A new generation of international lingerie designers should be having the time of their lives today, as the annual Triumph Inspiration Awards wraps up its grand finale in a Shanghai art museum. They all have a lot to celebrate.
Though only in its fifth year, the TIA competition has become a vital developmental program for the industry at large, closely watched by students, employers and fashion lovers alike. It has also contributed to the growing international renaissance in lingerie design by giving young artists a platform on which they can explore their creative visions.
Tonight’s awards ceremony and catwalk show also represent a pinnacle of sorts for the 31 students in the competition. All are in the early days of their design careers, and many will likely never again have an opportunity to express themselves with such unfettered freedom and so little regard for market demands. Years from now, they’ll dig out their student sketchbooks and be gobstruck to think that someone once gave them a chance like this.
The Triumph Inspiration Awards pay no heed to trends; this is all about giving designers the space, time and support to dream up conceptual garments. As such, the designs in this year’s competition represent a kind of extreme version of underwear: exotic, futuristic, often technically complex, sometimes impractical, and always daringly original. This is the X Games of the lingerie world.
In a nod to the Chinese host city of tonight’s ceremony, the 2012 awards were based on the theme “Dragons & Butterflies” — richly evocative symbols from Chinese culture that suggest a kind of yin-yang collision of opposites. With few rules and few instructions except for that ambiguous teaser, students were invited to imagine unique couture bras, corsets, bodysuits and other pieces barely resembling garments at all.
To get this far, students from fashion design schools in 31 countries competed in a year-long series of national contests, with each country sending its winner to the final showdown in Shanghai. And the stakes are high: the winner receives €15,000 and a kind of internship/ambassador position for the next year while the Triumph team translates her conceptual showpiece into a commercial lingerie collection that will reach stores sometime next year.
As you scroll through the images below, you can’t help but be dazzled by the unusual silhouettes, the radical fabric choices, the technical sophistication of many pieces, and the giddy, fearless craziness of many more. Styles like these would have been unthinkable, unimaginable and probably ridiculed 20 years ago.
The grand prize went to UK finalist Sian Whitefoot, a student in DeMontfort University‘s contour fashion design program. Her piece (shown above and at the top of this article) is called Ecliptic Renewal and employs a white layered bustle to suggest the early stages of metamorphosis. Second prize went to Italy’s Alla Polozenko while third place was awarded to Luca Beke of Hungary (which won last year’s TIA too).
Triumph, the ever-evolving 125-year-old German brand, is one of the few lingerie companies in the world that has the global reach (and deep pockets) to pull off an event like the Inspiration Awards. The company benefits, of course, through all the international hype surrounding the awards, and by giving itself an early introduction to some of the best young design talent entering the employment market.
But this is anything but a self-serving marketing program for Triumph. After five years of these competitions, there are countless students, instructors and program heads who are indebted to the company for pushing them toward a higher standard of conception and execution and giving them a five-star showcase to add to their resumes. All of the 31 competitors in this year’s TIA deserve enthusiastic applause for getting this far, but the biggest ovation goes to Triumph itself for its truly extraordinary commitment to the future of fashion lingerie.
Below are the portraits of each finalist shot by Chinese photographer Wing Shya. The big question remains: will there be places for all of these exceptionally skilled young dreamers in tomorrow’s lingerie industry? Let’s hope so.