By  on July 21, 2005

ROME — In a country where Dolce & Gabbana are widely considered the latest new designers, the need to find and support a fresh generation of talent is becoming a priority.

The issue was addressed by the Who Is on Next award created by Vogue Italia with the support of Alta Roma, the body that organizes the city’s couture shows.

“We need fresh blood for a new generation of designers and a sense of continuity — the last successful designers are now over 40,’’ said Franca Sozzani, editor in chief of Vogue Italia. “We offer a negative image in a world that moves constantly. I’m not so optimistic as to believe that there will be a big new designer every year, but experimentation creates movement and this is positive.

“Who’s on next? This is what people ask me all the time and I don’t have an answer,” she added, pointing out that Paris, on the other hand, can list Olivier Theyskens and Phoebe Philo, for example, as recent successful designers. 

On July 11, six months after the launch of the contest, the three winners — Albino, the 6267 label and accessories designer Carlo Alberto Pregnolato —staged their runway shows at Rome’s Auditorium, designed by Renzo Piano, where most of the couture shows are held. The other six finalists, chosen out of 300 candidates, also showed their collections: Isabella Tonchi, Alessandro Cannavò, Bureau de Chance designers Stefania Bertoni and Lara Canal, Corto Moltedo, Francesca Rossi and Matteo Thiela. In September, the winners will show their spring-summer collections in Milan during fashion week. They also will appear on the pages of Vogue Italia and receive a monetary award.

Albino D’Amato, 31, who has worked with Emmanuel Ungaro, Guy Laroche, Emilio  Pucci, Dolce & Gabbana and Giorgio Armani, showed pleated short dresses inspired by Jean Patou and Givenchy. One of Albino’s best looks was a canary mink-fur vest worn over a powdery blue satin blouse and dark shorts. The line is available at Biffi, Milan; Maria Luisa, Paris, and Harvey Nichols, Hong Kong, among others. Albino said he wanted to give his own “fresh and contemporary spin” to sophisticated looks and deconstructed shapes.Two designers, Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Raimondi, launched the 6267 label last year. The line is available at Blake, Chicago; Really Great Things, New York, and Tuberose, Palm Beach, Fla., among others. The designers showed a feminine collection of beautifully cut tweed suits and a velvet and shantung cocktail dress that would make the day of many a Lady Who Lunches.

Pregnolato, who has worked with Missoni and Roberto Cavalli, showed a handmade collection of feather-light shoes and handbags that reelaborated vintage Fontanetto fabrics or had a retro, Fifties’ Hollywood glamour.

Design, however, was only one component, Sozzani said. “The competing designers must have a business plan and a long-term strategy,” she said. In addition, production and distribution are a must. Competing designers are required to have a collection of at least 20 pieces, list a few points of sale and submit a video.

“Those who don’t know how to communicate will never be successful,’’ said Sozzani, who raised the entry standards to set this contest apart. “This is a business, so they must be concrete. There are a lot of competitions that serve the press and are photogenic, but then nothing comes of them. We want a new designer, but not an emerging one who later disappears.”

Joan Kaner, vice president and fashion director for Neiman Marcus, and one of the 10 international judges, said, “The winners have a style of their own, all the right looks and a very nice, cohesive group of clothing. At the same time, this is not about items — these designers must have a vision and a strategy.”

Gianni Amati, owner of the trendsetting Leam boutique in Rome and also a judge, praised the initiative, saying, “There is a whole world of designers out there to evaluate, and not enough chances to do so.”

While lauding Alta Roma for its support and organization, Sozzani did not mince words. “There are a lot of people who say they are willing to help, but nothing ever comes of those promises.”

A government representative at the event, Adolfo Urso, Italy’s vice minister for trade, said an unspecified amount had been allocated within next year’s state budget to finance fashion.The contest will be held again in January during the city’s couture week. Next year, Valentino is expected to show in Rome, an event that will mark his 45th anniversary.

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