In Medias Res: Antonio Ciongoli
In Medias Res: Antonio Ciongoli
- Words Christopher Fenimore
- Date September 14, 2018
In Medias Res is a column in which photographer Chris Fenimore links up with some of fashion's most interesting people to see what they're wearing throughout the week.
What was your childhood like? Where did you grow up? Give me a bit about your background, both in terms of your personal life and before your new gig with 18 East.
No complaints. I was the youngest of five kids in a tight-knit Italian family from Burlington, Vermont. These days, I live in Monmouth County, NJ with my wife and three boys. I've been designing menswear for a little over twelve years, though I didn't go to school for it. Before working on 18 East, I founded and ran the brand Eidos. Before that, I worked with Michael Bastian and Ralph Lauren.
Did you always want to work in fashion or design clothing?
Not really - I always drew but my interests focused more on art. When I was eighteen, I lived in Rome for a year and began college with the full intention of going into academia to teach art history. I transferred to USC two years in to study media and communication. As an east coast kid with ties to NJ, living and skating in LA lead to an opportunity to help design Brian Wenning's second pro shoe for DC. He was off the team before it became a reality but that project was the turning point that showed me I might have the chops to do this.
Why did you choose NYFW to debut your new collection, as opposed to NYFW:Men’s?
We weren't thinking about the distinction when deciding on our launch date - it was more like,
What is the longest we can possibly wait to start selling clothes made for fall? There's a lot about the traditional fashion cycle that I've never really understood but, most of all, it's the hyper-early deliveries. I don't know any guy that shops like that. When it's raining, you buy a raincoat. I didn't want to sell fleece vests in July. That just doesn't make sense.
Tell me about 18 East. How did you transition from Eidos to this new project?
It's an evolution in mindset and approach. Eidos was an incubator that provided me an immersive opportunity to launch and run a traditional wholesale brand. Throughout my five years there we created items and imagery that I am very proud of, but there were many moments throughout our designing and selling cycle where I would stop and think,
Does this make sense? Why is our collection so big? Why is it brought into stores so early? Why is this machine-made product so expensive? I wanted to take control of my own process and tell my own story. 18 East has given me the chance to do that. We are focused on handcraft and have tried to work some element of true handwork into each garment. Starting in the east with India and Nepal, we've begun exploring the world for interesting processes and ways to make special garments. They are priced accessibly and fairly so that our partners can earn a living wage and we can highlight their amazing work to a larger audience. It's a tight, coherent collection of fifteen to thirty seasonally-appropriate garments, dropping every two months on our site and in traveling pop-ups. Every piece has a reason to exist. It sounds simple but it's very different from how most brands do things.
You’ve always operated outside of what’s trending in fashion. What do you think are some keys to having a successful brand while remaining authentic in this current landscape?
It's about storytelling. Simply put, brands need to keep it real and talk to their customers.
You’re a skateboarder—you have a halfpipe in your garage right? Does this inform your collection?
We had one in the garage of the first house we lived in when we moved to NJ. I miss being able to pump the ramp for a half hour every day after putting the fellas down. I've been skating since I was eleven and, outside of family, I can easily say nothing else has had a greater impact on me as a person. Skateboarding alters your eye and informs how you look at the world. It trains you to be a creative observer, to see new possibilities in the mundane things we look at every day. I think this is a big reason that you find lots of skaters working in design.
What do you think about skateboarding as a trend in men’s fashion?
John Elliot having a runway show inside the Chelsea park was a bit surreal.
How do you begin to design a collection, and how do you find inspiration for each new one? It seems like you’ve always travelled for both manufacturing and inspiration, and 18 East seems to be no exception to that history.
Travel has always played a large role in the design process. Traditionally, I've started by focusing on a specific setting and placing a person that interests me into it. The location usually informs the palette and then pieces come from trying to imagine the contextual needs of that person wherever they are. With 18 East, it's been about traveling to discover interesting and special ways to make things.
Do you have a favorite piece from your debut 18 East collection? How about a favorite piece of clothing?
We did this oversized corduroy rancher coat that comes with a beautifully hand-wrapped striped belt - It's a subtle reference to the many irregularly striped textiles we saw in Nepal. In my own closet, I always go back to a threadbare pair of Benneton work pants that I've been patching and mending for nearly 20 years. They're at the point now where a new hole opens every time I wash them but I can't bare to throw them away.
What’s the last clothing item you purchased that wasn’t something you designed or had a hand in?
A navy cotton rollneck sweater from the Irish knitwear company Inis Meaín.
How do you start your day? Do you have a morning routine?
The alarm goes off at 5. After a flick through my phone to get my brain going, I head downstairs to my office to make a coffee and get ready to hop on the 6AM in.
Do you prefer the suburbs to the city, and does living there have an impact on your work?
I love living in New Jersey. I am close enough to New York to be productive but also seven minutes from the beach. It helps to provide the balance that keeps me grounded as a designer and human being.
What’s your favorite store in the country?
Patriae in Asbury Park.
What do you do with your spare time when you’re not working on your brand?
Spare time is a precious commodity these days. When I can find it, I'm either spending it with my family or skating the Long Branch park.