To break into fashion today, it helps to be something of an alchemist. That’s the take away from the 32nd Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography competition where former Balenciaga intern Vanessa Schindler took home the grand prize thanks to her sci-fi collection “Urethane Pool, Chapter 2.”

The Hyeres Prize has a reputation as a career builder, with a haute pedigree of past winners including Saint Laurent creative director Anthony Vaccarello and Lacoste’s Felipe Olivera Baptista. It's also a substantial win: the prize includes a 15,000€ grant, an exhibition at French fabric fair Premiere Vision’s New York event in July, the chance to work with Chanel’s specialty atelier Lesage in Paris on an upcoming collection, and a job designing capsule pieces for France’s Petit Bateau, which the brand will produce and sell inn its store for Spring 2018.

So it's safe to say that Schindler's future looks bright. Here, the up-and-coming designer opens up about her surprising approach to fashion, her inspiration, and more.

You were raised in Vevey, a little town on Lake Geneva near Lausanne, did the crystal clear water of Switzerland’s largest lake inspire you?

My idea was frozen liquidity, but the problem was I didn’t know how to achieve that until I discovered urethane, which is used in technical fashion for things like joining fabrics and hems. I used urethane to question how garments are constructed and to approach the idea of craft in a new way. After I discovered urethane, I began by putting it on fabrics just to see what the reaction would be. I became more exited with each experiment. The only drawback was the drying time. I’d work during the day, but I wouldn’t be able to see the results until the next morning because urethane takes at least eight hours to dry.

Vanessa Schindler's collection.

JEREMIE LECONTE

How long did it take for you to master the materials?

I spent two years during my MA and I produced two collections. It was hard to predict the reactions at first and one idea kept leading to another.

So you approach fashion like an inventor ?

Yes, I’m fascinated by research and garment construction and the finishing process as well. It’s also about the idea of functionality, the back and forth between functionality and embellishment.

Vanessa Schindler's collection.

JEREMIE LECONTE

The result looks very sci-fi in nature, with undersea creatures and wet shapes scattered over a sheath dress; holes outlined with urethane on a peek-a-boo top, and a urethane-edged fur. What inspired all this collection specifically?

My dad worked in automobile body repair, so I suppose I got something from his love of the flawlessly fluid lines of metal and industrial design, but I’m also interested in biomimicry like architect Bruce Goff’s spiral Bavinger House and I like the mix of mysticism and chic in someone like actress turned yoga instructor Yvette Mimieux.

What other fashion designers do you admire ?

Henrik Vibskov from Denmark. As an undergraduate, I did internships at Balenciaga with Alexander Wang, but it was always my dream to work at Vibskov’s studio. I simply kept sending my request until they accepted me. I love the project of these five guys behind that brand and arty spirit of invention. I’m also really into JW Anderson at Loewe, and young designers like London’s Martine Rose and Craig Green.

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