Prague International Design Festival


Designblok has announced the winners of the international Designblok Diploma Selection competition

7. 10. 2023

As part of the ninth annual Designblok Diploma Selection, Designblok awarded talented European designers. The product design category was dominated by graduates from German universities, who took all three top places. The winner was Esmée Willemsen, a Dutch graduate of the Universität der Künste in Berlin, with her collection of large-scale objects The Agency of Unseen Sights highlighting otherwise neglected places in the landscape. The jury composed of international curators, gallerists and publicists chose Maria Czarnecka's Cut Up collection from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw as the best work in fashion. 164 graduates from 52 prestigious European universities from 7 countries, including representatives from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, applied for this year's competition and the best thirty made it to the final. The winners were announced on Saturday 7 October 2023 in the Designerie space in the Small Hall of the Trade Fair Palace of the National Gallery Prague, followed by a fashion show by Norwegian designer and winner of the Designblok Diploma Selection 2018 Ramona Salo.

The aim of the competition, organized in cooperation with the EUNIC Cluster ČR, is to recognize the work of the most talented European graduates in the field of product and fashion design. "The 25th Designblok's theme is THE JOURNEY. The Dutch Embassy has been proudly sponsoring and supporting this extraordinary design festival for many years. We are also proud that we could be at the birth of Diploma Selection, an international competition for European graduates in fashion and product design. The Diploma Selection competition has become an important part of Designblok and serves as a networking platform and springboard for the professional careers of the participating graduates. Together with EUNIC Cluster Prague (European Union National Institutes for Culture), the partner of Diploma Selection, I wish all 2023 graduates a bright career path and Designblok many more successful years to come," described Daan Huisinga, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the Czech Republic, Member of EUNIC Cluster Prague.

This year's Designblok will again be attended by the top design experts from Europe, such as gallerist Rossana Orlandi, Giulio Cappellini - art director of the prestigious Cappellini brand, Tulga Beyerle, director of the Museum of Arts and Crafts in Hamburg, gallerist Lina Kanafani from the famous Mint Gallery in London and many other distinguished personalities. Top design consultants Gilles Massé and François Leblanc, curator Juliet Kinchin, and Venya Brykalin, editor-in-chief of Vogue Ukraine, have also accepted the invitation to Prague. The Czech Republic is represented on the jury by journalist, curator and head of the Czech edition of ELLE Decoration Eva Slunečková, Head of Editorial Content of Vogue CS Danica Kovářová, head of the Forbes Life section Anna Nosková, creative director of Dolce Vita magazine and stylist Jan Králíček, journalist Andrea Běhounková and others. The finalists of the competition had a very special opportunity to present their work in person to the most influential people in the industry and to establish valuable business contacts.

The winner in the product design category is Dutch graduate Esmée Willemsen from the Universität der Künste in Berlin. In her work, she seeks to revive otherwise neglected places in the landscape through large-scale installations. At first glance, the airy objects made of painted bent metal resemble functional elements of urban public space, such as railings and children's climbing frames. Placed in a new context, they frame a specific place or simply attract attention. "The Agency of Unseen Sights is a very powerful collection of tools that help us explore the unsophisticated beauty of our immediate surroundings in a post-pandemic world. It is about discovering the unseen, about contemplation and time spent on developing new markers of identity and place," commented the jury's opinion Tulga Beyerle, chair of the jury in the product design category and director of the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg.

The second-place prize also went to a German university student – Janek Beau from Folkwang University of the Arts impressed the jury with his funeral urn project Designed to Die. He focused on urns, which are playing an increasingly important role in a time when most people prefer cremation. He therefore introduces meticulously designed and biodegradable urns that turn the funeral ceremony into a celebration, a collective ritual during which the urn made of soy wax gradually melts until it finally slides into the grave. Third place went to Julia Huhnholz and Friedrich Gerlach for their project The Essence of Biocement, which explored the key functional and aesthetic potentials of biocement and then used them to c reate seating furniture. "This project, balancing between design and material science, once again demonstrates the responsibility of young designers to help us invent environmentally friendly products. The Essence of Biocement is an experimental project using bacteria to replace the burning process in joining recycled material," explained Tulga Beyerle the jury's opinion on the project's contribution.

