KENZINE had the pleasure of interviewing Jean-Pierre Blanc, the charismatic founder and director of the International Festival of Fashion and Photography in Hyères, which just wrapped its 29th edition yesterday.
Kenzine: You held the first Hyères festival almost 30 years ago: how did you begin, and why ?
Jean-Pierre Blanc: There were many reasons, and the first one was probably the town: I wanted people to discover Hyères. The second reason was that there had been an international film festival focusing on young talent that was amazing, but it had suddenly stopped running. I think that I had a deep desire to recreate that festival environment in which I had grown up. Then in the 1980s, I discovered fashion and the star designers of that era through magazines. It was all terribly attractive because it was a world that was talked about a lot, and fêted: it was totally glamorous, and totally Parisian. I was 20 years old at the time and studying business. The young designers within my circle of friends had a lot of trouble launching their careers. So I decided to help them by creating an environment in which any young designer who had just finished school could meet more established professionals. That is how the festival started. It was a success from the first edition and everything just took off from there.
K: Is it important for you to have the opportunity to meet people outside Paris, New York or London - cities that are world centres for fashion and photography?
J-P.B.: Indeed it is. And I want to clarify that the festival is not a fashion week. People come to Hyères to discover new things, to share, to discuss and to take pleasure. It is also to some extent a moment for industry professionals to relax, as opposed to fashion week that is a trade event. So relaxing is actually part and parcel of what we offer during the festival. The only people that are not relaxing are the young designers whose career is at stake. Everyone else is here to browse and discover at leisure, and therein lies the difference! I think that the term “relaxing” perfectly encapsulates the spirit of this festival.
K: Why did you create a festival focusing on both fashion and photography simultaneously ? What link do you establish between the two disciplines?
J-P.B.: Fashion photography cannot be dissociated from fashion. At the festival, we want to separate fashion and photography completely. The moment when they join again is when the winner of the photography competition creates the portfolio images for the ten young design finalists the following year. Maybe in the future we might blend the fashion and photography competitions more…
K: This year the jury is incredibly diverse in terms of their fields of expertise. Is this how you see fashion design, as existing within a broader dialogue ?
J-P.B.: In the 1920s and 1930s, fashion designers were artists first and foremost. They had strong opinions on music, literature and art in general. Today it feels like everything needs to be classified in isolation and I can’t get my head around this. With KENZO, you can see how much fun Carol and Humberto are having. They surround themselves with lots of different people and they share and have conversations. That is my point of view on fashion, that is how I envision and appreciate it: as bringing people together. What I like is the idea of community, of doors always open.I think that it is what this year’s festival is all about: the opportunity to mix.
K : Carol and Humberto of KENZO are presidents of this year’s fashion jury. What sort of insight do you think they bring to the fashion competition?
J-P.B.: What I like about them is their fun, happy, enthusiastic, open and generous states of mind. If the designers can realize that you can get to where Carol and Humberto are today while continuing to be “normal” people - open, kind and generous – then that is deeply inspiring and important. I think they have a great way of presenting and representing fashion today.
K: What emerges from conversations with artists around the Villa Noailles today is that the spirit of the Hyères festival is overwhelmingly one of generosity. What’s more, artists feel free here.
J-P.B.: Yes, generosity is something I try to scatter everywhere, and not just in the programming. I think it is important to welcome people, to speak to them and to exchange with them. Our work in the fashion and photography worlds does not fall into the routine of life: everything we do is unusual. You have to keep that in mind and to make sure that the designers feel confident about their creations, that we in the industry are there to support them. That is what matters above all.