Welcome to Five Fits With, a new series from writer and photographer Christopher Fenimore. From time to time, he’ll check in with some of the style world’s most interesting folks. He’ll ask a few questions, and they’ll respond with five of their favorite outfits—and the answers, of course. Get inspired. Get a fit off. Enjoy.
It’s an honor to begin this series with a dear, talented friend of mine, Antonio Ciongoli. I want to highlight people with a strong sense of style, and over the years I’ve found the main ingredient for this is comfort. The formula requires age, a bit of experimentation, and the willpower to resist fashion’s trend cycle. Antonio always looks at ease, just as he has a very relaxed way of rolling through his sentences as they come to him rather than calculating each word. Often, style transcends garments.
A year and a half ago, he launched a brand called 18 East with the intent of releasing capsule collections every few months, resisting the relentless speed of the fashion calendar and its inherent wastefulness. Instead, he focuses on how to reduce the brand’s environmental impact, shunning industrial factories in lieu of seasoned artisans. 18 East also has a retail shop in SoHo in Manhattan, housing its wares in a space that remains true to the brand ethos—walls of blasted brick, floors of concrete, racks built from simple wood structures, even a box to skate on outside the shop. It’s a space to slow down, and to inspire.
Here, Ciongoli tells us about how he found himself running his own brand, an easy trick for incorporating texture and pattern into your own look, and why skating is essential to his mental health.
Tell me a bit about your career trajectory, and how you wound up at 18 East.
Breaking into the industry was tough because I didn’t go to school for design. After six months of failed interviews, I applied to Parsons for grad school and got in, but ended up getting a job in the customer service call center at Vineyard Vines just before I had to send in my deposit. I answered phones for a month before they moved me to graphic design, and then accessories and kids’ clothes. From there, I headed to Ralph Lauren, where I designed cut-and-sew knits for Rugby. After about two years, I was hired by Michael Bastian to be his number two, which I did for the next three years. I left Michael Bastian in January of 2013 to launch Eidos, and I ran that for about five years. I made a ton of mistakes creating that brand from scratch, but, thankfully, managed enough of its different aspects to feel confident that if I chose to start over, I could apply the lessons I’d learned towards making something truly special.
Can you describe who the 18 East customer is?
It’s a diverse group. The age range is pretty wide but the commonalities seem to be an appreciation for useful, functional clothing and unique, handmade textiles.
You’ve had a few collaborations under your belt already. How do you find partners for collaboration, and what sort of qualifications are necessary to align with 18 East?
We’re interested in working with people who have a unique approach to how they produce things. The world doesn’t really need any more stuff, so the litmus test becomes, “Are the people making this doing something that positively impacts the world, is supporting a community, or preserving a tradition we’d like to see perpetuated?” This has led us to repairing old 501s with scraps of our Indian handloom fabrics with Atelier & Repairs to creating hand-embroidered knitwear in the Aran Islands with Inis Meaín.
How do you draw inspiration to design new garments?
I’ve started every design project of my career by focusing on a place, and usually a person. Once I have an idea who this person is and where they’re going, I basically just start packing for them.
Do you have a favorite piece you’ve designed?
Choosing a favorite is tough, if anything, because I’ve been doing this so long. That said, the piece that I’ve been coming back to the most frequently has been 18 East’s Gorecki cargo pant. It sums up our brand better than anything we’ve made thus far—based on the iconic M-65 cargo but cut from an intricate, handloom textile and updated with an elastic waist and crossover fly that is reminiscent of Thai fishing pants, it’s an Eastern take on a highly functional silhouette with heavy nods to the era of skateboarding that shaped me.
When did you begin skating, and how much of an impact has that had on you as an adult? Do you have a favorite place to skate?
I started skating when I was 11 and, outside of my family, nothing has informed who I am as a person more than this useless wooden toy. The all-time favorite spot is the courthouse in Burlington, Vermont, but these days, it’s Wenning’s Park in Long Branch, New Jersey, because of its close proximity to home.
Do you have advice on how to incorporate interesting patterns and textures into a wardrobe for a fashion beginner?
The best way to wear pattern and texture without looking like you’re trying to wear pattern and texture is to keep it to one piece and make sure everything else is simple and really casual.
What does a typical weekend look like for you?
Since I commute five hours a day from New Jersey to NYC during the week, weekends are strictly reserved for my family with three hours dogeared on either Saturday or Sunday to go skate. This is a mental health essential for me.