On the catwalk, the jury was most impressed by the Cut Up collection by Polish designer Maria Czarnecka from Akademia Sztuk Pięknych University in Warsaw. The collection showcases rectangular cutwork inspired by Japanese art. Many of the garments are seamless, with 3D shapes achieved using origami techniques. This method allowed to avoid fabric scraps and waste of material. The garments transform and change meaning, combining Western and Japanese aesthetics and giving movement to the fabric. "In her collection, Maria Czarnecka not only demonstrates excellent technical skills, creativity and a unique concept, but also brings a poetry to the garment that manages to bring together Eastern and Western approaches to clothing," described the winner's authorial approach Venya Brykalin, editor-in-chief of Ukrainian Vogue magazine and chairman of the jury of the fashion design category.

Second place was taken by Tomasz Umbras, also representing Akademia Sztuk Pięknych University in Warsaw, with his collection Return of the Witch. Through seamless sculptural garments, he presents a world of misunderstood creatures that cannot survive among humans. He also celebrates the supernatural, mysterious and strange energy of nature. The jury particularly appreciated the innovative approach to material and technical performance. Third place went to Friedrich Fromm from the Artez University of the Arts in Arnhem, the Netherlands. The Story of the Employee of the Month collection, inspired by men from different backgrounds and generations, combines a wide range of techniques. He mixes laser-cut materials with combing, digital printing and weaving. Elements from street and sports fashion are combined with classic tailoring. Sustainability is also an important aspect - over 60% of the fabrics used are second-hand from small brands and private sellers. "We particularly appreciated the designer's ability to create impressive garments for everyday wear, as well as successful creative abstraction," described Venya Brykalin. "This year's finalists featured distinctive personalities and strong personal stories. The personal presentations, during which we had the opportunity to get to know the creators and the authentic stories written into the collections, were crucial in our decision-making process," he added.

The winners of both categories will receive a cash prize of €1,000, while the top three winners in each category will have the opportunity to showcase separately at next year's festival.

The evening was interspersed with a fashion show by Caoimhe Dowling, winner of Diploma Selection 2022. She presented her debut collection, Yes, to Life, which is the designer's most introspective work so far, an ode to the creative process and the surges of inspiration that inevitably come when one indulges in its ebb and flow. The ceremony ended with a fashion show by Norwegian designer Ramona Salo, who came to Designblok after her 2018 win to present her current work. The collection, entitled I have made soup of all kinds of stock, is part of the ongoing Sami Half Hour pro ject, which explores what being a native means these days, but also being on the move. The work draws on the artist's Sami roots. "I create nomadic garments inspired by the landscape, which I perceive as art that conveys stories," Ramona Salo commented on the collection.


Product design: Tulga Beyerle, director, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (AT/DE), Giulio Cappellini, designer and art director (IT), Maria Cristina Didero, independent curator and author (IT), Cok de Rooy, co-founder of The Frozen Fountain (NL), Stephan Hamel, design consultant (IT), Agnieszka Jacobson, Art Director, School of Form, Poznań and Dean of the Faculty of Design, SWPS University (PL), Lina Kanafani, Curator and Gallerist, Mint Gallery London (GB), Juliet Kinchin, Curator (USA/GB), François Leblanc, Design Consultant (F), Gilles Massé, Curator, FrankBros. com (IT), Rossana Orlandi, gallerist, Rossana Orlandi Gallery, Milan (IT), Annalisa Rosso, Mr. Lawrence Studio Co-founder and Editorial Director of the Salone del Mobile (IT), Eva Slunečková, freelance journalist and editorial director, ELLE Decoration (CZ)

Fashion design: Andrea Běhounková, journalist (CZ), Venya Brykalin, Vogue Ukraine Editor-in-chief (UA), Mariette Hoitink, owner of HTNK agency, co-founder of the House of Denim Foundation and founder of Lichting (NL), Danica Kovářová, Head of Editorial Content, Vogue CS, curator (CZ), Jan Králíček, creative director, stylist and consultant, Dolce Vita (CZ), Anna Nosková, head of Forbes Life section (CZ), Philippe Pourhashemi, journalist and fashion consultant (BE), Luca Casarotto Romer, Fashion consultant and jewellery expert, Prada (IT), Veronika Ruppert, creative producer and dramaturge, Czech Radio and Radio Wave (CZ), Matthias Schneider, Head Designer Women's Runway Jewelry, LOUIS VUITTON (FR/DE), Noémie Schwaller, Fashion Editor, Head of Lifestyle Department Schweizer Illustrierte (CH)

The 25th Designblok can still be visited on Sunday 8 October 2023 until 7 p. m. in the Trade Fair Palace of the National Gallery Prague and the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague and other locations around Prague. The Designblok Cosmos and Made by Fire exhibitions at Prague Castle will be open from 3 to 15 October 2023 with a festival pass or by purchasing a separate ticket.

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