Local label Izzue and Tsinghua University join forces to support design students

An award by local label Izzue and Tsinghua University attracts design students from around the world, writes Divia Harilela

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 August, 2014, 9:39am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 August, 2014, 5:54pm

Some of the world's most talented fashion designers have been discovered at shows held at fashion schools worldwide, such as Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts and Central Saint Martins in London. But the most recent round of talent spotting took place in a less likely place: Beijing's Tsinghua University.

For the past two, years the university has upped its fashion game by joining forces with local brand Izzue (owned by fashion powerhouse I.T), to host the Izzue x Tsinghua Fashion Design Award, which aims to support young designers around the world.

"I think the most important thing about this competition is that it allows people from different backgrounds to communicate. It's a platform to bring them together, encouraging our own students to open their minds while improving their design and research levels," says Professor Li Dangqi, former secretary of the party committee of the Academy of Art and Design of Tsinghua University and president of the China Fashion Association.

Since its inception in 2013, the international award has been supported by various design institutes across the globe, such as Parsons The New School for Design, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and the London College of Fashion.

This year saw the first ever Hong Kong semi-final to encourage local participation, while four new schools took part, including University of Salford in Manchester, the Hong Kong Design Institute and France's École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs.

"It's interesting for us to participate in this kind of competition because there is a new generation of designers emerging in China. They have a fresh look, much like the Japanese did many years ago," says Gilles Rosier, head of fashion at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs and one of the competition judges. "At the same time, our students can really benefit from being exposed to a different country and its traditions."

A total of 12 finalists - three from Hong Kong/China, three from the US, three from France and three from Britain - were selected by Izzue's design team and a panel of fashion professionals.

On July 24 they were invited to Tsinghua University to select garments from Izzue's archives and then given 14 hours to transform them into a unique creation, Project Runway style.

Each contestant's final look was showcased at an exclusive runway show held at Tsinghua University's main campus on July 31. Up for grabs were the best design award and the people's award.

Both winners received cash prizes, and the best design winner had the opportunity to develop a capsule collection with Izzue's design team, which will go on sale later this year.

The final panel of judges at the event was made up of fashion industry experts including international blogger Diane Pernet, president of Kering Asia Pacific Mimi Tang, celebrities Wyman Wong and Zhang Jie, as well as various professors from the participating schools.

"The most important thing about this type of competition is that it's a cultural collaboration that encourages students from across the globe to be inspired by each other," says Tang.

"Some are visiting China for the first time, which is an amazing opportunity. They are also able to get valuable advice from industry professionals.

"It's not about whether you win or lose, it's about the experience," says Tang.

The final looks sent out by the 12 contestants ranged from conceptual to wearable with a fashion twist. Highlights included a voluminous white shirt made up of three different pieces by Tsinghua's Yilong Wang, while Hong Kong Design Institute student Li Pui Shan went topsy turvy and used a top to create bottoms, and trousers to create a top.

More wearable and no less covetable were a plaid wrap-around dress featuring geometric panels by Parsons student Nica Rabinowitz (who used a zero waste patterning for her design), and Leanne Hardacre's sporty summer gillet.

The best design award went to Johanne Dindler, a Danish student at the Royal College of Art whose menswear design consisted of a rounded shoulder top and matching shorts in red and blue. There was a definite African inspiration in her use of textures and embellishments.

"I'm really excited to design this capsule collection with Izzue. It's a great opportunity for me as a designer starting out, especially since I eventually want to launch my own brand. It's great to come to China and build a network," she says.

Rosier and the other judges hope that the competition will teach the students more than just good design.

"The students need to stick to being radical and I think that these competitions encourage that. When you are young you don't have to compromise, they need to follow their gut instinct," he says.

An earlier version of the story erroneously identified Johanne Dindler as a student at the London College of Fashion. She is a student at Royal College of Art.