Europe Renews a Strong Focus on Training the Next Generation of Designers


Satu Maaranen

A look from Finnish designer Satu Maaranen, this year’s winner at the Hyères International Festival.

Luxury groups are making investments in smaller labels in droves, and Europe, at least, is catching on to how to prepare the next generation of designers for this level of corporate interest.

In Amsterdam, the Dutch have established the Jean School, which is exactly what it sounds like — a higher-education institute solely devoted to art of denim.  The three-year, full-time vocational school, which only opened in 2012, has 15 students in its first class and 20 in the next.  And of course, because this ain’t America, the program is sponsored by the government (like almost all Dutch universities).  In other words, the government of Holland is covering the training of future generations of denim artisans, with an overall focus on sustainability.  Graduates will be bringing their unique level of training around the world, with matriculated students more or less able to pick where they want to work from any global denim brand.  Unfortunately for hopeful foreign enrollment, however, the Jean School is only open to Dutch high school graduates.

Finland, meanwhile, has seen a wave of accolades for a growing crop of talented young designers from the country.  Again, education is to thank, with a tiny — 12 students a year — tightly focused design program at Helsinki’s Aalto University, in which attendees work as if they were already professional designers, train on cutting-edge machinery, and even learn how to weave their own fabric.  And an unaffiliated but incredibly useful platform called Pre-Helsinki seeks to globally promote the country’s emerging designers, helping them set up showrooms at international Fashion Weeks, hosting investor events, and coordinating meetings with buyers and press.  With Finns winning the prestigious French annual design prize for the past two years at the Hyères International Festival, the Aalto system of education seems to be working.  International attention shouldn’t be hard to come by.  How is the U.S. going to catch up?  We might lead the world in designer consumption, but Europe’s leading the way in actually creating them.

LVMH Young Designer PrizeThe team put together by Delphine Arnault to judge the LVMH Young Fashion Designer Prize.

Not to be beaten to the punch by anyone, the French luxury group LVMH is taking the means of production into its own hands, having announced this week a new global fashion grant, worth 300,000 euros and a year of coaching, for one new designer a year.  The winner of the first-ever LVMH Young Fashion Designer Prize will be announced next May after having been determined by a council of designers including Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs, Nicolas Ghesquière, and Phoebe Philo, among others.  The prize, created by Delphine Arnault (daughter of LVMH founder Bernard) is intended to uncover new talent.  Thirty competition semifinalists will be flown to France to show during Paris Fashion Week.  It’s like Project Runway, but with less drama, more legitimate judging, and infinitely better career opportunities for the winner, and likely the finalists, too.

If you’re not Dutch or a Finn, you can’t really take advantage of this new wave of rigorous, free design education.  However, you can get in on France’s LVMH competition.  Emerging designers younger than 40, anywhere in the world and with a couple collections under their belt, are eligible to apply for the LVMH grant, here, until February 2.