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International Talent Support 2016, and beyond


It’s been 15 years since the launch of the International Talent Support (“ITS”) platform in 2002. Held away from the hubbub of the fashion industry, ITS has emphasised its humble foundations developed from within the seaport city of Trieste. Trawling through over 15,000 portfolios from across the world, ITS Founder Barbara Franchin sought to create an international network of creativity, and in doing so, created what seems very much like a family, plentiful with student and mentors of all backgrounds.

Barbara would certainly be the mother of this family. Whenever ITS is mentioned, Barbara often accompanies the platform within whatever sentence. She’s as much the face of the competition as the contestants themselves, featuring within most of the promotional material, and short films and ceremonies held within the contest’s dates. Her persona is not shown merely because she looks like a nice person, but because she does take on the roles of motherhood, nurturing ITS as a bear would her cub, fighting for all those who fall under its umbrella as though she was the star of an Attenborough documentary. She is warming, but clearly cautious, but I imagine that is what it’s taken for something to ¬†grow year-upon-year for 15 consecutive years.

At the 15th anniversary of ITS, Barbara held a press conference to talk through the ITS story.

She begins, “I’m not a very good speaker, so I will just imagine you all naked.”

“We were looking for beauty and beauty was found. A free space for creativity. A supporting place where creativity can express itself. We knew that real talent needed time, and sometimes time alone is not enough. To germinate like a seed, a seed that someone has to plant. We have recorded 60,000 applicants from 5 continents and 80 countries, and I have seen them all from cover to cover.”

She then goes on to talk through the ITS ‘Seismograph’, which has recorded data throughout the years, creating trend reports from the thousands and thousands of images and portfolios received each year. There’s a large variety of statistics, such as in 2002 there were only 12 Chinese applicants, but 2016 saw 120. Only 18% of 2016’s applicants came from English schools, which is quite impressive considering a large number of this 18% end up going through as finalists (the Royal College of Art are serious knock outs). According to the contestants, Alexander McQueen has been hailed as the student Messiah since the competition first formed, but there are honourable (and expected) mentions from Margiela, Yohji Yamamoto and Raf Simons. Personally, I love numbers. Statistics are often bent truths, but for an industry as subjective as fashion and art, it’s interesting to apply some form of positive economics to an abundance of peddled-as-truth normative statements.

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Having only been to the competition twice, I realise I’ve only seen a minor portion of this ‘Seismograph’. I’ve seen beautiful textures in fabrics I didn’t know existed, and invitations into worlds that I have only imagined from the wackiest of anime. I’ve seen transformations of humble resources turned into intriguing artefacts, finding purpose with functions that were never really needed, but at the very least, make you think. I’ve met some lovely people from countries I’ve never been to, with personalities ranging from raging hippy-loving eccentrics to awkward, introverted yet creative bright sparks. ITS is wonderfully diverse, and the two years I’ve experienced are really just the tip of the iceberg.

ITS#2016 was very enjoyable. Helen Kirkum, who I met months before the competition at the Royal College of Art open days, won the Accessories award for her innovative footwear, which are essentially Frankenstein-trainers created from the recycled corpses of Nike, Adidas and their ilk. Also hailing from the RCA, Niels Gundtoft Hansen won an OTB award (a special one sponsored by the parent company of Renzo Rosso’s Diesel) for his futuristic collection made from this thick bizarre fabric that I can’t quite recall. He went on to present his collection in Copenhagen, which I sadly could not make, at a no man’s land skatepark which created the world for his future. Other favourites included joint-OTB winner Anna Bornhold, who’s knitwear bore an over-arching positive vibe and message, and Jewellery award winner Sari Rathel, who’s gender bending designs said more about the extremely lovely designer than anyone else’s collection possibly could. There were plenty of memorable individuals, who drew inspirations from foods to fantasy forests, each creating their designs with such variety that it’s no surprise they were chosen for finalists. While functionality and use is on occasion, questionable, in a world full of beige it can be refreshing to see through rose-tinted glasses and revel in the madness.

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What made ITS#2016 possibly more special, is that I met both Thomasine Barkenow and Melanie Lewiston, who I both went on to feature within my installation at the YKK Showroom. Melanie’s headpieces were somewhat haunting and I think that’s what drew me to them, and the level of craftsmanship and care was very evident. Thomasine has focused solely on gloves for over a decade, and she has a real glowing personality. There seems to be a personal touch to her gloves – making the puns is FAR too easy – and there’s a madness yet delicate nature to each design, and it’s no wonder her work has been in hot demand to be exhibited across the world.

Sadly, there isn’t going to be an ITS#2017. After 15 editions it seems the contest has unfortunately ran into some sponsorship issues, and admirably so, Barbara and her team have decided not to execute something that pales in comparison to its predecessors. There is a silver lining, and that is the 15 editions that has built up the ‘Seismograph’. Compiled within the ITS Creative Archive, key pieces from each year have been carefully stored alongside portfolios and photography, paving the way for all sorts of experiments in the name of ITS. The brand of ITS I hope will be enough to carry on the platform outside of its contest, and I doubt a little financial trouble is going to be enough to fend off the zeal of Barbara. For me however, the real kicker is I now have three days free in the summer that I really, really really enjoyed. Forget about the other thousands of people involved – woe is me.

Good luck to Barbara and the ITS family – looking forward to ITS#2018.

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