Delphine Arnault Interview

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      © Jean-François Robert

 ©Jean-François Robert

LVMH Prize, the much talked about award aimed at nurturing young talents, has announced the winners of its first edition. The result of the judging of 40 experts from the fashion world – all around the globe – then the 10 jury made up of designers and members of the board at the LVMH Group, narrowed down to 1 winner, Thomas Tait. Well this year the winners ended up being 3 with 2 special prizes awarded in addition. All three will receive a grant – Thomas, 300,000 Euros and the other two 100,000 Euros each - and a mentorship for one year each. <Vogue Korea> spoke to Delphine Arnault, Executive Vice President of Louis Vuitton, to learn more about the philosophy of the prize.  

Vogue Korea: We are very excited about the LVMH Prize. I spoke to this year’s winner Thomas Tait and he was a delightful man to talk to. I didn’t have to ask much because he did most of the talking. But we also wanted to talk to you so we can understand what the prize is all about.

Delphine Arnault: Yes, we launched the LVMH Prize this year for the first edition. It was all very exciting. We launched it in November 2013 for designers who had to be under 40 and have done at least 2 collections of menswear or womenswear and you could have any nationality. Applications were done through the internet on the LVMH Prize website. We had around 1,200 applications – we were impressed by the number of applications – who came from all over the world because for the LVMH prize you don’t have to have your catwalk in Paris or in Europe.  You can apply wherever you’re from even if you never did a catwalk you just have to have done the collections. The internal committee selected 30 out of the 1,200 and then we had a showroom in March at the LVMH Head Quarters - I don’t know if you were able to come - where we showed the work of the 30 semi-finalists. The showroom that lasted for 2 days were visited by the experts from the fashion world including those like Carine Roitfeld, journalists like Godfrey Deeny, and different personalities from the fashion industry like Patt McGrath, Patrick Demarchelier, Fabien Baron, Marie-Amelie Sauve, Adrian Joffe, Marigay McKee from Saks, as well as different stylists. The full list of everyone can be found on the internet site that you can find when you type ‘LVMH Prize’.

Vogue Korea: Yes, I’ve been to the website. The expert list is impressive. 

Delphine Arnault: Yes and on top of that we had Anna Wintour who came as well as Suzy Menkes or others from the fashion world. For the designers who applied, it was a great exposure. The experts voted for their 10 favorites and we ended up with a list of 12 – 4 people tied -  but there was one who stopped his brand so there were 11 finally.

Vogue Korea: And then? 

Delphne Arnault: Then on May 28th we had our amazing jury with the designers of the group: Nicholas Ghesquiere, Marc Jacobs, Karl Lagerfeld, Raf Simons, Pheobe Philo, Ricardo Tisci, Humberto Leon, Pierre Roussel, Jean-Paul Claverie and myself. Everyone of the 11 finalists presented themselves in front of the jury for approximately 10 minutes. The decision took a couple of hours. We went up to have lunch with my father – Bernard Arnault, Chairman and CEO of the LVMH Group, of course – and then each one of us voted.

Vogue Korea: And the winner was…!

Delphine Arnault: Thomas Tait won! There were a group ofvery good quality designers so it was not easy to choose one. In the end we decided to award 2 other special prizes, one for the Indian sisters Miuniku and one for Hood by Air. So it was very exciting. We had some interesting, warm and nice moments with the designers of the group.  And so we’re looking forward to another edition of the prize next year.

Vogue Korea: What made you decide to launch this prize and what made you decide now was the time for LVMH to start a prize for young designers? Have you been thinking about this?

Delphine Arnault: Yes, I had been thinking about it for a long time. I was always very interested by young talents- they are crucial for our group - and as the leader of our industry it is our responsibility to identify the talents and help them grow. I started thinking creating this Prize when I was at Dior - I worked for 12 years at Dior before joining Vuitton last September- and Raf Simons helped me a lot on the structure of the Prize. He had the idea to create a jury with mostly designers. When you have the best designers in the world working for the Group who best than them to elect the Young talent of tomorrow?

Vogue Korea: The symbol of the prize is based on Christian Dior himself and so Raf Simmons being involved is interesting. Let’s talk about why these young talents are important to LVMH. How are they part of your group’s future?

Delphine Arnault: Young talents have always been part of the culture and the philosophy of the group from very early on. My father appointed young talents as the head of very important houses. Marc Jacobs started at Vuitton at 34, Ricardo Tisci started 10 years ago at Givenchy and he just turned 39 so he must have been 29 then. We just appointed JW Anderson at Loewe and so on. Young talents have always been at the center of the group and it’s the designers who invent the products of the future.

Vogue Korea: As much as this is encouraging – they must hear this more often that they are the future – designers face the reality and a financial structure must be built. Going back to Dior, he had to ask that very question himself but lives on as a heritage name today. I don't think everybody can imagine that same path but the inspiration can be very powerful and to know that LVMH understands that very well is something. For those who are taking that big step and questioning about the financial structure what can you tell them about being serious about business?

