By  on December 7, 2009

It was business as usual at Gen Art’s Styles International Design Competition on Wednesday night.

Twenty-five finalists competed once again for top honors in categories of accessories, men’s wear, eveningwear, ready-to-wear and avant-garde fashion. There was the usual laundry list of sponsors — Sephora, Honest Tea, Ecru New York — and industry judges, including Twinkle’s Wenlan Chia, Victoria Bartlett of VPL, James Coviello and Elle’s Anne Slowey. But there was no escaping the fact that the evening was significantly more subdued than previous competitions. For instance, Gen Art swapped the usual runway theatrics at the Hammerstein Ballroom for the decidedly low-key tableau presentation at the 7W New York showroom and merchandise mart.

“It’s a very different experience,” said Gen Art founder Ian Gerard. “This is much more intimate. The whole setting before: Unless you were in the front row, you were a good 50 feet from the clothes.” The motive behind the switch, however, was a far more practical one: Gen Art has been going through tough times, which explains the lack of monetary prizes. In June, for example, Gen Art held a benefit to support the struggling 15-year-old firm. “That gave us the heart to push on,” said Gerard, adding that, contrary to reports, the company has not merged with Rock & Media Entertainment. “Gen Art is still Gen Art. We’re still independent.”

As for the winners, they proved there’s plenty of talent to go around. Yoon Chang and Je-Won Hwang of Whistle & Flute took home the rtw prize for their polished tailoring; Kimberit, the eveningwear nod for her airy dresses, and Johan Ku, the avant-garde prize for his elaborate, chunky knit dresses. Claude Grant and Lady Grey’s Jill Martinelli and Sabine Le Guyader won in the men’s wear and accessories categories, respectively. Jeffrey Monteiro, meanwhile, won free booth space at New York’s The Train trade show in February. “We still have the same philosophy and the same goal,” said Gerard. “We’re about giving these designers a stepping stone to where they can be.”

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