International Talent Support (ITS), held annually in Italy, may just be the biggest international fashion competition for young designers you've never heard of. Well, let us get you acquainted.
The highly competitive two-day event, which happened this past weekend in the small Italian seaport of Trieste, offers winners scholarships, and more importantly, exposure to fashion's upper echelons. Mark Fast and Peter Pilotto, for instance, are among the competition's recent notable winners. Many of the past finalists have since landed lofty positions at luxury brands like Givenchy, Margiela, Celine, and more.
“I always pulled from ITS finalists and their designs [when I worked with] Lady Gaga,” said Nicola Formichetti, Gaga’s former stylist and newly appointed artistic director for Diesel. “The talent [at ITS] is beyond and it's very exciting. More than anything it's different and inspirational.” When Formichetti came across Zara Gorman's outlandish, oversized hat designs at ITS a few years ago, for instance, he immediately thought of Gaga. Next thing you know, Gorman's submarine hat appeared in Gaga's "Marry the Night" music video.
Formichetti was only one of a handful of industry vets on-hand to judge the competition, now in its 12th year. Sara Maino, senior fashion editor at Vogue Italia; Ute Schumacher, VP of trend and design at Swarovski; and Renzo Rosso, president of OTB (which owns brands like Diesel, Viktor and Rolf, Margiela, and more) also sat on the judging panel.
“I love that we can provide an outlet for all of these new fresh ideas, without contamination,” Rosso said. “So that’s why I’ve been supporting ITS since the beginning and it’s part of me. With creativity you can build a brand, you can build a company."
Rosso himself is responsible for the prestigious Diesel Award which offers 25,000 euros to the designer with the best all-denim look. This year’s theme was “Denim Revolution” and the award was given to Xiao Li, a Chinese student from the Royal College of Art. Li dipped denim into silicon to create an unusual but beautiful look which included an over-sized jacket paired with a jean pencil skirt.
The jury looked long and hard at portfolios from across the world in three categories--fashion, accessories, and jewelry--eventually paring it down to a handful of hopefuls flown out to Italy to compete for two days.
“We looked at 20 portfolios then trickled it down to the 10 best,” explained Schumacher, who handed out the Swarovski Award Elements Jewelry Award to Lili Colley, form the London College of Fashion. The award provides 10,000 euros to the winner along with a six month internship.
Last year’s winner, Octavia Yang, was still completing her internship at Swarovski headquarters in Austria.
“It helped me because of the exposure,” Yang says of winning the award last year. “And I learned so much from Swarovski and the business.”
The biggest award of the night was the Fashion Collection of the Year, which went to South Korean Han Chul Lee from the Royal College of Art. The award provides 15,000 euros, a return to next year’s competition and a chance to present their new collection. Lee’s impressive menswear collection was inspired by both Hannibal [Lecter] and the Yakuza [the Japanese mafia], and included perforated leather tops mixed with slick trousers. One stand-out piece was a leather jacket which had a third sleeve dangling from the back.
“It was a career change for me to pursue fashion,” said the 36-year-old from Seoul. “One day I wanted to do fashion, moved to London and got my masters and now, here I am." Lee says that he hopes South Korean fashion will become more renowned and that he looks up to burgeoning Seoul-based designers like JUUN J.
“There’s a lot of companies I’d love to work for now in London like Burberry and I’ve been having talks with them,” he said.
Lee later also took home the Vogue Talents Award where his collection will be photographed and featured in both Vogue Talents—a supplemental section of the publication—as well as on Vogue Italia's website.
At the end of the night, Felix Chabluk Smith, a London grad took home the Business of Fashion Award, which was created by the site's founder Imran Amed at the last minute.
"He was too good not to get an award!" Amed said to us later.
Though the award did not come with any money, it did come with the promise of a one-year mentorship.
Not that Smith needs it that much.
“I just received an offer from Margiela to work there like ten minutes ago!” the 24-year old said enthusiastically after the show. “Life changing, really.”
For the entire list of winners head here.
Click through to see more images from the runway show.