Cannes a major platform for designers

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CANNES -- At the Hotel du Cap last Cannes, a lucky few gathered for an intimate soiree to celebrate the launch of the latest Chopard parfum.

A stylist from Vogue Italy danced the night away in his blue suede shoes, girly It Girls looked on as Chopard's co-president Caroline Gruosi-Scheufele boogied with abandon. The paparazzi were somewhat distracted down the coast.

In another part of the Riviera, designer Roberto Cavalli held court on his yacht perched in a deck chair, hidden purposefully behind a pair of dark shades. And the Missoni heiress, Margherita Missoni, hung from the side of another yacht, where a bash for a luxury London club was unspooling.

Films? Well, they're important too, but fashion has suddenly become extra a la mode on the Croisette.

Think sponsorship of the festival proper, a la Chopard, to photo exhibitions from Dior, or private roof-top parties and Du Cap dinners and exhibitions.

This go-round, this last honor goes to Italian jewelers De Grisogono.

Then there's Axel Huynh, the former Jean Paul Gaultier model turned producer of Cannes' annual Terrazza Martini tent, who has attended the festival since 2005. Or the luxury brand Mont Blanc, which will co-host the Martini Terrace. Spanish actress Elsa Pataky, the star of Bigas Luna's movie "DD Hollywood," will wear diamonds and white gold jewelry from Mont Blanc, worth more than $250,000, during the event.

"This free publicity is worth more than any window display in the best department store and allows labels to reach the customers even faster now via the Internet," said Huynh, adding that the red carpet in Cannes is as important as any fashion week. "You have 10 days to rock the red carpet with the most expensive jewelry and outrageous couture gowns in the most exclusive parties of the festival."

At the amFAR auction, big designers often take tables and provide many of the luxury articles up for grabs.

And Chopard's Gruosi-Scheufele even re-designed the Palme d'Or after the company became a sponsor of the festival in 1997.

"Cannes has grown in importance over the years for fashion and luxury players due to its international platform and recognition as one of the world's oldest and most prestigious film festivals," says Chopard's Prerna Balani. "Chopard receives more brand awareness from Cannes than from other events."

The Bible of the fashion industry, Women's Wear Daily, has been sending a correspondent to Cannes since 2002. And the fashion industry presence has been growing ever since.

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WWD's Marcy Medina remembers that first year. "By 2002, there was quite a fashion presence and a sizable contingent at the Martinez," she recalled. "Even then, you would walk up and down the halls of the Martinez and there would be signs on every other door."

This year, WWD and its sister publication W will have a Star Style Night party to celebrate the so-called "fashion pioneers of short film," which celebrates the cross-fertilization of the two worlds by presenting the plethora of short films which the big fashion houses have been making in increasing numbers.

Many designer labels still limit their participation to the suites, the so-called premiere d'atelier, set up to dress stars at the Martinez.

For the lucky few, designers from Elie Saab to Luis Vuitton will be on hand again this year with dresses galore.

Even smaller houses have begun making the trek, such as Paris-based Antik Batik which began attending five years ago when designer Gabrielle Cortese unveiled a special red carpet line at the festival.

Batik will once again take a suite at the Grey D'Albion, bringing 150 gowns and presenting a new collection at an event hosted by Chanel. Stars the label has dressed include Halle Berry, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Vanessa Paradis.

Batik's experience speaks to how competitive it has become in Cannes for fashion players and how much celeb dressing now matters.

"When we began, the big designers were not really interested in younger stars, so we got to dress a lot of those but these days, fashion labels want to dress every last person, so the competition is that much harder. All eyes are on Cannes during the festival," Cortese said.

Or as Missoni put it: "Celebrity dressing didn't exist until 10 years ago. It wasn't that long ago that Uma Thurman went and brought that Prada dress in a store. That would never happen today."
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