Thursday, August 18, 2022

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    18 East Designer Antonio Ciongoli Is Also a Skate Shoe Historian

    On a recent morning at his store in Manhattan’s Chinatown, 18 East designer and amateur skateboarding scholar Antonio Ciongoli sat before a pair of DC Rick Howard 1s, his favorite skate sneakers of all time.

    Some weekends, Ciongoli spends hours scouring eBay for old DC pro models like Howards, Rudy Johnsons, and Rob Dyrdeks, purchasing only to wear them in front of a very small audience, skating around his home in Asbury Park, NJ. The Howards, specifically, are his grails for a few reasons. They exemplify peak late-‘90s DC aesthetics—DC Shoe Co. being the main brand that signaled a break from skateboarding’s old school, and ushered in a new, technical, athletics-inspired era of modern skate shoe design. The fact they were popular with the sickest skaters (Fred Gall, Spencer Fujimoto, Howard himself) doesn’t hurt. Ciongoli owned multiple pairs when they came out in 1997, and remains captivated by the wavy uppers and icy soles. He sees a Jordan 1 in there. And vaguely, a hiking boot.

    A pair of Ciongoli’s DCs.

    Antonio Ciongoli

    The Howard 1s are almost perfect specimens from his collection, but the midsoles are disintegrating EVA foam, making them functionally useless. They began to collapse the instant he put the shoes on his feet. That didn’t really stop him from taking that out skating. “There was a period of time, three or four years ago,” he explains, “when the shoes I was skating were all 15 years old.”

    Conversation ends up flowing well past the point the shop is supposed to open, since Ciongoli could talk about skate shoes all day. Especially vintage. Designers usually go nuts for vintage goods, one of fashion’s consistent inspirations. But most of them don’t obsess over weird skate shoes that used to be sold at Zumiez. For Ciongoli, however, his obsession with the time when skate culture first infiltrated the mall has fueled his efforts in running one of the buzziest new menswear brands going.

    The clothes at 18 East are full of references to this specific late-‘90s, East Coast period of skateboarding. Previously, Ciogoli designed Ralph Lauren’s Rugby line, and was creative director of the Italian tailoring brand Eidos. But his love of skateboarding never truly showed in his work until now, decades in.

    Ciongoli remembers everyone wore DCs at Philly’s inner city LOVE Park, which skater Josh Kalis famously destroyed in TransWorld’s “Sixth Sense” video. “Kalis wore the [DC] Lynx the whole time, in a rare colorway that never came out, and just skated Philly”—at this point Ciongoli is gesturing with his hands—“and was wearing raglan sweatshirts, and big fucking cargo pants. And the song was banging…”

    Ciongoli isn’t the only designer to mine skateboarding for fashion inspiration. The influence has gone all the way to the top fashion houses, with Gucci doing a skateboard-themed watch collection in 2019, and Louis Vuitton now sponsoring skaters, and making skateboarder-style clothing and footwear under the creative direction of Virgil Abloh—who can be found on Instagram pushing a board inside LV’s Paris atelier, ollieing onto sofas.

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