In May 2015, London-based duo Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida became the second ever winners of the LVMH prize for young designers with their brand Marques’Almeida. Typically known for their torn, distressed denim, they were chosen from a group of 12 finalists and presented with their award at The Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris by the actress Natalie Portman. On receiving the accolade, Marques humbly described their win from the podium as “a huge shock and honour,” continuing that they “felt absolutely blessed.”

As winners, Marques’Almeida received EUR €300,000 (approximately GBP £215,000) and a year’s mentoring from LVMH, the world leader in luxury goods. As important as this prize is financially, this is unquestionably topped by the impressive kudos that comes with it. The award is a credited acknowledgement from industry specialists, judged by some of the luxury conglomerate’s finest: Executive Vice President of Louis Vuitton, Delphine Arnault, designers Nicolas Ghesquière, Karl Lagerfeld, Phoebe Philo, Raf Simons, Riccardo Tisci, Marc Jacobs, Jonathan Anderson, Carol Lim, Humberto Leon, LVMH Director of Sponsorship, Jean-Paul Claverie, and LVMH Chairman and CEO, Pierre-Yves Roussel - an influential panel, to say the least.

Panellist at LVMH Prize Award For Young Fashion Designer

With such great industry backing and financial support, the question that loomed was: how far would the prize affect the potential that the designers hold for continued success? Speaking about its value, Julia Robson, fashion journalist and lecturer, noted:

Just to get singled out and recognised by the stable keeper of the world’s most influential brands is a huge feat. It’s recognition that Marques’Almeida are showing promise and potential in a business sense.

She continues: “They've been hyped before but they've also shown business acumen, and this is what LVMH want to see - talent and a USP along with hype and being cool and young. Marques’Almeida are very 'of their time'. They represent a new kind of global brand that has a cool London vibe, but [also] have Portugal as a mother country. Most of all, it’s huge for LVMH to see you.

It’s the start of what could be a super brand. So many brands never get anywhere near this.

Indeed, it is the young fashion market that Marques’Almeida are particularly attracting. Explaining why the brand stands out for her, 5 inch and up Fashion Blogger, Sandra Hagelstam, stated: “As a fashion week regular, the hype of Marques'Almeida has not gone unnoticed for me. With it’s dedicated cult-like following, the future for the brand looks bright.

My appreciation comes from the design duo’s ability to reinvent and work with such a commonly used fabric as denim, managing to excite and surprise us every season.

It's been fascinating to see Marques' Almeida incorporate new fabrics into the lines, whilst following their signature 90s grunge-inspired, abstract aesthetics.”

So where did it all begin? Portuguese-born, Marques and Almeida attended Central Saint Martins together from 2009 and it was here, whilst studying for their Fashion MA, that they took the path of combining their considerable talent. They launched Marques’Almeida in April 2011 and, under Fashion East – Lulu Kennedy’s non-profit platform for emerging young designers in the early and difficult stages of their career – they presented their first two seasons. These were well received but lacked a London stockist.

Since then, their journey has been one of success. From SS13 onwards, all of their collections have been shown at London Fashion Week. They have also been awarded NEWGEN sponsorship by the British Fashion Council, which gave the brand opportunity for international exposure. Marques’Almeida then went on to win the prestigious award for Emerging Womenswear Designer at The British Fashion Awards in 2014. This is, as the award category notes, presented to “an innovative and directional designer who is emerging as a growing force in British womenswear.”

Although Marques’Almeida missed out on the shortlist for the LVMH prize in March 2014, attitude and determination are key factors in any success story. Natalie Kingham, Buying Director at MATCHESFASHION.com, notes:

Marques’Almeida has been a strong talent from the start with a truly original and creative brand DNA.

At the forefront of up-and-coming contemporary design, this award is a credit to their talent. We are excited to see them continue to evolve and expand their collection, watching what the future holds for them and being part of their journey as a key partner.”

Their collection for Spring/Summer 2016 has shown these months ahead are to be as bright and full of hope as one might expect of such prestigious prize winners. In a dilapidated warehouse on Essex Road in London on Tuesday, 22nd September, the fashion industry came together once again to put the brand under the microscope and examine how they had evolved since last season. The LVMH prize had everyone anxious as to see how the corporation's involvement would translate on the runway.

Historically, fashion business conglomerates have the infamous reputation of diluting creative visions and turning a brand purely into a commercial commodity. However, much to everyone’s surprise the distinct style that Marques’Almeida have been famed for since their inception was clearly present throughout the entire collection. Frayed denim, tatters of chiffon, asymmetrical hemlines and a fairy-tale worth of ruffs and frills draped over models who appeared to walk straight off the screen of a Tim Burton film.

The inspiration here was Fiona Apple and the purpose was simple and summated perfectly in the show release which stated:

As they experience greater demands, the inclination to rely on instinct is hence greater, resulting in a season that could not be closer and more honest to Marques’Almeida’s very beginnings.

A celebration of individuality within a community of friends and family.” LVMH’s support, it seems, has crystallised the duo’s vision and given them the resources so many designers yearn for; the ability to fully execute their ideas in their own space and on their own terms.

Aside from the financial investment and association, as fashion blogger Hagelstam explained, the benefits additionally include: “being introduced to a larger audience, which will play a key role in the development of their image.

With such a strong brand identity and the newly-accredited platform, the duo is heading towards a position where the first sign of deconstructed denim will scream Marques’Almeida to an audience beyond industry insiders.

Both Marques and Almeida have undoubtedly only just begun to make their mark on the fashion world and, like their predecessors, they plan to use the money to create a sustainable business. On a practical level, this is already paying off; as buyer Karen Quinones, from En Avance, Miami, said, “With their prize money they were able to deliver our goods this season on time, even early, which is great.” She continued: “I hope they continue to focus on what originally caught my eye, which is all the frayed and original denims. They are a very innovative duo and I look forward to seeing the evolution of the brand.”

As Shopbop buyer, Jane Albiter, likewise commented:

There is really nothing quite like Marques’Almeida in the market. The signature minimalistic silhouettes with raw detailing and asymmetrical hems bring a 90s nostalgia to contemporary fashion, but in an approachable way that the Shopbop girl appreciates and can incorporate in her day-to-day wardrobe.

Winning the LVMH prize will only widen the brand’s awareness and bring attention to their unique aesthetic.” We can only hope that along this path, they do not lose their signature carefree 90s denim feel, for it is this that is driving them and their buyers’ forwards.

Words: Lucy Slater and Zadrian Smith

Image source: Vogue Runway