Delphine Arnault:  If you want to talk about Christian Dior, Christian Dior when he was ready to create his house in 1946 just after the war he went to go see Marcel Boussac, who was the most important business man in France at the time. Marcel Boussac helped him by financing him to start the brand. Christian Dior was very superstitious and he was always looking for signs. When he was 18 a fortuneteller told him that he would become very famous thanks to women. But his mother told him “Whatever you do, never put your name on a store. You can’t put the name of our family on the store, Christian.” So that’s a funny story. Marcel Boussac financed Christian Dior who opened a store with his name on 30 Avenue Montaigne in 1946 where he found a star with a hole in the middle on the street and immediately believed it was his lucky charm. And it’s funny because he didn’t listen to his mother and he puts his name on the store. He was a visionary. The symbol of the LVMH Prize is the star of Mr Dior with the hole in the middle and we awarded Thomas Tait with the star of Mr Dior trophy created by Jean-Michel Othoniel to bring him as much luck as it brought Mr Dior.

Vogue Korea: A very happy story. I’m sure for Thomas, with the support you have given him, he has received a big portion of that luck. 

Delphine Arnault: The financial grant is important but most importantly for Thomas is that we’re going to coach him a year through a dedicated team professionals at LVMH helping him with many difficult questions like ‘where should I distribute my clothes’, ‘how do I price the products’, or ‘at what price should I produce them’, ‘should I diversify in shoes, handbags, and if I do where should I produce the shoes, produce the handbags’ etc. This team that we have is dedicated to young talents and is going to help him in the choices that he has to make for a year. And also for the 2 winners for the special prizes.

Vogue Korea: For Thomas Tait who is very ready – you can see that although he is very young of age, he takes his brand very seriously – what does this mentorship mean? Are you investing in his brand - not necessarily meaning invest financially in his brand - in a young designer who is ready to take the next step. Is that what this means?  What happens after a year?

Delphine Arnault: What we’re doing today is we’re helping him grow and so we’re giving him the 300,000 Euros and 1 year coaching by a dedicated team. We’re not investing in his brand. We’re helping him. It is not a participation in his company.

Vogue Korea: Let’s talk about the showroom for the 30 finalists. How was it for you to meet them? Did you see all the collections and meet the designers?

Delphine Arnault: Yes, it was great to see all the young talents. Some of them will be very important designers in the future. The showroom was very promising for the future. The talents who were there had a lot of energy and youth. It was very diverse where you had different nationalities and also a lot of women designers. It was great to speak to everyone and see their work to understand what they are doing with the brand. Some designers were younger in their work but you could see it was a strong moment. 

Vogue Korea: The showroom sounded like quite a scene. Seeing the designers and the work in person is so much different than all the paper work. The atmosphere you created for young designers is exciting. Are you going to do it again for next year?

Delphine Arnault: It’s a good thing to see them in person and part of the job of being a fashion designer is of course the talent, the work, the product but it’s also how you speak in public.  

Vogue Korea: Let’s talk about Korea. Korea is blossoming with young talents and the fashion industry is trying to take the right steps to evolve so it can support the designers. Not always easy as everyone has their own way of supporting. For young designers who are striving to make something out of their talents, what can you tell them? How do you stay original and commercial at the same time as a young designer?

Delphine Arnault: You have to find the right compromise between the two. You have to have a very strong point of view and your product has to be unique and different and at the same time you need to be very hands-on on the sales to make your products selling. You have to find the right compromise between the two. Actually in the 30 semi finalists there were three Korean young designers that were in the selection that we had for the LVMH Prize in the first year.

Vogue Korea: Yes, during a personal conversation, Sarah Mower noted that Korea had the highest national representation other than the UK and the US. To be fair the prize isn’t about nations and everyone is educated in different places but this is very encouraging to the young talents in Korea. Are you familiar with Korean Fashion?

Delphine Arnault: I’ve been to Korea couple of times and as I was saying in the finalists there were Kye, J JS Lee and Minju kim who are based in Seoul, London and Antwerp. The work was very different, Kye was very colourful and others were more minimal. So it’s very promising and I hope that we have even more Korean designers who will apply next year.

Vogue Korea: You are part of the team who put together this exciting prize but on top of that as an entrepreneur who has been able to establish what has been an amazing enterprise at LVMH what do you think is really important for designers? Maybe something designers are not able to look at when they are young and independent but when joining a group something that they have to be aware of.

Delphine Arnault: I think the most important thing is to have a product and a unique point of view on the product. Unique as well as something that is very different. So that’s the most important thing and then I think that every creative talent needs to, if they want to develop their brand, have someone next to them. Someone that they can trust and can help them develop their brand. You must try to find the right person to help you develop the brand. It can be a friend, a manager or those who are on the same page with you and can support the business side, help structure the company and grow your vision.

