LVMH Prize 2021: Lebanon's Renaissance Renaissance among semi-finalists for prestigious fashion award

The Beirut brand is one of 20 labels vying for the prize

Built around the idea of couture's legacy, Lebanese brand Renaissance Renaissance uses volume and proportion to alter the silhouette. Courtesy Renaissance Renaissance
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Lebanese label Renaissance Renaissance is among the 20 semi-finalists in contention for French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH's annual fashion prize.

The list of labels selected for this year's award was announced on Tuesday, with the Beirut brand the only label from the region included among the semi-finalists.

The women’s ready-to-wear label from the Lebanese capital is the brainchild of Cynthia Merhej, who explores ideas of the female form in her designs, using proportion and volume.

Renaissance Renaissance was founded by designer Cynthia Merhej. Courtesy Renaissance Renaissance

As the third generation of her family to run her own atelier, Merhej returned to Beirut in 2016 to set up the brand, having studied at the Royal College of Art and Central Saint Martins in London.

Deeply influenced by the couture heritage of her own family, Merhej’s aim is to reflect the many “contradictions of being a woman today" through her pieces.

Simple materials such as cotton are remade into shapes that both fit and disguise the body underneath. One dress, for example, is fitted through the body, before ballooning out at the hips in a gathered, layered hem.

A top, meanwhile, is pulled tight around the neck and upper arms, but elsewhere left as loose as sacking. Merhej uses pull-ties to corral fabric around rib cages or across the lap, paired with slim-cut waistcoats and ruched lightweight coats.

Vying for the 2021 title are 20 designers, in a year that has been difficult, to say the least, for emerging designers. As this is the first time the prize has been held entirely during a pandemic, this is all unchartered territory. Subsequently, the semi-finalists' work will be showcased virtually between Tuesday and Sunday, April 11, where, for the first time, the public will be able to nominate their favourites.

A number of British labels, including Bianca Saunders and Saul Nash, are among the semi-finalists, as well as France’s Charles de Vilmorin, Italy’s Federico Cina, Colombia’s Kika Vargas and South Africa’s Lukhanyo Mdingi.

Japan’s Midorikawa Official, America’s Christopher John Rogers, Albania’s Nensi Dojaka and Korea’s Post Archive Faction are also among the line-up.

With 1,900 people having applied for the eighth annual award, the 20 chosen will now wait to hear who will bag the €300,000 ($351,858) prize, that also comes with a year's mentorship from experts in the LVMH stable.

Renaissance Renaissance is a women's brand from Beirut. Courtesy Renaissance Renaissance

A second, smaller award, the Karl Lagerfeld special prize, will bestow one other designer with €150,000 ($175,902), as well as a one-year mentorship.

Speaking with Vogue, Delphine Arnault, executive vice president of Louis Vuitton and founder of the LVMH Prize, explained that designers in the present age must be agile, multifaceted and multiskilled.

“Today, designers are asked to be much more than designers, and the candidates have adapted to this new reality. They are very aware of their image, they build their businesses … and above all, they think about creation and its environmental issues. All the semi-finalists show a sincere and deep commitment, whether it be social, ethical, artisanal, environmental or local. They are anchored in today’s world,” she explained.

As well as using votes from members of the public, winners will be selected by a panel of industry insiders, including model Bella Hadid, actress Lea Seydoux, US Harper's Bazaar editor Samira Nasr, fashion director of French Vogue Aleksandra Woroniecka, and editor of Vogue China Margaret Zhang.

In addition, the prize has also named tennis champion Naomi Osaka as this year's ambassador.