Chinese designers shine in ITS competition judged by Demna
Twenty years ago, Barbara Franchin had a vision. It was simple: support young talent around the world by creating a globally recognized fashion contest for new graduates. There was a stipulation, to donate an object from this final collection to an archive.
Two decades later, Franchin’s manifesto has spawned a unique catalog of over 14,359 portfolios, 1,077 dresses, 160 accessories, 118 jewelry and over 700 photographic projects, which together form a tapestry that depicts the recent history of clothing design. Many of these former entrants and winners have worked in some of the most prestigious houses in the industry (Demna de Balenciaga, winner in 2004) or have created their own labels (Richard Quinn, Cecile Bahnsen), making the archive a piece unique. – a fashion curiosity.
This month, more than six hundred guests gathered in Trieste for the anniversary, which honored 24 finalists as well as winners from previous events. At the same time, he unveiled the new Special Archive House, a purpose-built museum in the port in northeast Italy.
Among the 60 Chinese designers who participated, one designer made the prestigious “fashion” category: Ching-Lin Chen from Taiwan. He showcased eight looks that told the story of his parents’ marriage. Sara Sozzani Maino, educational and scouting initiatives advisor at Vogue Italia, noted that “marriage is a theme that no one touches, but he saw it in a very creative way, in a new way, with a fearless expression” .
Chen’s presence was all the more important because of the drop in the number of Chinese finalists in the line-up. “What’s interesting about this contest is that you never know who’s behind the wallets,” Maino continued. “But for Chinese designers, the pandemic has definitely influenced that. Moreover, this time, the participants were not afraid to expose themselves. Before it was less personal but now it’s more about your inner problems, which are not easy to put into creativity. Some succeed, others don’t.
The day before, Chen shared his technical prowess and personal story with the judging panel, which included Maino, Demna and Daily Jing, among others. The panel saw their designs evolve from wrapped silhouettes in pale lace patchwork to tailored outerwear in vibrant mustard or mint, and an elongated tailored coat in a pop of bright pink felt. Franchin herself endorsed her work, adding how “wonderful it was in terms of concept and production. The poetry he put inside made it really strong, romantic, inclusive and salable already.
Although Chen missed out on an award, 2022 winners in other categories included Hong Kong-born, London-based Hing Fung Jesse Lee. It won first place of €3,000 (RMB 21,000) in the ITS Sportswear Award powered by Lotto Sport for its design, called “sustainability in a new and innovative way”, by Lotto Sport President Andrea Tomat , who awarded the prize. “When they called me, they were so excited about him. He thinks creatively about sustainability. He’s unstoppable and full of energy,” Franchin said. Jing Daily.
Dressed in his own colorful, cut-out designs, Fung was exuberant as he sat down for his interviews at the sumptuous Hotel Savior along Trieste’s seafront. “For me, it’s about developing a new way of doing things that connects everyone in the industry through upcycling. The sneakers were cut from inventory or dead animals. This opens a big door for me. It’s really a family here, we want something new and to change things,” he says.
The ITS Digital Fashion Award was won by duo Zong Bo Jiang from Chengdu and Xiaoling Jin from Ningbo; they both studied at the Royal College of Art, where they honed their imaginative and virtual art, and currently live in London. Former finalist Hua Keiga Hui presented the award, given for the duo’s “compelling and utterly unique aesthetic point.” (Hua, from Shanghai, won ITS’ first Digital Fashion Award in 2021.)
As her 2021 Vogue Talent Award was handed out virtually due to the coronavirus, Tianan Ding, from Changsha but also living in London, was invited to celebrate ITS’ birthday. Ding earned the Masters degree in Fashion Humanswear at the Royal College of Art and now runs the sustainable streetwear line Ala Tianan, where she gives new value to fabrics such as toilet paper through a “no-waste ideology”. Tianan explained how “as a Chinese designer, I think ITS has helped and encouraged me to express myself internationally. I would encourage Chinese talents to step out of their comfort zone and make their voices heard around the world.
Winner of the 2020 Media Jury Prize Sanya Chen was also invited back, to make up for missing her live ceremony – but was unable to attend, proving again that complications over COVID-19 and its fallout remain. “These are really from the pandemic generation and we will have the consequences for several years, especially in China,” Maino added.
Earlier in the trip, guests were treated to a glimpse of the ITS inaugural exhibition drawn from these archives uniquely brought together by curator Olivier Saillard; it opened in a painted tulle dress by Yu Prize winner Caroline Hu. “When selecting objects, I decided not to know the country of origin, but my gaze was constantly drawn to Asian designers (Chinese or Japanese). It’s like another world that comes from the heart,” Saillard explained. “The Chinese are interested in turning textiles into something else by hand and it’s much more touching. It’s my favorite, I must say. It’s more artisanal.
Despite all the challenges, including the pandemic, Franchin has managed to support thousands of young artists, taking them through this unique phase of unbridled inventiveness. For graduate students now, it’s even harder to create. “They are survivors. We have to respect them,” she fondly reminded us.