Vogue Korea: What is your role at the LVMH Group? From Christian Dior to Louis Vuitton what is that you would like to inject into the business? 

Delphine Arnault: : I am the Vice President of Louis Vuitton since September 2013 in charge of the products. I oversee all the Men and Women Universe at Vuitton from leather goods to RTW, shoes, accessories, Jewelry from a business perspective.

Vogue Korea: We are excited that you reached out to re-interpret Louis Vuitton’s monogram to celebrate the brand’s 160th anniversary? I thought it was interesting that with your involvement the group is reaching out to wider talents and evolving the unique culture of the brands that have each been built on top of a history of their own.

Delphine Arnault: For the end of the year we sat down with Nicholas and we were thinking about how to celebrate the monogram and not necessarily for the 160 years but just to celebrate the monogram, an icon of our house. So we thought of asking 6 iconoclasts what was their opinion or what was their perception or their idea of the monogram. We have 6 geniuses who are the best in their field. They are the people who work with their mind and their hands. The result is 6 geniuses who are Frank Gherry, Karl Lagerfeld, Cindy Sherman, Rei Kawakubo, Marc Newson, and Christian Louboutin. This project is for the end of the year so it’s going to be released in the shops on the 15th of  October and I’m really excited about it.

Vogue Korea: Do you think it is important that the brand reaches out to the customers communicating in a way that is very heritage but also modern as well?

Delphine Arnault: Yes absolutely. And the products are fantastic.  

Vogue Korea: To you what has been the best product in your archive - is that not an answerable question?

Delphine Arnault: We have so many amazing icons.

Vogue Korea: Can you tell us about it? Tell us about your products that you know so very well. I feel like we know just the puzzles of your story. We know a little bit of this and a little bit of that; we know about the monogram we know about the catwalk we know about the bag but we don't know about the whole picture because we don’t really have to think about it. But you do and can you tell us about it?

Delphine Arnault: At Vuitton, there is so many. There’s the voyage, the travel that is the essence of our brand. Louis Vuitton, he left his family when he was 13 to go to Paris and he created our house in 1854. He’s always been an innovator and that’s always been at the center of the house, the heritage, craftsmanship and extreme quality. And you see that in every product that we do. For example ‘Alma’, one of our icons, the ‘Speedy’, we have a lot of travel bags the ‘Keepall’, these are all amazing icons at Louis Vuitton. We relaunched the ‘Capucine’, which is the leather bag that had a very big success and the ‘Petite Malle’, the small trunks that Nicholas Ghesquiere did in the show are being launched nowadays at the shops so it’s a very exciting moment for Louis Vuitton.  

Vogue Korea: What is innovation to you now, now that you have established an amazing heritage and renewed it with a young talent? Do you think about this because innovation changes over eras?

Delphine Arnault: Yes, of course. Innovation is at the center of the house and we try to innovate everyday. What we’re doing for the end of the year to celebrate the monogram is one of the ways that we innovate but we try to bring innovation at the heart of our company and into every product that we make.

Vogue Korea: I want to ask you about the students because we talked about the designers but you also have the students category who will intern at your company. For students who are studying and who are applying to your award what is that you’re looking for that is different from what you are looking for from the designers?  

Delphine Arnault: Acutally it’s true that the very important part about the prize is the 3 students who were selected to go work for the 3 studios at the houses in the group. One student went to Givenchy for a year and there’s one who went to Dior for a year and finally a student who went to Celine for a year.  For them it’s really exciting because for fashion students it must be a dream to work in one of those three studios. The students also apply on the same LVMH Prize website.

Vogue Korea: It must be! Are you looking at their portfolios and are you speaking to them?

Delphine Arnault: Yes we did both. We spoke to them and we were also looking at their portfolios. We looked at their drawings that they have done and tried to find the right house for what they have done. I think for them it was exciting. You should try to speak to the Graduate Prize winners.

Vogue Korea: Yes I would love to speak to the students and even the special prize winners as well. I think the question that everybody is asking is how do you nurture the students because there are many of them but not all will successfully develop their own brand. You have one category for designers who will push their name into the business and another category for students where you are encouraging them to experience being part of a team and see what is for them.

Delphine Arnault: I think when you’re very young it’s good to experience different things and to have a work experience in studios like at Dior, Givenchy or Celine is a fantastic experience. They may want to work in a studio or create a brand. They can decide afterwards but as an experience it will be a great one for them.

Vogue Korea: And for you as well! 

Delphine Arnault: Yes, It’s great to have young talents within the team with different perspectives. Diversity and different cultures, all that is really interesting. 


Written by Inhae Yeo
Photo by Youngchul Kim
This article has been featured in <Vogue> Korea's September 2014 issue.