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The Freshman Class

MILAN — From bizarre sack-like jeans to ethereal tiered skirts, Enkamania, the global young designer competition held here on Wednesday, illustrated both poles of the fashion spectrum.<br><br>Two years of scouting and hundreds of designers...

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MILAN — From bizarre sack-like jeans to ethereal tiered skirts, Enkamania, the global young designer competition held here on Wednesday, illustrated both poles of the fashion spectrum.

Two years of scouting and hundreds of designers later, the five finalists, Icarius, Ichiro Seta, Bless, Zac Posen and Rohka, had the opportunity to show their respective collections to a first-string audience, including judges Franca Sozzani of Vogue Italia, Peter Lindbergh, Donna Karan, Philip Treacy, Milla Jovovich, Joyce Ma of Joyce Hong Kong and Rosi Biffi of Biffi Milan.

Held in the arena-like Rotonda della Besana and sponsored by Enka, each designer showed back-to-back, some doing full-out runway shows and others holding informal presentations.

New York-based designer Zac Posen opted to screen a video of his spring runway show. “I couldn’t bring my collection over,” he said. “I’m in the middle of market week, and that’s what keeps my business going.” While the cool flick showed his beautifully cut dresses, sources close to organizers said that the jury was disappointed that the 22-year-old didn’t do a show.

Ichiro, who has worked with Yohji Yamamoto for the past nine years, showed a textured, whimsical collection chock-full of schoolgirl whites and wide-web knits for Ichiro Seta. Layered skirts cut on the bias and little Ts with knit trim and braiding details created a collection that balanced the conceptual with the wearable.

Rohka designers Maria Restrepo and Ian Phin said in their show notes that the collection drew inspiration from the “the optimistic pleasure of simply feeling good.” If feeling good equals retro swirls, polkadot cardigans and layered shift dresses, then the duo succeeded. Lighthearted and witty, Rohka’s line was sweet and cheerful but never saccharine.

Brazilian designer Icarius created a modern-day Mary Magdalene who walks the line between the profane and the pious. Dangling gold crosses, diadem headdresses and layers of religious medallions fell from flowing white dresses to create an intriguing, but ultimately overwhelming, collection.

The end of the event was a draw, and both Ichiro Seta and Rohka walked away with the grand prize: an ad campaign featuring Milla Jovovich and shot by Peter Lindberg for spring 2002.

“I was so impressed by the quality and commitment of these designers,” said Karan. “It’s encouraging for the industry to offer such support, especially now, with the industry asking what direction is fashion taking. I think what we saw here helps answer that question and may just make some of us jaded designers hopeful again.”

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