March is definitely the most exciting period of the year for us, leaving out the finals in July, of course. The reason is very simple: one of the first things we do the minute March begins is pack our bags, drive to the nearest airport et voila, our trip to visit schools begins. We travel to meet with the graduating students and see what they are up to, to understand what is happening out there with young creativity, have a little taste of what we will receive. Perhaps even meet with a future finalist, or believe that we have met one before our opinions get crushed by the decisions of the juries in April...
In the past we've been travelling literally all over the world. We've been to Japan to visit schools in Tokyo, Kobe and Kyoto. We've travelled to India to meet with students in New Delhi. We went to Iceland, Denmark, the United States, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France, Brazil, Israel, Spain... we even went to Cuba, where at that time it was hard for students to even have fabrics to work with, aside from the fact they didn't even have glass on the windows. We are always willing to travel further and go to schools that at the moment we are just in touch with via phone and via email. Always willing to discover new places and meet with new people. The fact is that we simply cannot do this every single year. Sometimes we just can't afford enough time to travel really far and two weeks are already too much for us to stay away from the office. Sure, today with technology one can handle a lot of work using tablets and wireless connections, but still it's not like being there in person, like our job would require.
So this year we travelled for a week before being forced back to office work. It has been a very intense week though, even if we went to London and Antwerp only. We had the chance to meet with very interesting talents and of course we also spent a few evenings with friends. Some of you - we've already received comments about this on our Facebook page - wrote us that it's unfair we met only with students from these schools and that it feels like those we met are going to be privileged in the selections... We've been hearing this again and again and would like to reassure everybody about it. There's no relation between meeting us in person during the scouting tour and being selected as a finalist in April, and for a very simple reason: we're not the judges involved in the selection. Barbara is just one of several, so what she likes might not match the individual tastes of the other members of the jury, and vice versa. We've met designers we utterly loved who later did not convince one single juror, except for Barbara. There is always a long list of "favourites though not chosen" at the end of April and we actually write an article about it each year. So please, if by the end of April you'll read the list of finalists for ITS 2012 and see people coming from the schools we've visited don't think "ha! of course! it's the guys they met in person!" because it really does not work that way.
One final thing before we begin our brief report of the tour. We would like to thank the DIESEL team composed of Vladimiro, Marina and Alice, it was a pleasure to have them with us during the whole tour! A big thank you goes also to Fabio Talpo from YKK who attended all of our meetings with accessories designers giving them great tips on possible zipper and fastening uses and to designer Kei Kagami, accessories juror and consultant for YKK who joined us too in viewing a number of accessories students.
We landed in London on Sunday 4 March afternoon, welcomed by a snow storm we hadn't expected. Luckily it lasted only that day, soon to be replaced by a very, very lucky series of sunny days. Our first school was the Royal College of Art in Kensington Gore where Wendy Dagworthy (Fashion Dept. Dean), Heather Holford (Fashion Dept. Tutor & Project Manager) welcomed us as usual making us feel at home, though we always happen to be at the school in a hectic period for them, when they are as well interviewing new candidates who apply to enter the course. This means we are in a room interviewing their students and they are in another room interviewing potential new RCA students...
We'd love to describe each and every person we met, but that would take so many words and this article would turn out to be so long that the writer might be asked to shorten it. So we'll just focus on a few of the people we met. And we cannot but speak about Alex Mullins. We had first met Alex two years ago when he was doing his BA at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, and some things about him haven't changed while others indeed have. Alex has a tremendous ability to research and experiment with graphics, treatments, combinations, etc... A single outfit can include a huge variety of references, graphics, fabrics & colour combinations, always showing his own surreal outlook on reality. He can combine apparently clashing themes, which isn't easy at all. We were fascinated by him two years ago, and still are today. At Royal College we also met a past finalist who decided to get back to school to improve his already excellent technique. We've already seen this happen in the past (with Adrian Sommerauer, for instance) and this time it was the turn of ITS#FIVE finalist Hiroaki Kanai. Several years’ experience as a freelance designer and now the menswear course by Professor Ike Rust have definitely shaped Hiroaki into an even more mature and talented designer since the last time we met him. We'll see if the jury decides to include him in the "exclusive" club of the finalists being selected more than once... The jewellery students we saw there were equally interesting, one for all was Emma Montague. Last year we didn't have the chance to have her enrol because she had broken her arm just a few days before our interview. But this year, wow, we were blown away by her ideas and how she developed them in jewellery!!
After our first day at Royal College of Art we took a cab and headed to Aitor Throup's studio. We hadn't seen Aitor for a very long time and had never been to his new studio. He's got an amazing space now, that really fits perfectly his work and allows him to organise and follow each step of the process, since everything is done internally here (a bit like us...), from conceiving the idea to nailing it down on paper, turning it into paper cutting, right down to the final product. Aitor Throup designs will all come from over here, this is the space where each piece is conceived and is sent out to the world, not before an amazingly accurate check of every single detail. You can smell revolution in here, and as usual we could go on for hours talking about what we saw, but everyone will understand in June. So if you are looking for excitement in fashion, wait until then.
We also had a wonderful dinner with other long-time friends of ITS like designer Elisa Palomino, Head of Print Design and a true legend at Central Saint Martins Natalie Gibson and Mandi Lennard, the founder and head of Mandi Lennard Publicity. Also our former Head of Press Office Manuela Spiga, who now works at Marangoni London, joined us! Thanks girls for the lovely evening together!!
