EXCLUSIVE: AZ Factory to Showcase Fledgling Designer Tennessy Thoreson During Paris Couture Week

PARISAZ Factory is doubling down on its commitment to support emerging talents by staging an event during Paris Couture Week as a showcase for the work of Tennessy Thoreson, a recent fashion school graduate taking his first steps in the industry.

Having pivoted to a platform for collaborations with guest creatives, or “amigos,” following the untimely death of its founder Alber Elbaz in 2021, AZ Factory is set to present what it bills as a “theatrical show” on Jan. 23 featuring 12 looks by Thoreson inspired by the concept of “super heroines and their exceptional powers,” the house revealed exclusively to WWD.

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Richemont executive Mauro Grimaldi met the French designer at his graduate show at the Geneva University of Art and Design (HEAD) in November 2021, where Thoreson won both the Eyes on Talents award and the bachelor Bongénie Prize with his sharp fantasy silhouettes with pops of acidic color and faux fur.

Grimaldi said he was impressed by Thoreson’s technical skills and distinctive aesthetic, and his skill for storytelling, rooted in female and queer empowerment, inclusivity and joy.

“His vision of fashion and of society was very clear and really current, and at the same time, he has an amazing, super emotional, way to communicate,” he recalled. “When you meet a designer that has technical skills, a very sharp aesthetic, a strong storytelling and the ability to communicate it — in my vision, this designer has most of the elements that can take him or her to success.”

With strong links to the drag community, Thoreson embodies AZ Factory’s ethos of “smart fashion that cares,” the executive said.

“We thought this idea of a heroine really resonated with one of the pillars of Alber’s philosophy, which was the idea that clothing can offer you a kind of protection from the outside world,” Grimaldi said. “As a kind of extension of this idea, we love this idea of a collection of 12 looks, each of them with a superpower.”

The designs will be available for custom order, with fittings to take place at AZ Factory’s atelier located at the Fondation Cartier in Paris.

“It will work as a true couture experience for a new generation, for people that are probably today much more into streetwear or a different approach to fashion,” Grimaldi said. “It’s a product, but it will also be an experience.”

As reported, AZ Factory is planning six presentations a year with guest creatives. While couture week is reserved for emerging talents, the ready-to-wear shows will be a time to unveil collaborations with more established designers that have the potential to become permanent, such as Lutz Huelle, who brought his expertise to the spring 2023 collection.

The brand will present confirmed or internal projects on the pre-collections schedule, with a repeat collaboration from 2022 slated for next May or June. AZ Factory’s initial slate of partnerships also included Thebe Magugu, Ester Manas, Cyril Bourez, Sheltersuit and Italian DJ collective Club Domani.

After hosting a first pop-up store in Paris during the fashion weeks for men’s and haute couture last summer, Grimaldi is considering another temporary space in 2023, though he has ruled out the idea of a permanent flagship for the brand. AZ Factory works with around 50 retailers worldwide, including Selfridges, Saks, Bergdorf Goodman, Printemps and I.T.

“We are not looking for a 200-door distribution. We are growing step by step with the right people,” he said. “We are not into creating a huge business with no limits, but we are really into protecting and incubating designers that need to be protected, whatever stage they are at.”

Elaborating on the rationale behind working with “absolute beginners,” such as Bourez and Thoreson, Grimaldi said the idea was to develop a network of talents around parent company Compagnie Financière Richemont.

“These projects that we present during couture, they do not have an immediate focus on commercial potential, but they represent Richemont’s commitment to support the next generation of designers,” said Grimaldi, a strategic adviser to Philippe Fortunato, chief executive officer of Fashion & Accessories Maisons at the luxury conglomerate, which owns brands including Chloe, Cartier and Alaïa.

“Even if we start with a one-shot collaboration, we look for people that potentially can become permanent collaborations for the group in different ways. It could be with AZ Factory directly, it could be with another house of the group, it could even be that at a certain point, with some of them, we decide as a group to support them and to invest in their own brand,” he explained.

“For sure, we never select designers with whom we already know from the very beginning that there will not be space for a second or a permanent episode,” he added. “The original idea about AZ Factory is to create solid and non-conventional relations between one of the biggest conglomerates and independent designers.”

While fashion prizes have grown in size and stature in recent years, AZ Factory’s platform vaults recent graduates straight into a luxury group, with full access to creative and product development teams, as well as marketing and communications resources.

“This is the real beauty: we offer talented people an opportunity even before they are ready from a structural point of view,” Grimaldi said. To wit, Thoreson has yet to found his own brand. Following a stint at Chloé, he is now interning at Paco Rabanne.

“We offer them the possibility to realize their very early dreams. And at the same time, we try to offer them a first scheme to structure these dreams into a true collection,” Grimaldi said. “On the other side, what we receive from that is that we have the possibility to create a dialogue with designers that can be leaders in the industry in the future.”

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