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The fashion industry. Though a very correct term, it always seems to sound a little cliché. “The industry”. What’s it like working in “the industry”. Who’s those snobby bastards in that weird get-up looking down their nose at us? “Oh just the usual people from…’the industry’”. Whether it’s just how it sounds with a rather well-spoken English accent, or it’s simply the pompousness of the average individual who utters those very words, it does come across as just-a-tad pretentious. Regardless, fashion is very much an industry as food or travel, but if you take away all the front row squabbling and the fear of not knowing the latest trend/designer, there’s an extremely innocent passion hidden away in the folds of fabric, where the essence of creativity & ingenuity is waiting to be found in the form of fresh talent.

The International Talent Support [ITS] isn’t something that most people have heard of, in or out of “the industry”, but if I told you that previous winners of this international competition include the likes of London design talents James Long and Astrid Anderson, or the particularly popular Peter Pilotto, you’d probably be a little curious as to why. To be entirely honest, before I went to the competition earlier this year, I hadn’t heard a single thing about it. Having launched in 2002, the International Talent Support competition has now held its 14th edition this year, consistently producing winners and finalists from all over the world who have gone on to work in very key fashion brands, or even start their own. Now that I’ve been and seen such talent first hand, it’s pretty much all I can talk about.

Held in the lovely city of Trieste, the two-day event plays hosts to pre-selected finalists from all over the world to showcase their collections for a variety of prestigious judges. There were five separate fields this year, including the Fashion Contest; Accessories; Jewellery; Artwork and Samsung Galaxy award, each with their own prizes consisting of grants and internships. It’s purely targeted at young talent, as the competitors are students from all over the world, but the calibre and level is simply astounding.

I was in Italy with YKK to observe their support of the ITS Accessories award, who issued a special YKK Fastening Award for the designer who showed the most innovative use of their fastening products. I’m partial to a good bag and some shiny boots, but after seeing the finished designs of the 10 finalists I have a little insight into the boundaries of accessories, and it’s evident that there are essentially none. The standard of innovation was very impressive, but it was the personal inspiration behind each collection that was actually quite touching, and it was so clear just how their personalities ran throughout their pieces.

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There’s an overarching theme for each competition, and this year’s was ‘The Future’. Yang, who went on to win the Samsung Galaxy award for his entry in that field, produced some very futuristic accessories which wouldn’t look a stone out of place in a reboot of Blade Runner. Dubbed “THE FUTURE HAS SOUL”, his collection explored our five senses, creating a piece for each sense. While it might not sound particularly wearable on the way to the supermarket, previous winners have often been featured in films or on stage, popularly adorned by the likes of artists such as Björk or Lady Gaga, so it isn’t entirely about “fashion”. Nadide’s ‘THE FUTURE CRAFTS BEAUTY’ was a very; very personal collection and personally, one of my favourites. Aside from creating astoundingly beautiful imagery (might I add EVERYONE produced high quality images) for her lookbook, the impetus behind her collection was equally intriguing and unique. “I’m very interested in psychology and social borders, whic means getting into deep and intellectual parts of the humans and their experiences” she told me during the judging phase, flicking through the pages which outlined the juxtaposition between her reconstructive jaw surgery and her collection thought process. Identifying the leather used in her collection as skin and the glass as bone, Nadide had created a fastening function by drilling intricate holes into the glass in order to connect a zip between that and the leather – and perhaps I’m easily impressed, but I thought that was genius.

The winner of the award ended up going to Isabel Helf, a 25-year old Austrian talent who is certainly going to become something in the years to come. ‘THE FUTURE BRINGS ORDER’ was a very very functional collection, consisting of thick; sturdy bags and unique forms of storage, all hand-made by the designer herself, exhibiting brilliant craftsmanship across a variety of mediums including leather and wood. Order in this case doesn’t mean comic book anti-hero Judge Dredd, it actually refers to Isabel’s own compulsiveness for placement, as the collection explores “creating a balance between the objects in the surrounding area”. In a time when men are beginning to embrace investing in aesthetics from clothing to ‘lifestyle’, Isabel’s collection couldn’t come at a better time, with a key piece including well, a storage “bag” that sits on your stairs. In fact, her bold; imposing designs contrasted with the YKK Fastening Award winner, Bianca, who produced incredibly delicate pieces where one function would simultaneously activate another. ‘THE FUTURE RE-ARTICULATES’ reads beautifully in the provided handbook – “Once the mechanism is in action the pieces go through a process of completeness, demolition and finally reunion”. Functionally, the pieces may not be for me as they featured charming hand-mirrors, but they were certainly for the judges, who I paraphrase “knew Bianca would win the award the moment they saw her YKK product in action”.

I could go on and on about the other designers, even across all the fields, as they all deserve their spotlight. As the saying goes, “everyone is a winner”, and in this case they probably are, as to be put on a pedestal for judges including Uma Wang; Nicola Formichetti and Renzo Rosso, is quite a rare opportunity. I was extremely impressed, but my opinion really means nothing in such an important room (who eye’d me inquisitively as I sat opposite them in the competition’s celebratory catwalk), so even the excitement of being there to view such creativity made me feel like a winner too. As you talk to each designer about their collection it’s their balance of nerves and passion that is actually very inspiring, and something synonymous with the feelings of all emerging creative individuals be them designers or photographers.

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I originally wrote this back in 2015 and we’re nearing to the next round of ITS. Since then, I’ve kept in touch with some of the students who have moved on from this competition. Katie Roberts-Woods has finished her second catwalk show within London’s Fashion Scout showcasing at London Fashion Week; Mirja Pikaart is at Louis Vuitton as part of the small leather goods team; I actually borrowed from Carolin Holzhuber for a photoshoot, who runs her shoe workshop for her own brand minutes from my own studio. It’s very promising to see these talented individuals go places, and fingers crossed I might be seeing even more. YKK are now operating their showroom in Shoreditch, and regularly showcase works from their previous collaborations with the ITS contestants. It’s been designed from head to toe by Kei Kagami, and if you’re into interesting, industrial interiors, I wouldn’t miss it. For interviews see Conversation.

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