Pin It
Sari Räthel ITS
Sari Räthel – JewelleryPhotography Eliška Kyselková

Trailing the new generation of fashion talent in Trieste

Global press descended upon the Italian coastline last weekend for International Talent Support, an annual celebration of the industry’s most visionary new minds

Trieste, a remote harbour town straddling the Italian and Slovenian border, may seem an unconventional location for a showcase of global fashion talent. It makes perfect sense, however, in the context of the annual International Talent Support competition, which last weekend celebrated its 15th anniversary. The competition differs from its contemporaries due to its family spirit and its founder, Barbara Franchin, maintains that a personal approach yields better results – a claim supported by the contest’s impressive track record (past finalists have included Astrid Andersen, Peter Pilotto and Demna Gvasalia).

Gvasalia this year returned to act as one of the various jurors awarding a handful of prizes. Other respected names on the panel included designer Iris Van Herpen, who was searching for concept and craftsmanship, stylist Lotta Volkova, who was looking for a strong, singular vision, and director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Valerie Steele, who was looking for creativity as opposed to marketability.

Furthermore, the competition this year honed in on sustainability, making it a key criteria for award-winners. This move forward was marked by the jury inclusion of Marie-Clare Daveu, Kering’s Chief Sustainability Officer, who was impressed by the emerging designers and their commitment to building an innovative industry without damaging natural resources or exploiting low-cost labour.

One designer embracing this pragmatic approach to sustainability was Helen Kirkum, whose deconstructed footwear won her the ITS Accessories award. “The project started as research into a hyper-commercial society and oversaturation; it’s about how we brand and identify ourselves against that reality,” the designer explained. This research soon inspired her to personally deconstruct over 500 pairs of branded sneakers and reconstruct them into warped hybrids. “I wanted to see exactly how they were made, so it took me five hours to break down each shoe. I didn’t rip or tear, instead I melted glue and unpicked stitching,” said Kirkum, “I wanted to value the inital components.”

“I wanted to see exactly how they were made, so it took me five hours to break down each shoe. I didn’t rip or tear, instead I melted glue and unpicked stitching; I wanted to value the inital components” – Helen Kirkum

This calibre of talent characterised the Accessories department, supported for the 11th consecutive year by fastenings company YKK. Previous years saw finalists challenged to create work using the company’s famous zips but, this year, YKK revoked the brief entirely and let the creative process run its course. The results were brilliantly varied: Young Jin Jang eventually won the YKK Award with her collection inspired by Rubik’s cubes and puzzles, but other highlights included Biyuan Zhang’s fur-lined rubber sex toys, Le Roni’s intricate headpieces and Melanie Lewiston’s brutal yet beautiful death masks which paid tribute to her recently-deceased mother, Iris.

This creativity spilled into the contest’s other areas too: Jana Zornik let her imagination run wild and created a collection of off-kilter trinkets which riffed on mundane daily rituals – she also showed a series of impressive imagery in the Artwork category and won the ITS Artwork Award. RCA graduate Niels Gundtoft Hansen brought his unique Nordic fairytale to the Fashion department, showing his heat-pressed tarpaulin jackets to a jury sufficiently impressed to award him the prestigious OTB award – he shared this privilege with Anna Bornhold, whose yarn-spun denims and sentimental slogans persuaded Renzo Rosso to elect two winners. Sari Räthel’s  ‘Gender Blender’ jewellery project was another key standout – the collection was inspired by Judith Butler’s pivotal text Gender Trouble and featured minimalist pieces designed to mimic male genitalia, protruding hips and Adam’s Apples.

It’s this kind of singular vision and left-field concept that defines International Talent Support, a contest which supports concept over commerce. “Real talent needs time”, said founder Barbara Franchin. “Creativity needs time to grow, to germinate like a seed.” Her approach is refreshing in a climate of relentlessly fast fashion; given the exorbitant success of past winners, it seems likely that this year may well have unearthed a forward-thinking wave of visionary minds.