A small, sleepy town by the Mediterranean, Hyères
might not seem the most likely place for a major cultural happening, but since the 18th century it has attracted artistic types such as Robert Louis Stevenson and Joseph Conrad (who briefly settled there while writing The Rover
). Twenty-five years ago Jean-Pierre Blanc, fresh from business school, had the vision of launching a creative festival in the town with the aim of connecting young designers with industry professionals. Every year since, ten emerging photographers and fashion designers have been brought before an international jury of experts and competed for a range of prizes through a series of exhibitions and runway shows. The main venue for the festival, which for the past 11 years has been curated by Michel Mallard and Raphäelle Stopin, is Villa Noailles, a modernist masterpiece by architect Robert Mallet-Stevens, nestled in the hills above the city. While the villa is filled with exhibitions from new and up-and-coming photographers, the festival's fashion component is, quite literally, a walk on the beach, with a temporary catwalk set up in a tent on the seafront. Former winners in Hyères include Norwegian photographer Solve Sundsbo
and fantastical fashion mavericks Viktor & Rolf
, who scooped the fashion prize in 1993. The jury this year, the festival's 25th anniversary, includes cult Swiss photographer Walter Pfeiffer and Susanna Brown, the curator for photography at the V&A in London. They face the tough task of choosing between the following aspiring photographers.