Swatch & Vogue Italia
Trieste is an Italian port on the Adriatic famous for cult writers and weirdos, political misfits and eccentrics, unpredictable gusts of wind, Belle Époque architecture, and a surprising and unshakable local love of charcuterie. It is a city with quirks, of which it is rather proud.
Once a year, Barbara Franchin and her team bring a whole new set of quirks to Trieste. As director of International Talent Support (ITS) — now in its 13th year —Barbara invites the fashion pack to Trieste for a program of catwalk events, accessories showcases, and jewellery exhibits, with creative hopefuls peddling their wares in front of panels made up of the great and the good of the fashion industry. “We celebrate creativity,” says Barbara, “with people arriving from all over the world, each one with his or her own personal idea of creativity and fashion. And it all happens in summer, the most special period of the year, in the coastal town of Trieste, which makes the gathering even more enjoyable.”
Past festivals have seen Raf Simons, Viktor & Rolf, and Nicola Formichetti take up the judging chairs and handpicking the festival’s winners, who receive a combination of grants, internships, and advice. With previous finalists including Peter Pilotto, Aitor Throup, and Mark Fast, ITS winners are in good company.
Before nervously showcasing their work in Trieste to their fashion design idols, the finalists are selected in several different ways. Barbara and her team spend months meeting final-year students and young talents in one-toone interviews ; they contact the ITS network of 1,500 schools in 80 countries, and listen to suggestions about potential candidates from their network of past finalists, jurors and insiders. “And many young designers contact us directly,” explains Barbara. “The awards we confer, together with the partners and sponsors of ITS, are all aimed at supporting the winners by giving them opportunities to continue their design career, learn more and survive financially. The money may be nominal, but the really important things are the internship and job opportunities as well as international visibility in magazines and events.”
The festival’s ongoing collaboration with Swatch began last year with a special jewellery project. Young Bulgarian designer Milko Boyarov scooped up the 2013 Swatch Award and scored an internship at the Swatch design lab in Switzerland. This year, Swatch is getting even more involved with a new dedicated festival strand : ITS Artwork. On the basis of an approach that’s a little more freestyle than other categories, ITS finalists are asked to present their own creative visions of what Swatch means to them, no holds barred. “What Swatch has done and continues to do with art, its democratic spirit, is truly unique,” says Barbara, “running a project with Swatch intimately linked to art is like being accepted into a very exclusive inner circle.”
Milko creates objects and jewellery pieces that seem to tell a story and are at home on the human body, and he is currently exploring his own brand of inspired design at Swatch as part of his prize. “The environment and the office itself is fantastic,” says Milko. “The team is really diverse and international and every designer who works here comes from a different background.” For some of them, creating new objects is a solitary process, but Milko is used to working with others and sharing ideas. “I always collaborate with all sorts of fashion artists,” he explains, “photographers and stylists as well as make-up and hair artists.”
The young designer is one of many memorable finalists out of the more than 450 Barbara and her team have selected over the years. She recalls Aitor Throup “for his revolutionary concept of fashion”, Mason Jung “for re-inventing tailoring”, Christopher de Vos for his “one-of-a-kind prints”, and Michael Van der Ham “for his unique collages from several decades of fashion.”
After 13 years, ITS has finally acquired a sense of its own uniqueness. With the rest of the world focused on retail-oriented design and fashion weeks in London, New York, Paris, and Milan, Barbara has made ITS a byword for individuality, and has parked the festival defiantly on the Adriatic. And Barbara is convinced of the importance of her baby. “It’s quite fun-damental,” she says. “Especially for those young designers coming from scenes like Paris or New York, places where getting in touch with the fashion system and its insiders is much more difficult. Having the opportunity to be seen and contacted is vital to them, and ITS provides it. All ITS finalists have seen their professional lives changed after participating.”
Success for each finalist is integral to Barbara, so how does she feel when her ITS alumni — like Milko — go on to greater things ? “It might sound absurd, or silly and sentimental,” she admits, “but I do feel like a mother. A very thrilled mother, proud of the achievements of her sons and daughters.” •