We must thank MA Fashion Course Director Darren Cabon, MA Fashion Artefacts Course Director Dai Rees and Creative Pattern Cutting Course Director Dennic Chunman who took awesome care of us during our stay at London College of Fashion to meet with their fashion and accessories/artefacts students. Among the several very interesting projects we saw there were the jewellery pieces by Octavia Xiao Zi Yang. Her collection "Joinery in Jewels" is inspired by Asian joinery used in timber architecture and furniture for about 7,000 years in history. Each part of the jewels can be removed thanks to the peculiar construction of the piece, giving the possibility to change parts according to trends and taste. There's a picture showing Marina from DIESEL modelling while Octavia is mounting one of her items around her neck... Equally interesting was the footwear project by Nuo Chen. From YKK's point of view it was even more interesting since it was a collection of deconstructed, transformable shoes. We had never seen the reversible concept applied to shoes, but Nuo found a very smart technique that plays with the inner and outside parts of the shoes interchanging them easily, thus radically transforming the whole shoe into a completely different version.
When we finished our interviews at LCF we went round the corner where jewellery prodige and ITS#SEVEN finalist Tomasz Donocik was waiting for us to dine together. We really can't help it, when we're with Tomasz we automatically switch to "fun" mode since it's impossible not to have fun with him... In the rare moments of seriousness, we had the chance to see a prototype of the gloves collection he developed in collaboration with former finalist Thomasine Barnekow and the result is breathtaking... Also amazing was the new collection of scarves that Tomasz is developing together with designer Emma Shipley, a former RCA with an incredible hand drawing skills.
The following day we finally had the opportunity to see for the first time the new building of Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, located in King's Cross. A wonderful new space with lots of light coming in and a grand entrance... apparently there's plenty of room for everyone but at the Fashion Department not everyone's so happy about the change. Leaving aside the history and the location (Soho) of the old building, there's still a lot to do before fashion can really call the new building their home. By the way, we're not interested in the box but in the content, and we did find substance! One for all was Yong Kyun Shin, finalist at ITS#NINE who has now graduated from Professor Louise Wilson's MA course. In 2010 Yong had obsessively padded hundreds of hair clips using them to create shapes on his outfits. He probably thought it wasn't complicated enough, so this time he decided to go for springs, not just in one size but in several different sizes. And he didn't just cover them in fabric, he used them to drape, add tension... in other words, a terribly complicated job with a wonderful final result! Another fascinating project was that of Craig Green, whom we also had already met in the past, when he was in his BA. Very graphic, with a very strong signature style, Craig is very ‘tactile’ in what he does, experimenting with unusual materials, fabrics and stuff and is able to put his creativity to the test also with hats and footwear, for instance. He aims at launching his own personal line and we believe won’t be difficult for Craig to set himself apart from the rest of the pack.
We also met with professor Caroline Broadhead's BA jewellery students at CSM. The new jewellery department at King's Cross seemed really wonderful to us, and we were happy to see many students asking us questions about ITS, eager to enrol and take the chance. In the middle of the jewellery lab we met with students like Charlotte Le Hardy and her wonderful idea of transforming traditional sayings like "walls have ears" into pieces of jewellery, and graduate Tomono Hirai with her pieces inspired by animal horns and fangs. We'd also like to thank Caroline Broadhead for the interesting chat we had at the end of the interviews, it's a totally different thing being able to meet somebody in the flesh rather than just being in touch from afar.
Our time in London ends with Central Saint Martins, and we fly to Antwerp for our final stop at the Hogeschool Antwerpen where designer Walter Van Beirendonck (Head of the Fashion Department and 3rd year Design Bachelor) together with beautiful Yvonne De Cock (Graphics teacher for all 4 years) warmly welcomed us, as usual. Our interviews started out with a big "BANG!" thanks to the beauty of Marius Janusauskas' work which left us utterly breathless and ready to clap our hands when he finished presenting his final collection... Another great project we saw among several ones was that of Umit Esbulan, with his sportswear concept mixed with lace and crochet resulting in a very elegant and tailored look. During our interviews finalists Jantine Van Peski, Tabitha Osler and Marisa Leipert, who now teaches at the school, stopped by to say hello, and, what an incredible surprise!!! Both Jantine and Marisa are expecting a baby, and they were just so beautiful in their pregnancy... as you can easily see in the pictures here!
This Scouting Tour week rushed by real quick but we managed to do so much in these few days and meet a lot of people who hopefully will all enrol in ITS. Luckily, we also had the chance to spend some time with past finalists, though never as much as we'd like to. It was a great pity, for example, not to be able to catch up with Daniel Ivarsson, Tomasz Donocik's "alter ego" in a way, who recently moved to Antwerp to work for a new company... but it was a great pity not having the time to meet with loads of other finalists like Justin Smith, Yang Du, Weronika Lesniak, Ali Forbes, Una Burke... way too many to mention them all. But we are trying to work out something for May, to meet with everyone...
As we emphasized in the beginning, we were able to talk about just a few of the designers we met, so we'd like to apologise to everyone else who isn’t mentioned here. You were so many, but you can be sure you're all in our minds, and we will never forget what a privilege we had meeting you. If we do have a quality, is that we remember people's faces and projects years after we've met them.