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Emerging British-Nigerian designer Tolu Coker just won a huge fashion prize

London-based designers Tolu Coker and Eleanor McDonald each took home three awards at the 16th ITS event in Trieste last week

For almost 20 years, International Talent Support, a platform for emerging designers, has been digging out young creative talents from all over the world to participate in its annual contest. The initiative works as a springboard for the winners, who receive funds and mentorship to further develop their brand, as well as internships and job opportunities with the likes of Swatch and OTB – which owns brands including Diesel and Maison Margiela.

Although the contest was on a brief hiatus last year, for 2018 it was back in the Italian city of Trieste (where founder Barbara Franchin was born and raised) to award a series of finalists prizes across fashion, accessories, and jewellery design.

London-based Nigerian designer Tolu Coker, nominated in the fashion and artwork categories, took home three prizes – the Diesel Award, the Vogue Talents special mention, and a new award which was announced on the night, which offers her the opportunity to undertake an artistic residence in Shanghai thanks to Swatch and illycaffè.

Based on the lives of four black women that Coker followed and documented, her collection features illustrated of faces and boomboxes – music being a major inspiration for the designer – and boasts streetwear-meets-couture pieces made of deconstructed old pieces of denim and waste turned into yarns.

“In my work, I address issues of race and identity. Particularly within fashion, it’s something I think people are much more open to hearing now, but there are still conservative areas and I was attracted to the challenge set out by ITS, and how people would respond to my designs here,” Coker told us. “I not only have an aesthetic concept but a destire to tackle real social issues. This platform gives me a great opportunity to do that.”

British designer Eleanor McDonald also won three prizes. one of which gives her the chance to take on a 12-month tutorship with Pitti Immagine, as well as a €15,000 grant. Her tailoring-focused collection saw classic men’s suits turned into something more sensual, with knitted cropped tops revealing the models’ lower torso and back, accompanied with flowing flare trousers.

Other awards given out at the event included the OTB award which, this year, was given to not one but two finalists: Tingting Zhang for her artistic collection of hats, and design duo Chopova Lowena. The CSM graduates presented their final collection in Trieste, which built on Chopova’s Bulgarian origins and combined them with the world of rock climbing, to create a unqiuely colourful line-up of pieces. Bulgarian dresses were accessorised with snap hooks and traditional headpieces, while stripes of vivid colours embellished the outfits (which were made by Bulgarian women as a way to celebrate their precious skills).

Like Zhang, the duo will be given a cash prize (of €10,000) and the possibility of an internship at one of OTB’s brands. “We want to produce another collection and fund the business – it’s a relief to know that we will keep doing this for a while,” said the designers. “ITS was an amazing experience, everyone here is so supportive, and Barbara is really passionate about helping young designers grow.”

Elsewhere, Finnish-born Sini-Pilvi Kiilunen took home the Swatch Artwork Award for her unique installation, which featured hand-crafted brocades made with lacework, bejewelled notebooks and other floral imagery, as inspired by 19th century romanticism. The jury applauded her capacity to tell stories and the richness of her details, which gives her access to an internship at the Swatch LAB in Zurich.

Something all of this year’s winners have in common is the desire to share their distinct and personal vision of fashion through highly creative collections. The event not only saw designers from around the world make their debut on an international scene, but also demonstrated how a new generation of talent are setting out to question and challenge societal and environmental issues through their work. Who knows what next year will bring?