An incredible "knockoff" GRAIL from New Delhi
18 East's Antonio Ciongoli comes through for RARE MIDCENTURY CHAIRTALK + more
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18 EAST — it’s a small independent brand with a slapper-to-brick ratio currently holding firm at ~ 1,000 : 0, baby!!
Based out of NYC and masterminded by designer ANTONIO CIONGOLI, 18 East went HAMMERHEAD SHARK in 2020 and shows no indication of entering any other mode anytime soon, nailing a quasi-paradoxical sweet spot where soft shapes, beautiful hand-loomed fabrics and outdoor utility converge …
Among other gems, 18 East makes some of the poppingest pants on the d*mn market … in drop after drop, Antonio flips SUBLIME BAGGY CARGO PANTS out of double-weave JACQUARD … CLEAN CHINOS out of ORGANIC KHADI DENIM … PERFECT PLEATED TROUSERS out of SILKY cabled Japanese corduroy here & PULSATING cotton ikat there …
And the pants reliably sell out within nanoseconds because the public recognizes greatness when they see it !!
Antonio’s produced the vast majority of his collections in Jaipur and New Delhi. “It’s one of the few places in the world where things are still really made by hand,” he told us the other day.
When we asked him to serenade a RARE & CHERISHED POSSESSION, he told us he wanted to get into some TURBO-MODE INDIAN CHAIRTALK & put us on to a bunch of cool fascinating s**t — we were happy to oblige …
Blackbird Spyplane: I asked if u wanted to talk about rare cherished garments and u said (I’m paraphrasing) “HELL NO, F**K GARMENTS” 😉
Antonio Ciongoli: “Ha ha, I just feel like all of my ideas are better when I’m referencing things outside of clothing. Art and design occupy a huge part of my thought process. So it took me a minute to figure out what would be interesting to talk about besides, like, Nike ACG and 45 RPM, which are my favorite things from a clothing perspective.”
Blackbird Spyplane: You decided on 2 interconnected possessions, one of which you tragically lost. The first, though, is a very dope chair — you sent me a picture and I thought this was a Pierre Jeanneret, before I looked closely at the arms. What is it??
Antonio Ciongoli: “On my first trip working on 18 East I went to visit the suppliers — and in Delhi a designer told me to stay at this little hotel called Scarlette run by two French expats. It was amazing, it felt like someone’s home, and sitting on the mezzanine was this chair. It looked like a Jeanneret chair, but it wasn’t…
Blackbird Spyplane: Right, so in 1951 the Indian government famously hired the god-tier Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier to design the city of Chandigarh and a bunch of buildings there, and Le Corbusier was tight with Pierre Jeanneret, who designed a bunch of stuff for the project, too, including furniture …
Antonio Ciongoli: “Yeah. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Le Corbusier and his work on Chandigarh when it comes to 18 East, because it’s an interesting comparison, since I’m also someone who’s not from India, relying on Indian craftsmanship to make something new and different — he was a reference of mine from the beginning.
“Now, the original Jeanneret chairs for Chandigarh are like $30,000 if you can find them, and you aren’t allowed to export them out of India anymore, so I saw this chair at the hotel, and they explained that when Chandigarh was finished it affected industrial design throughout the whole country, to the point that individual municipalities did their own versions. This chair came out of the Delhi version.”
Blackbird Spyplane: There seems to be a surge in interest in Jeanneret right now, but I had no idea there were these local-government reinterpretations of his Chandigarh s**t…
Antonio Ciongoli: “It was just functional office furniture that got beat up over time, so people tossed it — there’s a furniture market in New Delhi called Panchkuian Road Market and that’s a big giveaway if people get to India, because you can find these chairs for not much money and it’s easy to find someone to re-cane them by hand. And at least as of now you can’t find these chairs in the U.S. — I’ve looked and never seen any of the New Delhi furniture…
“I actually like this chair better than the Jeanneret — I think the arms are beautiful. I’m sure a lot of people would rather have a Jeanneret because it’s worth more, but I don’t give a shit: I drink Budweiser and my favorite sneaker is the Reebok Workout Low, which you can buy any time. I don’t see a lot of value in exclusivity — I just want stuff that makes me happy.”
