Antonio likes Italian, but now he wants you to try something Indian. Other options include Japanese, Irish, or North African, because, for him, each place offers something interesting.
We’re chatting in La Cumbre, one of the restaurants in San Francisco that claims to be the birthplace of the Mission-style burrito, and Antonio is all smiles.
“Man, you guys have it good. There’s probably a million places to get Mexican food out here. I love it.” We’re talking about Antonio’s new project, 18 East, which was born, in part, from his visit to Rajasthan a few years ago. He was struck by the various patterns and silhouettes that, while commonplace there, are relatively unused by Western designers. Inspired by his visit, he designed a handful of clothing for his subsequent collections for Eidos, but it wasn’t enough.
“I loved my time at Eidos, but there was so much I couldn’t do,” he recalls. “For one thing, there are so many artisans all over the world, but with Eidos, I could only use their Italian factories. Not that they weren’t great – their knitwear is simply amazing – but they just can’t recreate what we saw in India. In Jaipur, there are huge indigo fields as far as the eye can see where they hand-dip and then air-dry garments. No factory in Italy can do that.”
“Besides, the idea of massive two-season collections doesn’t make sense to me,” he continues. “There’s the stuff I’d do for Eidos, and then the exclusives for various vendors, like Barney’s and Bloomingdales – literally hundreds of pieces, all at the same time. Guys aren’t looking for polo coats in September – they’re looking for transitional pieces.” With 18 East, Antonio is able to focus on a few dozen pieces seasonal-appropriate every couple months. “I’d rather do a few unique pieces that I’m really excited about, rather than producing an item just to check off a list.”
While it’s true that the items from this drop are influenced by the textiles he saw in India & Nepal, they are not simple imitations. The next day I go to Unionmade to check out the clothes in person, and I’m impressed with just how wearable everything is. Sure, there’s a uniqueness to them – the hand-blocked prints and intricate woven patches, especially – but nothing is so far out that would make the wearer self-conscious. “I didn’t want to create a line that would alienate people,” Antonio says while sipping a beer at the store. He then points to the corduroy sherpa coat hanging on a mannequin. “Take this jacket, for example. It’s my favorite from the collection. It reminds me of something you’d see at a Vermont head shop.”
Online, I immediately was drawn to the red pajamas (inspired by Steve McQueen’s character in Bullitt) and made a b-line over to them on the rack. Unfortunately, photos and words can’t do them justice – they really are special. In two seconds they were off the rack and bagged at the counter, and I wore them that night. They’re a little different, but the muted color and repeating kalamkari and bagru patterns provide just the right amount of visual interest, and I’ve found they go well under sweaters and jackets.
I also picked up the tie-waist cardigan. Made from a donegal-style yarn of sheep’s wool and yak, Antonio chose to use a basketweave to fashion this kimono-style sweater, giving it an insane amount of depth and texture. “That cardigan was a happy accident,” he recounts as I try it on. “We first made it without the placket, and the ends curled up in a funky way. Then someone attached this placket from the inside, and it just fell perfectly.”
Prices are reasonable, and the general silhouette of the clothes, while loose, is far from baggy. As a reference, I’m 5’8” and 160lbs, and I took a small in everything and felt comfortable. This first drop had nominal sizing information on the 18East website (e.g. “This garment is oversized”) and it took me a couple tries to find the best size for me in person. Future collections will have measurements to minimize confusion and help get a better idea of how each garment fits. It’s a departure from his much-beloved suiting at Eidos, and for the time being, Antonio isn’t planning on introducing any tailored clothing at all.
“Don’t wear any of these clothes with a tie,” he chuckles. “Matching tops and bottoms, though, that’s something I’d like to explore a little in the future.” He shows me pictures from a photoshoot he did earlier in the week with Marco (@KamoteJoe on the forum) wearing pants and a shirt in matching fabrics. “You see this often in India, and it looks fantastic. You’ll see something like this later on. Don’t get me wrong – an Italian suit is great, but it’s not the only suit there is.”
While it may be an obvious statement that there is wearable fashion everywhere, it’s another thing entirely to incorporate global influences in a way that doesn’t come off as ethnic appropriation. From Antonio’s collections, you get the feeling that if Antonio wasn’t in fashion, he’d be a chef, finding inspiration in local flavors around the world.
“But what is local?” he asks back at the restaurant, and it’s a good question. The Mission burrito, stuffed to cylindrical hugeness with equal amounts of beans, rice, and meat, is undeniably San Franciscan, but has origins elsewhere. Ditto for cioppino, chop suey, sourdough, Irish coffee…the list goes on. Like many international cities, the Bay Area readily embraces foreign tastes and incorporates them often into their dishes, because how boring would it be to eat the same thing over and over again?
“I couldn’t agree more,” Antonio says between bites. “As much as I love the pizza in Napoli, I love Philly pizza just as much. As long as it’s good, does it matter where it comes from?”
Discuss 18 East with other Styleforum members on this thread.