Uniqueness is an enigmatic concept: simultaneously eloquent and slippery, its nature is fundamentally ambiguous. This dualism makes uniqueness easy to acknowledge but hard to describe, to the point where language becomes inadequate in expressing the acute perception we have of it.  When it comes to people, uniqueness has the power to excite and inhibit at the same time, so that we are struck by a fascination we can hardly understand and, sometimes, struggle to handle.

I recently had the opportunity to speak to Barbara Franchin, founder of the International Talent Support (ITS), a fashion competition which takes place in Trieste every year. It didn’t take long for me to understand that Barbara is unique, but I didn’t immediately know why yet. Even if we were far away from each other, as our interview took place over Skype, Barbara managed to make our encounter more tangible by naturally lighting a cigarette, the first of a long succession. I vividly remember that I could see, and almost smell, the cerulean smoke which, ejected from a meditative mouth, would be slowly thickening the air in the room.

After a brief introduction, I was soon impressed by the way Barbara replied to my concise questions. Her ability to expand on the subject is remarkable: she explores every possibility without straying from the topic, as if every idea spoken could only be the prelude of another. However, I have never felt overwhelmed by this knowledge as Barbara remains accessible, her aim being to share what she knows to better connect with the person in front of her. Not surprisingly, ITS is as inclusive as her founder: like a family, it gathers and support young creatives under the same roof.
In a field often dominated by individualism, Barbara stands out for promoting a culture where mutual help is fundamental; an approach which strikes for its honesty and courage, but more importantly, for its uniqueness.

ITS celebrated its 15th birthday last year, would you have ever expected such success when you started?
To be fair with you, I think that when I first started, I never asked myself this question. Moreover, I could not imagine that what I was doing would have such a deep impact on the life of the many who became part of ITS throughout the years. What was important for me at the time was to fulfill the irresistible need of getting involved with creative minds and try to dive into their dreams. All of a sudden, all the doubts I previously had, dissipated. I knew I wanted to dedicate my whole life to the creation of a platform to support creatives, a place where they could exchange ideas and express themselves freely. It had to resemble Trieste, my hometown, which used to be a free port where people could trade goods without having to pay duties.

“ITS is like a seismographer: for me it is important to record information without being influenced by any form of preconception.”

Tell me more about Trieste and why you chose to set ITS here.
Life is very pleasant in Trieste, we have great food and there still is a human dimension which is completely absent in bigger cities. I believe its privileged sight of the sea makes Trieste a place where the multiple aspirations of our candidates can find their resolution in the infinite possibilities suggested by a never ending horizon. Moreover, being based in Trieste helped us to preserve our critical autonomy, something we would have had to compromise if we operated in a fashion capital. I like to compare ITS to a seismographer: for me it is important to record information without being influenced by any form of preconception.

Mayako Kano – ITS 2016

Niels Gundtoft Hansen – ITS 2016

Stefanie Tschirky – ITS 2016

Which kind of challenges did you encountered so far?
Since the beginning, the main difficulty for a project like ITS has always been the founding. It is really hard to secure a budget to sustain the cost of a non-profit project where so many collaborators are involved. The challenge is to make investors understand what we are trying to achieve. Let’s take the Creative Archive as an example: through the year we have been archiving the portfolios and collections of our young talents as we aimed to give access to this material to a larger audience. People are finally starting to realize the importance of the Archive, with curators and colleges visiting it from all over the world, but we are still unable to support it. My personal approach is very different: I am rarely put off by something which I can not grasp straight away, because I know that its apparent elusiveness is what makes an object worth my interest.

“creatives are finally opening up to the idea of developing a set of skills to better communicate and collaborate with external partners. We are therefore moving from an individualistic vision to a more collective approach.”

How has fashion changed since the debut of ITS?
There are many things which have changed over more than a decade of activity. One is the access to fashion education in new countries. I’m thinking in particular about Asian students, who have brought with them their cultural background and have developed an approach which strikes me for its rigor. I have also seen an explosion of fashion courses all over the world which means people are no longer bound to London, Paris or Milan when it comes to studying fashion. Finally, as a consequence of fashion technology becoming more prominent, I feel creatives are finally opening up to the idea of developing a set of skills to better communicate and collaborate with external partners. We are therefore moving from an individualistic vision to a more collective approach. I do believe we should embrace technology and learn to master it, instead of trying to obstruct its march.

Shinhwan Kim – ITS 2016

Paula Knorr – ITS 2015

Richard Quinn – ITS 2015

How do creatives respond to reality and its anxieties?
Young creatives are very sensitive to sustainability, which I believe is the challenge of our generation. For most of the candidates I met, sustainability has become a political manifesto, which far exceeds the original discourse of an optimized exploitation of limited resources. Sustainability is therefore seen as an opportunity to claim for a major change in the industry: they want it to be more democratic, with smaller turnover margins and products capable of lasting more than one season. If you consider the current production process in fashion, you can see how subversive the concept of sustainability is and how much potential it has to shake and reshape the industry.

“Creatives’ lack of technical knowledge is preventing them to be fully innovative.”

How do you think this conflict will evolve?
My feeling is that creatives’ lack of technical knowledge is preventing them to be fully innovative when it comes to this issue. I strongly believe that the key to solving this problem is to educate students, to provide them with better tools to establish a dialogue with the specialist studying materials. However, this revolution can only take place if institutions make an effort to inform consumers on the impact of their choices as ‒ I am afraid to say so ‒ ignoring the law of offer and demand would result in a failure.

Katie Roberts Wood – ITS 2015

In past interviews you said that you consider ITS as a family and stated that “together we are stronger.” How important is this message for you?
It is the very reason why me and my collaborators originally set up ITS. We all wanted to team up and work together to support other people in the development of their projects. The idea that we could have a positive impact on the lives and careers of the candidates is what motivates us and helps us through the hard times. We always tried to select individuals who shared this vision of life  with us, and believe that individuality can be only inclusive, by providing our uniqueness to others. We want them to promote this attitude within the industry, as an alternative to a culture where individualism often prevails, because it is once you step into the real world that you need the support of family which doesn’t let you down when you need help.

“Some people obviously fail, but I know it doesn’t matter since it is a step in their learning process.”

The keyword of the last edition of ITS was “Utopia”, what is the reason of this choice? Are you suggesting that the search for the impossible is what motivates you?
Sometimes I select a project because I want to see whether the person behind it can make it, regardless of how hard the challenge appears to be. Some people obviously fail, but I know it doesn’t matter since it is a step in their learning process. You then have a few who succeed: it is hard to describe how I feel when that happens but I can tell you that, by the simple recollection of these episode, I am feeling inebriated. So, to go back to your question, it is indeed to search the impossible and to overcome the apparent limit which such condition imposes, that drives me in my life. In this sense, there are no doubts that setting up ITS was an utopia. I would like to conclude, in order to fully answer your question, by quoting a dialogue between Mastroianni and Claudia Cardinale In Fellini’s 8 ¹⁄₂ : “Could you walk out on everything and start all over again? Could you choose one single thing, and be faithful to it? Could you make it the one thing that gives your life meaning… just because you believe in it? Could you do that?” These are the same questions you need to ask yourself if you are attempting to achieve the impossible.

Words Joël Quadri
Illustration Natassa Stamouli