessories)

Burgevin Blachman notes that her own ‘initiation’ into Hermès – much the same as the designers undertook – illuminated the unique relationship between designer and craftsperson. ‘You realise that it’s an exchange – the freedom of creation goes with the hand of the craftsman. These designers were lucky enough to get those tools: the visit to the museum, the opportunity to work with the craftspeople.’ As such, she sees the Hermès Fashion Accessories Prize as defined by a feeling of ‘generosity’ and ‘exchange’, the latter figured in the new energy that the shortlisted nominees bring to both the Hermès design team, and the artisans themselves, many of which have been working at the house for decades (‘the designers have total freedom,’ she says). From February until the festival, the designers undertake regular visits to the workshops in Pantin, France, evolving their creations with the help of Burgevin Blachman and the members of the various métiers. 

‘The crafters love [the project] very much, because it pushes them, beyond what they would ever imagine,’ she says. ‘It’s almost a challenge to them. They love the freedom of these young people because they come and say, “OK, I want this”, and sometimes [the craftspeople] say, “No, but you can have this”. And then it’s an exchange again; the young designer can actually translate their ideas. It’s really a dialogue.’

Several of the participants had not worked with leather before, though the array of final designs – ‘every one was completely unique,’ says Burgevin Blachman – show a mastery of the medium, with oftentimes unexpected takes on Hermès’ heritage (one came complete with room for AirPods, another featured a hanging metal charm in the shape of a horse’s head, others riffed on Hermès’ signature emblems and closures). Burgevin Blachman notes that often there was a strong narrative drive behind the design: ‘They went really deep into social and historical events,’ she says. ‘They really wanted them to tell a strong story.’

Man in white vest stands with whip and wears saddle-like belt

A belt by French designer Joshua Cannone, part of the Hermès Fashion Accessories Prize 2022

(Image credit: Photography by Julia et Vincent, courtesy of Hyères International Festival of Fashion, Photography and Accessories)

The winning design, announced on Sunday at the close of the festival, was created by France-based duo Lola Mossino and Indra Eudaric whose main competition entry centred on jewellery-like body adornments, like a minimal gold bustier decorated with two suggestively hanging pearls. Their entry for the Hermès prize marked the first time working with leather, though they embraced the challenge, citing a desire to channel the ‘unique history and know-how’ of Hermès. The saddle-inspired design – with a signature Hermès ‘H’ clasp – saw Mossino and Eudaric work across the house’s belt and saddlery divisions, while also using techniques drawn from upholstery. They say the final design, titled ‘La Cavalière’ (‘The Rider’), marries ‘an equestrian spirit with femininity and exceptional materials’. 

The belt, Burgevin Blachman says, proved a particular challenge in its simplicity: ‘They had to think about the way you really build things – we don’t always think about how a belt has a function. The sizing, the way you adjust it, all of that. I don’t think [at the beginning] they realised how technical it was. But there was a learning process, which for me is an incredible gift. They really get to see the way Hermès is doing things. They also learn how to listen, how to behave. I think that was one of the most incredible things to witness. 

‘The heritage [of Hermès] can be heavy,’ she adds. ‘But none of the designers were smashed by it. They are pure, in a way – they’re totally free.’

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Fashion Features Editor

Jack Moss is the Fashion Features Editor at Wallpaper*. Having previously held roles at 10, 10 Men and AnOther magazines, he joined the team in 2022. His work has a particular focus on the moments where fashion and style intersect with other creative disciplines – among them art and design – as well as championing a new generation of international talent and profiling the industry’s leading figures and brands.