c.2014 New York Times News Service

c.2014 New York Times News Service

PARIS — Youth is the cause célèbre here. There is a sour sense that the next generation of great designers has yet to come. Figuring out who they are is part of the task of the newly established LVMH Prize. It will offer 300,000 euros (about $412,000) and industry mentorship to the winner of an open contest, provided he or she is younger than 40, with at least two collections already in hand.

Who is the face of youth?

Maybe it is the effervescent Simon Porte Jacquemus, 24, one of 30 semifinalists, whose line, Jacquemus, is humming with buzz. He called his fall runway show “La Femme Enfant” (“The Baby Girl”). His idea, he said, had been to have something “very raw and fresh, but very naïve.” His oversize, cartoony garments, made of spongy neoprene in crayon colors — he compared the texture to children’s play mats — had a childlike perversity that both charmed and jarred. It plunged guests waist-deep into its childhood world, right down to its collection-complementing uniform: a brightly dotted smock handed out to each attendee to don for the show.

The buzz attending Jacquemus’s ascent did not drown out dissenters, who wondered if grown women long to dress like la femme enfant. But his daffy, cheerful show did suggest that one might like to have what he’s having. Especially since two of fashion’s sharpest-eyed spotters of avant-talent, Rei Kawakubo and Adrian Joffe of Comme des Garçons, have fixed on him as one to watch.

Or maybe youth is another competitor, Yang Li, 26. If Jacquemus stakes a claim to child’s play, Li aims for adult polish — up to a point. He began with the stuff of traditional luxury (fur, calf, double-face wool-cashmere), then twisted the knife. A single piece might be exactingly constructed, then rent to its raw edges by the hem. (It was, he said, a constant challenge to persuade his factories in Italy, accustomed to perfection, to tear apart their pieces.) “For me, this is the answer to modern luxury,” he said. “It needs to be more than perfection.” It lent a touch of anarchy to his poise.

Or then, of course, it could be one of 28 others. But even with the rage for youth in full flare, Paris Fashion Week also put forth plenty of seasoned designers whose examples would be worth following. One is Christophe Lemaire, whose collections make a case for forging one’s own path (not least because Lemaire’s led him to Hermès, where in 2010 he was named women’s designer). Lemaire’s heroine is flinty and strong, more Katharine Hepburn than Katy Perry, and he doesn’t hesitate to bundle her in layers of yak wool, felt, alpaca and gabardine. But his clothes have a quiet appeal, and it’s not hard to imagine women wanting to wear them. It may not hurt that he designs with one: his partner, Sarah-Linh Tran. She appears even more reticent than Lemaire. But, he said with a smile, “She’s the boss.”