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Fashion Passion: An Indian-Italian Love Story
All Photos by Glen AllsopImagine a fashion event during the New York Spring 2017 Fashion Week with all Indian models and in clothing inspired by the Indian sub-continent. Well, this did happen at the EIDOS Collection by Italian designer Antonio Ciongoli who said, “I’m really proud we did it – People try to celebrate different cultures during NY Fashion Week, but never something so full-scale.”
Antonio Ciongoli is the creative director of Eidos, a rugged yet refined menswear line from Italy which is sold at major American stores like Bloomingdales, Saks, Nordstrom and Barneys as well as in countries internationally from Russia to Japan to Australia. Part of the luxury brand Isaia, It is designed in New York but produced in Italy and its makers like to describe it as ‘clothing with soul, made with integrity.’
Women’s Wear Daily wrote: “The younger-skewed division of Italian luxury brand Isaia took a more fashion-forward approach to its spring collection, using India as a starting point. But instead of using the country’s predictable bright colors and silky fabrics, creative director Antonio Ciongoli took a more-intellectual approach with his neutral palette and raw textured fabrics.”
Ciongoli, who grew up in Naples, travels constantly between New York and Italy and as he admits, “As creative people, I think we get tired of seeing the same thing over and over again. I’m a firm believer in the idea that excellence exists everywhere and I try to do that with our brand – I hope that our customer is a global customer and an open-minded customer. And that one of the things we do well is implementing the idea of how big the world can be and how there are amazing things all over the place that you should see.”
Sheer serendipity took him to India where one of his best friends, who is Indian, was developing textiles in Rajasthan, using natural dyes like indigo, madder and iron. Ciongoli found that East and west meet in a restaurant and watering hole called Bar Palladio in Jaipur which has been opened by an Italian expat Barbara Miolini in an ancient Indian palace. Here artists, designers and writers gather to exchange notes and have a few drinks.
But for Ciongoli, the real eye-opener came in Bagru, a dusty village which is located 45 minutes from Jaipur. It is the heart of the textile creation where it is all done by hand. There are no machines involved. He describes the surreal landscape that he encountered: “It was a completely different world. There were massive earthen fields as far as the eye could see, covered with rolls and rolls of blue denim fabric drying in the sun, with cows meandering across them – because they lived there! I had never seen anything like this. It was a complete departure from my daily life. At that moment I knew that when I presented my collection, I wanted to recreate this feeling of inspiration, with an all-Indian cast, and with many men and women.”
Bagru – The Inspiration Behind the Collection Photo: Glen Allsop
Back in New York when he told his casting director of his plan, he was told he was crazy! No one knew any major Indian models so they decided to go with regular street people, including an old Sardarji cabbie. All the media seemed intrigued by that but as Ciongoli points out, ” People couldn’t see past the cab driver. The big thing wasn’t that he was a cab driver but the fact that he was cool.So I’d rather street-cast the whole thing. We are very happy the way it worked out.
Ciongoli’s casting director spent time in Jersey City and Jackson Heights and Brooklyn as well as on social media, hunting real people from students to the Red Baraat band to people on the street. “It was really nice to have regular people – I’m much more inspired by normal people because of their experience, their inner personalities – rather than by professional models.”
Due to his madness or determination, Ciongoli managed to get at least 90 percent people of Indian descent for the runway and the unusual casting got the show a lot of editorial ink.
Spring Collection 2017
How does he see the contemporary man and how does he design for him? “Across most cultures, the commonality is comfort and that’s what I try to do – the majority of my time I try to spend in designing clothes that are easy to wear and are rooted in some kind of history,” he says. “One of the things which excited me about India – something made with integrity and natural fabrics and dyes – there’s a common thread which weaves through all that.”
What about Indian silhouettes – could the pajamas and more radically, the dhoti catch on? “We weren’t planning to sell the dhoti but I did learn to tie one!” he says. ” I think the pajamas have sold very well – we make it a little less full in the leg and do a knit woven version of it.”
“I loved the idea of the kurta – it is a fashion trend throughout the west right now. I expect these slouchy and easy kurta pajama will do very well. For the last ten years we’ve had very fitted clothes in the US – but now the silhouette is changing – fuller, longer tops like the kurta without a collar and looser pajama pants. I’d like to continue them well past this one particular season.”
Is there a place for Indian models in the New York fashion scene? “I certainly hope so!,” says Ciongoli. “ We did runway shows for years and it’s very hard to find ethnically diverse or even ethnically ambiguous models. I’d really, really love to see more Indian, more Middle Eastern, more diversity in models. I think it’s really important particularly in America – for the American public to see that idea of beauty in all. What is cool is not any one particular thing – there are lots of definitions of cool.”
As Ciongoli points out, the Internet has made everything more global and the world a more smaller place – that’s why it’s important not to present a provincial brand but a more global look which resonates with everyone. And increasingly his plans include India which he hopes to see a lot more of. Truly an India-Italy love affair!
“ People were worried about cultural appropriation but for me, it’s a little bit different,” recalls Antonio Ciongoli. ” It wasn’t about trying to take something and make it ours but rather celebrating something that we found amazing and share it with other people. Hopefully we did something of value, particularly now in America in the current political climate when there’s a lot of close-mindedness about things that are different. I think it was incredibly important to present the idea that all cultures have great things and people need to be more open-minded.”
What do you think of this story? What inspires you?