Rome - Next time somebody tells you there is a dearth of young design ideas in Italian fashion, tell them to head to Rome for the Franca Sozzani driven talent showcase Who Is On Next, which this weekend unearthed some quirky and cool new designers whose names won't be unknown for much more.
Gabriele Colangelo, the son of Milanese fur makers, won first prize this season at Who Is On Next, the premier window of opportunity in Italy for young talent, and a key launch pad for emerging players.
The competition's debut winners 6267 duo Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi went on to become the creative directors and key behind the revival of Malo, before moving on this April to take over the design duties of the house of Ferre. Another recent winner, the Italian based, though UK born, structuralist shoe designer Nicholas Kirkwood was nabbed in May to be the director of Pollini's accessories division.
Competition is now so intense to be chosen for the finale of Who Is On Next, Sozzani's team of scouts shifted through some 300 candidates to narrow down to the five ready-to-wear designers and four accessories lines that were judged this weekend.
Though cherubically youthful looking, the 33-year-old Colangelo is already an experienced designer having done stints of four years at Versace and time in the design team of Just Cavalli, the junior collection of Roberto Cavalli.
"He's a very promising talent, who has something to say, and we look forward to hearing it in the future," Sozzani told FWD at a lunch to announce the winners on a hotel terrace overlooking the 1st Century marble Temple of the Vestal Virgins.
Colangelo's collection of finely draped silk dresses, artfully embellished with crocodile crystal tails and dripped plastic abstractions was the standout in Sunday's joint show in Chiostra dei Frati (Brothers Cloisters) of the Borgo Santo Spirito complex near the Vatican.
"I'm honored and, quite frankly, could not be happier," beamed Colangelo.
Partly inspired by the abstract expressionism of Italian painter Alberto Burri, Colangelo's collection marked him out as very much a name to watch in 21st century Italian fashion.
Garnering a nomination for ready-to-wear was Silvio Betterelli, a Sardinian who showed Yohji Yamamoto style choppy cut jackets and flared pants with plenty of chic drama in the Borgo's Sala Lancisi, the longest room in Renaissance Rome.
Two design labels - Chrissie Morris and BiondaCastagna (the latter composed of two semi-Italian ladies who met in the UK, Jennifer Portman and Natalia Barbieri) - shared first prize in the accessories division. Morris showed haute gamme, and very pricey, statement heels and court shoes with lots of stingray inserts; BiondaCastagna presented lots of sexy gladiator looks, easy to understand and fun to wear. Making up the four in the accessories division were smart, Africa bags from Veronica Bettini, a big-eyed Milanese with an eye for strong details, and VDL, a bag line from Valentina De Laurentiis, daughter of the famed film producer Dino De Laurentiis.
The impressive joint show featured three other designers: Ilaria Nistri, a Florentine lawyer by profession with a great take on aquatic prints and a layered approach to dressing whose collections already retail in Lane Crawford in Hong Kong and Moscow's key big boutique Podium.
Morfosis, the duo of Alessandra Cappiello and Rita Mazzeo, whose almost all black collection was Joan of Arc gets sexy on Star Trek.
Rosamosario, an eccentrically edgy lingerie line whose theme was wearing underwear on the outside, because as its designer Carlotta Danti explained, "Italians do not like to hide things. They don't buy a Lamborghini to put it in the garage, but to drive to St. Tropez and meet a beautiful girl."