How a Young Fashion Designer Got Cannes Lions Buzzing With This Mysterious Dress

At the frenzied festival, Lilli Jahilo cut through the clutter

CANNES, France—When thousands of marketers descend on Cannes, the resulting chaos of banners, displays and branded freebies can overwhelm the senses. Which might be why one of the most effective posters at this year's Cannes Lions was the most simple and enigmatic.

Appearing alongside text-heavy event promotions across the Palais des Festival during the weeklong Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity were several eye-catching posters whose only image was a woman in a silk gown and the hashtag #TheCannesDress. 

There was no brand, no date and no call-to-action beyond the tag, which led curious festival-goers to several images on Instagram. 

Lilli Jahilo

The dress and its subtle promotion campaign were the work of Lilli Jahilo, a young fashion designer from Estonia who's been working on a design inspired by the Côte d'Azur city for more than a year and decided to launch it at the 2016 Lions. Adweek caught up with her as the event wound down to ask her about the mysterious project, which sparked curiosity throughout the Palais and drew attention at just about every event where the dress made an appearance. 

Adweek: So what IS The Cannes Dress?
Lilli Jahilo: The Cannes Dress is a dress I created inspired by Cannes. First, it was the dress, and then we gave it a name.

The creation of the dress has taken a couple of years. It started from a private client insight who needed a red carpet dress for a warm climate. It continued when I came to the Cannes Lions and needed a dress for myself to wear at the galas. Before coming to the Cannes Lions, I had attended some top fashion industry events in Berlin, Amsterdam, New York and Dubai, but surprisingly I discovered Cannes Lions to be very inspiring. The concentration of highly creative people is awesome here, and as a young designer, you receive extremely good and honest feedback regarding your brand.

 

A photo posted by Lilli Jahilo (@lillijahilo) on

Tell us about the construction and design of the dress itself.
I chose a fabric that suits my brand values—highest quality handwoven silk from England in wonderful naturally dyed color palette. It was fun to design the dress; I imagined myself walking down the Croisette, from the Palais to Martinez and thought about the feeling I want to have during this walk. The idea of a voluminous skirt which moves and swirls and gives the wearer this wonderful sensation of silk touching your skin. It's incredibly lightweight, perfect for the hot weather, and has practical side pockets for your phone and business cards. It's ethically produced and can be worn with a clean conscience. It can be styled in so many ways, so that whoever wears it, it becomes a part of their personality.

Last year, our prime minister from Estonia was attending the Cannes Lions and his communications manager bought the first yellow version to wear down the pier in Cannes. She said she couldn't have felt better during that day. It had empowering character, since it had been a very stressful day for the whole delegation.

As all my collection items, the dress was worn and tested by me and my business partner Tene, first.  We run the Maison together and are really passionate about what we do. When we wore The Cannes Dress the first time, it was an instant eye-catcher. Everybody loved it. The dress elevates your mood and makes you feel special.

This year we felt confident enough to share this dress with a wider audience. We chose to do it at the festival, of course.

Your posters were all over the Palais at Cannes, but the only message was "#TheCannesDress". What did you hope the posters would inspire attendees to do?
We held the dress launch event on Sunday as part of the Fringe Events program, and so instead of putting all the information regarding the event on the poster we opted for the hasthtag instead. By searching it, you could then find the time and the place of the event on Instagram. 

I like when things are communicated in a simple way; it attracts attention a lot more. Likely because of this, all the other posters respected ours and none were even overlapped. So the posters stayed up for the whole duration of the festival.

 

A photo posted by Anna Victoria Eihenbauma (@aveih) on

Did people respond, in person or via social media, during the festival?
We found it really surprising that even when I intended to communicate the event via social media, it was the simple poster and the image itself that took all the attention. Everyone we talked to was aware of the term #TheCannesDress and how it looked, but I'm not sure if people actually searched the tag itself.

So I think it's really interesting that although social media has so much power, it's amazing what a print poster with a simple image and clear message/tag can do.

What were your goals for The Cannes Dress at the festival? Do you feel you accomplished those, and were there any unexpected benefits to come from the Cannes Lions?
My goal was for people to acknowledge the dress and also my dresses-only brand by coming to the lounge event.

That happened, except for the fact that it were the posters that did the job. I never expected for it to get that much attention. It turned into a sort of a visual symbol for the festival. Many people asked me if it was the festival organizers that asked me to do it. They were really surprised to hear that it was an independent initiative. I am building my brand, and the Cannes Lions is the place to do this. I cannot afford advertising in the Financial Times' How To Spend It, but being listed in the Official Fringe Program and connected to thousands of delegates has a pretty similar effect. 

 

Were people surprised to learn that one of the festival's most talked-about fashion designers was from Estonia instead of, say, Paris?
For sure. But I think it sparked a lot more questions and inspiring conversations. Estonia is known for its e-solutions and being home to startups like Skype and Transferwise. It's a beautiful little country, home to 1.3 million people. And now I'm happy to take Estonian design out to the big wide world. Also, come to Estonia. We have plenty of fresh air, wild seaside, forests and cool people!

Will you be bringing The Cannes Dress back to the Lions in 2017? And what will you be doing until then to build on the momentum?
We'd like to turn The Cannes Dress Lounge into a tradition and to keep returning to Cannes. The festival needs that little spark, I think. I may come up with some new versions of the dress. Let's keep it a secret until June 2017.

We will go on a world tour with my pop-up showroom events between now and then. It's a great way for building relationships with new audiences, besides being a fun challenge. I'll hit it off in Dubai this October and then we'll see where the next stops are. The new collection will be released on Oct. 19. And I will continue to make the most beautiful dresses in the world.

Lilli Jahilo (@lillijahilo) is a fashion designer based in Tallinn, Estonia. You can learn more about The Cannes Dress, which retails at 1,200 euros, and her collections and designs on LilliJahilo.com.