Excerpted from:

First the 1,2,3 prize was awarded and it went to…..*drumroll* Jean-Paul Lespagnard, who hails from Belgium.  Well, actually you don’t even have to ask him about his nationality because quite literally he declared it through his collection entitled “Ich will’nen cowboys als mann”.  He works in both Brussels and Antwerp and studied at the IFPME in Liège.  Frites galore!  Not just any old French fries or chips though…the real Belgium kind with plenty of mayonnaise. 

Lespagnard was thinking about a fanciful character called Jacqueline who runs a ‘fritkot’ (a chippie to UK ppl…), when designing his collection.  She’s obsessed with a kitsch Danish singer called Gitte, and the rodeo clowns of Texas.  So it was no wonder that as soon as the model did her first strut on the catwalk wearing JP Lespagnard’s ensemble, there were cheers and roars of delight in the tent.   Glitter, Dolly Parton hair, candy cane body stockings, woven tent material, Texan shirts, chaps and of course lots of frites, worn as bracelets, on the sunglasses, on the Perspex clear platform boots and shoes…

I must say, the overwhelming amount of kitsch isn’t really for me but as a collection you can’t really fault Lespagnard for not seeing through a concept and of course everything was extremely well-made.  In stark contrast to last year’s winner of the 1,2,3 prize (15,000 euros and a chance to create a collection for the 1,2,3 chain), where it was difficult to see how Peter Bertsch’s techniques could translate into high street clothes, it actually seems right that Lespagnard got the prize and I expect something fashionably hilarious next year to pop out of 1,2,3.  

It seems like an awfully predictable cliché that Riccardo Tisci, lover of all things black, dark and mysterious who happens to be the president of this year’s jury goes for something… well…black, dark and mysterious. 

The Grand Prize went to Matthew Cunnington for his collection ‘Hail Mary’.  A graduate of University of Westminster and a contemporary of Zowie Broach of Boudicca, Cunnington took a different sort of literal approach.  His collection was inspired by his own mother who was forced to abandon her illegitimate daughter in 1969 and so the clothes are a representation of the feelings associated with that particular event.  Burnt material = fragility.  Exposed pocket = nothing left to hide.  Accentuated shoulders = anxiety and weight carried around.  Every fold and drape has a meaning. 

All designers were supposed to set up a stand in a tent (alas they did away with allowing each designer to have their own room to decorate with an homage to their collection…a shame as this is my favorite part of the competition…).  Whilst most designers showed their sketches, hung some artifacts, inspiration images and made a little corner all about their collection, Cunnington just chose to hang his clothes on his rail with a simple sketchbook there.  Nothing else.  That’s it.  Apparently, he didn’t say all that much to the jury when each designer was asked to present their collections.

I’m guessing the shy demeanor and quietness worked to Cunnington’s favor, and even as he was announced as the winner, he seemed almost scared to accept the prize.  There were certain aspects that I loved about the collection like the fragile material ‘burnt’ and clinging to the body for dear life.  It was again well executed… somehow though I personally felt like a collection that was so acutely personal and also didn’t aesthetically appeal to me didn’t click for me.

Like I said…intriguing stuff that perhaps my brain is incapacitated to process…

It seems silly not to write about the other contestants seeing as there were so many different elements from each collection that were quite impressive in vastly different ways…

Titipon Chitsantisook // Thailand (Ed. Instituto Marangoni)

He was the one designer who I spoke to in depth about his extraordinary collection that was painstakingly crafted.  ‘Never Ending Story’ is a theme that he has applied to his fabrics to breathe life into something that is supposedly static.  My eyes nearly popped out when he said he hand cut 50,000 pieces of fabric to construct a skirt that had to be mathematically calculated to make sure the tiers were properly in proportion.  He also reminded me that I needed to invest in some sheer leggings.   

Isabelle Steger // Austria (Ed. Applied Arts School of Vienna)

This was the collection that brought out the most curiosity in me as soon as the first model walked out and it turned out to be a 50 yrs+ lady (with exceedingly long hair!).  ‘iTrue’ wants to turn people’s notions of the normal protocols of daily work attire.  So the suit becomes oversized and more geometrical giving simultaneous comfort to the wearer but also a powerful swagger.  It was quite an odd combination to see these stately and dignified ‘elderly’ men and women walk about wearing these odd proportions.  That was probably the intention of Steger and as a result you ended up understanding the clothes better because of the way they were presented.

Stella Valentic & Julie Kéchichian // France (Ed. Studio Berçot)

I wasn’t immediately keen on this collection but actually the ‘cool’ factor of it all took over and I ended up quite liking it!  Hip hop shapes meet visual imagery from the Ndebele people between South Africa and Zimbabwe.  These people might mix in branded modern t-shirts with their traditional costumes or redecorate trainers so it’s that cultural mix-up that formed the basis of the collection ‘Embroidered rucksacks, dropped crotch pants (which both designers wore extremely well off-catwalk too!) and a beautiful, heightened interpretation of ‘streetwear’.  A mish-mash that worked to their favor even if all of it wasn’t to my taste.  Somehow they managed to get tartan, a fabric which I’m constantly dubious about, in the mix too.     

Graham Tabor // USA

An American entry in the competition is a rarity and so I was eager to see Tabor’s work.  To a slow Nico soundtrack, his models with plaited hair fixtures intertwining over the face and broken down, almost decaying silhouettes walked.  This was certainly not something that I had been anticipating, but Tabor has spent a lot of time in Paris learning his craft, so an appreciation for the ‘avant-garde’ was expected.  Translucent fabrics, torn stitches, holes and general fragmentation makes for a perfect uniform for performing some sort of ritual that only Tabor understands.

Miriam Lehle // Germany (Ed. Pforzheim)

At first glance, from the pre-photo, I was quite excited by the texture that Lehle created by burning synthetic fabrics.  Crinkled, flocked, like moss or fungi, the effects were brilliant.  However, I thought it was a shame that she didn’t take those ideas further and used these textures to overlay much simpler garments.  Perhaps the contrast between the complex and the simple was what she was going for and some people may like that pairing but in reality, for me, whilst I loved all the fabric effects, the supporting garments just didn’t do it for me.

Olivia Borde // France (Ed. ESMA, Montpellier)

Probably the most ‘ready to wear’ collection out of all the entries.  A solid menswear collection that grappled with proportions and conventions but never so much as to become ridiculous.  Borde was trying to capture the wardrobe of someone who still thinks he’s a rebellious teen.  Rebellious not in the clichéd way but with thought and melancholy too.  A very ‘complete’ collection.

Titi Kwan // France (Ed. Studio Berçot)

A fellow Hong Kong-er who has lived in Paris for the past 25 years indulged a simple form of origami in his collection.  The models did ‘flow’ in the clothes to a soundtrack of Faye Wong’s version of Cranberries’ Dreams (Titi was also Faye Wong’s stylist..).  A believer in draping the fabric on the dummy without sketching, his was about a beautiful selection of fabrics and colours.  I did think however there was some lack of coherency in the collection despite some nice details.   

Lucia Sanchez // Argentina (Ed. St. Martins College)

It’s pretty obvious that Sanchez delved into her Argentine routes and there’s a line where she is dangerously dancing between tacky and tasteful with the lacework transplanted over silver plastic, bull’s horn heels, traditional knit patterns and an affiliation with plastic, inspired by recent travel rules (those annoying plastic bags you need to take for toiletries…).  It’s a mix of modern and folksy but somehow the mix-up didn’t work so well for me as it did in Stella and Julie’s collection.