Something old, something new . . . Today the finalists of  H&M’s Design Award took to London’s ultra-historic Orangery to try and woo a panel of luminaries with four of the strongest looks from their graduate collections.

Text: Kristin Anderson

The pool had been whittled down from more than 400 entries to 24 semifinalists to the eight talents who showed today. Hannah Jinkins, who recently earned an M.A. from the Royal College of Art, took home the €50,000 prize today.

Judges Olivier Rousteing(fresh off his own H&M moment), Kate Bosworth, Nick Knight, Katy England, Floriane de Saint Pierre, and Chiara Ferragni, along with H&M’s Margareta van den Bosch and Ann-Sofie Johansson, sat front row for an ultra-eclectic lineup of collections spanning womenswear, menswear, and considerable ground in between. Postshow, Rousteing sounded off on the unique incubator program: “I think what is amazing is that [H&M] can support big brands like Balmain, but also support young talent. I feel really young in my world, but when I’m here, I feel like I’m old—and that’s a nice feeling!”


Ka Wa Key Chow, Photo: Courtesy of Mathias Nordgren


Patrik Guggenberger, Photo: Courtesy of Mathias Nordgren

Yesterday’s showing by the freshly matriculated talents made one, as H&M creative advisor Johansson noted, breathe a sigh of relief for the future. Ever-directional Central Saint Martin saw not two, but three of its alums tapped as finalists this year. Milligan Beaumont’s fantastic, streetwear-tinged pieces married traditional Japanese art, anime, and skate motifs—with plenty of Swarovski crystal along the way; Gabriel Castro’s styles served up a streamlined take on sporty adolescence, inspired by Richard Linklater’s Boyhood; and Jemma Beech offered a heady case for the return of body-con dressing, sumptuously embroidered, and with a palette that took its cues from a trip to Morocco. Ka Wa Key Chow, of London’s Royal College of Art, took knits to a new level, trapping raffia in clear plastic and screen-printing sweatshirt material for a crackled effect.


Milligan Beaumont, Photo: Courtesy of Mathias Nordgren

The talent wasn’t all home-grown, though: Enoch Chung, who studied at Seoul’s Samsung Art and Design Institute, sent out classic pieces like bombers and trenches, tattooed all over with darkly delicious embroideries: vampire fangs and phrases like “You are so fucked.” Patrik Guggenberger, who hails from Stockholm’s Beckmans College of Design, basked in the intersection of luxury and utility, showing structured silk cargo pants and a boxy jacket in croc-embossed leather. Long Xu, a Parsons grad, worked largely in grosgrain ribbons, bonding, cutting, and weaving them until they were a far, sophisticated cry from your childhood hair bows.


Long Xu, Photo: Courtesy of Mathias Nordgren


Jemma Beech, Photo: Courtesy of Mathias Nordgren


Enoch Chung, Photo: Courtesy of Mathias Nordgren


Gabriel Castro, Photo: Courtesy of Mathias Nordgren

The decision could scarcely have been tougher. “The level has really risen,” said Johansson of the applicants she’s seen since the competition debuted in 2012. “It was a little intense,” Kate Bosworth told Vogue.com of the judges’ deliberations, “which was nice, because I think it means we all cared. I feel quite sensitive to these young artists’ processes, because they really are so accomplished in their own right, and at the end of the day it’s a matter of personal opinion.”


Hannah Jinkins, Photo: Courtesy of Mathias Nordgren

Considering it’s the mass-retail giant H&M backing the award, do judges take potential commercial appeal into account? When asked, H&M’s Johansson replied with a resolute no. “It should all be about creativity,” she said. Indeed, in an industry in which retail often trumps all, there are fewer and fewer venues in which young designers aren’t expected to compromise their vision, but that wasn’t the case today. Winner Hannah Jinkins’s take on the traditional workwear vocabulary is one that Bosworth praised for its balance of “raw and refined.” Jinkins’s process-driven thesis collection was marked by latex-painted Japanese denim, waxed cotton, and sizable staple hardware. The clothes have a sculptural quality, both on and off the body—as demonstrated by a deconstructed denim jacket that made its way down the runway skewered on a meat hook in the hand of a model.


Hannah Jinkins, Photo: Courtesy of Matthias Nordberg

So how did Jinkins come to fashion? “It’s really daft,” she told Vogue.com postshow. “Back in school, many moons ago, a really close friend of mine said she wanted to be a fashion designer, and I just thought it sounded like a really cool job . . . She’s a doctor now.” Jinkins’s own serendipitous path hit an early high when the influential London boutique LN-CC picked up a chunk of her M.A. collection, in-store now. Starting tomorrow (literally!), Jinkins will begin working with H&M’s design team to develop select pieces from her collection, learning about production and the vital business side of the fashion world, for a capsule collection to hit stores next October.

Of course, it’s not all nuts and bolts; there are plenty of other things that go into a successful career in the industry. We tapped Rousteing, whose 1.8 million-plus Instagram followers added plenty of fuel to the inferno that was his H&M collaboration, to share some of his social media sage with Jinkins: Go organic or go home, he said. “I think the difference between me and other designers is that I don’t try to please people, I try to please myself. I take selfies, I suck in my cheeks, I have an amazing app to make my skin perfect. I just do whatever I want and I don’t care what people are going to say, and I think that’s the reason of my success on Instagram. I don’t care about how you have to look like the perfect designer—I don’t have this bible.” Something for H&M’s young competitors to ponder going forward.

(via vogue.com)