One recent morning in his shop in Manhattan’s Chinatown, 18-year-old East designer and amateur skateboarding scholar Antonio Ciongoli sat in front of a pair of DC Rick Howard 1s, his all-time favorite skate trainer.
Some weekends, Ciongoli spends hours scouring eBay for old DC pro models like Howards, Rudy Johnsons, and Rob Dyrdeks, buying them just to wear in front of a very small audience, and skating around his home in Asbury Park, NJ. The Howards are his grail for several reasons. They exemplify the DC aesthetic of the late 90s – DC Shoe Co. was the main brand that signaled a break with the old school of skateboarding and ushered in a new, technical, athletics-inspired era of modern skate shoe design. The fact that 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 is still mesmerized by the wavy upper and icy soles. He sees in it a Jordan 1. And vaguely, a hiking shoe.
The Howard 1s are almost perfect specimens from his collection, but the midsoles disintegrate EVA foam, rendering them functionally unusable. They began to collapse the moment he pulled the shoes to his feet. That didn’t really stop him from turning off skating. “Three or four years ago there was a time,” he explains, “when the shoes I used were all fifteen years old.”
Conversations flow well beyond where the store is supposed to open, as Ciongoli could talk about skate shoes all day. Especially vintage. Designers are usually crazy about vintage items, one of fashion’s enduring inspirations. But most of them are not obsessed with 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 to run one of the hottest new menswear brands.
18 East clothes are full of references to that particular skateboarding era on the East Coast in the late 90s. Ciogoli previously designed Ralph Lauren’s rugby line and was the creative director of the Italian tailor brand Eidos. But his love for skateboarding never really showed in his work until today, decades later.
Ciongoli recalls that all of the DCs in Philly’s inner-city wore LOVE Park, which skater Josh Kalis famously destroyed for it TransWorld‘s “Sixth Sense” video. “Kalis wore them [DC] Lynx all along, in a rare colourway that never came out, and just “skated Philly” – at this point Ciongoli is gesturing with his hands – “wearing raglan sweatshirts and thick, damn cargo pants. And the song popped … “
Ciongoli isn’t the only skateboarding designer looking for fashion inspiration. The influence has spread to the top fashion houses, with Gucci launching a skateboard-themed watch collection in 2019 and Louis Vuitton now sponsoring skaters and making skateboarder-style clothes and shoes under the creative direction of Virgil Abloh – who can do that on Instagram to find her pushing a board into LV’s Paris studio and olliet on sofas.