Blackbird Spyplane: So how did you get yr hands on it ?
Antonio Ciongoli: “Scarlette announced they were closing, and I immediately emailed them: ‘What are you guys doing with the chair?’ I bought it, and they had to put it on a shipping container to Paris and then figure out how to get it to the U.S., so it wasn’t inexpensive, but a lot less than getting a Jeanneret.
“I just love the idea of this thing I’d admired for years and could never find here that made a trip across the ocean on a boat and now it’s in my home office.”
Blackbird Spyplane: The other thing u chose to talk about is a poster by the artist & sculptor Constantino Nivola, who was a student of Le Corbusier’s… This is beautiful.
Antonio Ciongoli: “Nivola is my favorite artist. His work is hard to track down but it’s not nearly as expensive as it should be. My fascination with him coincides with the beginning of 18 East. I found this woman on Etsy or Ebay out in the Hamptons who was selling these original campaign posters for people who ran for local office there. Nivola’s home and studio were out there in Springs, New York, and he did one of the posters — I hit her up and bought it for $300, thinking this is probably the closest I’ll get to something that’s his. She shipped it, I got it, and I shipped it off to get it framed — and UPS lost it!”
Blackbird Spyplane: WHAAAT ?? O NOOO !!
Antonio Ciongoli: “It’s so sad, because it survived all these years and then got lost in the f**king mail.”
Blackbird Spyplane: What about Nivola do you love?
Antonio Ciongoli: “He’s most known for developing a technique called sand-casting — he was playing with his kids on the beach one day, drawing in the sand, and he realized that if he drew into wet sand he could pour plaster into it and use that as a mold. So he did that his whole career and had major civic commissions, making public art for playgrounds in New York, doing pieces for the University of Pennsylvania campus, he designed a huge part of one of the individual colleges at Yale — he was a massive artist at the time and it’s really unfair that he’s been forgotten while so many of his contemporaries haven’t.
“I like Nivola’s graphic work a lot, too — he was the creative director of Olivetti typewriters in Italy before he moved to the U.S., and he edited design magazines like Domus and I think Interiors magazine. But the stuff that really stands out to me for him is sculpture — that’s always been my favorite medium. I lived in Italy my senior year of high school and fell in love with art history — classical sculpture was the focus, renaissance sculpture, but that has a strict set of rules and Nivola’s work embodied a different way of thinking about art than I was taught: It was more about gestural feeling.
“Also I just love the playfulness of this method that developed from playing with his kids in the sand to the way he defined his whole career.”
Blackbird Spyplane: One other thing I wanted to talk about is how, when it comes to manufacturing in the “developing” world, ppl worry about labor abuse and exploitation — that even if a brand’s intentions are good you can’t vet every link in a supply chain. Talk about that as it relates to 18 East and India…
Antonio Ciongoli: “It comes down to actually knowing the people you work with. We make sure they pay a living wage, and they reinvest back into education and community building. For cut and sew, our primary manufacturer is a small company owned by my friend Ankit — he’s my age, his family’s been in the industry a long time, with a focus on hand-weaving.
“Ankit built his facility in Jaipur from scratch, and he pays 30% more than all competitors to attract the best talent. It’s amazing: I’ve made things in the U.S., I’ve made things in Italy, I’ve made things in China, with Ralph Lauren, and I’d rather make things with Ankit than in any of those places.
“Then there’s a village outside of Jaipur where we do our printing with two different suppliers — one’s called Bagru textiles, and it’s a tiny, family-run businesses where the people who work there are father and son and brother. We work with them, we know them, there’s no outsourcing. There’s also a supplier in Southern India called Colours of Nature where we ran our khadi denim. They lead the charge on sustainable practices, natural dyes, organic fabrics — and they’ve been doing it for 30 years.”
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