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Fashioning the future: Wallonia's support for brightest fashion talent

10:58 01/07/2017

Launched in 2006 to support upcoming brands and designers from Wallonia and Brussels, Wallonie-Bruxelles Design Mode (WBDM) has kicked off 2017 with a dynamic new fashion programme. It’s designed to enable talents and labels from the region to speed up their commercial development and polish their brand’s image.

The big news is that WBDM is now offering two annual financial awards to provide designers with made-to-measure help. To qualify, brands must have an original voice and a professional outlook, and demonstrate clear potential for international expansion. They must also have shown eight collections to date, and have had five sales points for the past three seasons – with foreign outlets considered an asset.

The awards were judged last autumn by a panel of industry experts, working with WBDM. The first grant, worth €35,000, was awarded to Filles A Papa to develop its communication abroad. Launched in 2012 by Liège-based sisters Carol and Sarah Piron, the label’s rock’n’roll street couture soon made waves, proving that young designers can juggle creativity with the kind of business nous necessary for sales growth and building a global reputation.

The second grant of €15,000 was awarded to bonjour maurice. Founded in 2016, the brand’s environmentally minded, 100% Belgian collections are aimed at babies and children.

This choice marks a broadening of WBDM’s selection criteria: no longer limited to women’s ready-to-wear and accessories, the programme instead targets a broader selection of brands and designers that have already established a strong identity and business plan.

This year, six designers will also enjoy assistance from specialist consultants recruited by WBDM. These are bonjour maurice, women’s ready-to-wear designers Gioia Seghers and Jean-Paul Lespagnard, accessories brands My-Elza and Passerin, and jewellery label Moutton Collet.

The consultancy will enable these brands to be better prepared for international markets, in terms of strategy, commercial positioning or image communication. The recipients will also undergo an audit of their export requirements and their degree of internationalisation. This bespoke attention is one of the new programme’s major innovations.

To showcase the work of Walloon and Brussels labels and designers, the WBDM team brings together local talent around international design events such as the Salone del Mobile in Milan, Maison & Objet in Paris, and fashion events such as the Paris and Milan fashion weeks. The programme’s goal was and remains about reaching and convincing opinion leaders and buyers with a selection of cutting-edge designers representing the very best of contemporary Belgian fashion.

To do so, it has formed several partnerships with renowned actors in the fashion industry: the showrooms No Season and Boon (Paris), the Parisian press agency Outlevel, and a consultant, Philippe Pourhashemi. WBDM has worked with these teams to develop collections and create gateways between the worlds of industry and design. In this vein, collections by WBDM-supported labels were presented at Paris Fashion Week in March and September last year.

For the second year, the collective stand Showroom Les Belges was present at February’s White trade show in Milan, a popular event for international buyers and press during the city’s Fashion Week. Five designers represented Belgium at the trade show: women’s sportswear brand 4254, women’s ready-to-wear designers Annemie Verbeke and Léo, accessories designer Clio Goldbrenner, and Moutton Collet.

A designer’s perspective

A graduate of renowned fashion school La Cambre Mode[s] in Brussels, Gioia Seghers is known for her intelligent, tactile clothes and modern silhouettes. The young designer has benefitted from WBDM’s assistance for the past four years. She was recently voted one of Belgium’s top talents to watch by leading fashion publication Vogue Italy.

She explains how the fashion programme has shaped her label’s rise. “I got involved with WBDM in 2013, after they launched the call for proposals for Paris Fashion Week,” she says. “I had finished my studies the year before and ended up being selected.” Across the following seasons, WBDM has lent an ear to Seghers, while championing her work abroad. “Through them I’ve learnt a lot, presented my first six collections at Paris Fashion Week, and also shown at White in Milan,” she explains.

Consultant Philippe Pourhashemi has been instrumental in helping her to work on her collection plans and to refine her brand’s identity. “We’ve looked at the kinds of fabrics I choose for garments, pricing… This outsider’s perspective on my collection was very important in my eyes, and helped me to make the right choices.”

Seghers is clear about the scheme’s strengths. “It’s a really high-calibre programme offering young designers substantial follow-up; it deploys major resources to help your brand become better known on the international scene.”

Written by Clodagh Kinsella