Aiming Big

“I’m always shocked by egotism in the fashion world,” notes Associate Professor of Apparel Design Antonio Ciutto, who joined RISD’s faculty this fall.

“I’m always shocked by egotism in the fashion world,” notes Associate Professor of Apparel Design Antonio Ciutto, who joined RISD’s faculty this fall. “The reason I’m teaching is to communicate to students that there are other ways of thinking.”

A well-traveled native of South Africa, Ciutto is himself always looking for new ways of thinking. He came to RISD from Berlin, where he taught apparel design at such institutions as Kunsthochschule Weißensee, HTW University of Applied Sciences and AMD Akademie Mode & Design, while traveling back and forth to the US to teach at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After starting his career as a dancer, he studied architecture before earning his master’s degree in fashion design from Central St. Martins College of Art and Design in London in 2000.

“Fashion has always been my underlying interest but not my sole interest,” Ciutto explains. “What drives me is design. My work is a melting pot of these three energies: performance, architecture and design.”

While living in London, Ciutto poured those energies into creating a womenswear line that pioneered methods of digital printing and also established 6 ⅞ – an experimental label focused on research – with his partner, British artist David Wojtowycz. “Some of the prints I use are already part of the world,” he says. “But when you take a flat print and give it a 3D shape, it loses its identity and becomes something completely different. I never see a surface as one thing. It can change.”

When he moved to Berlin in 2007, Ciutto decided to stop pursuing a commercial label. “I couldn’t fit into the identity of the commercial designer,” he explains. “I don’t like the egocentric methodology of the fashion industry. But I think there is a shift away from that cliché – it’s more about having social concerns now and being part of a system.”

In his current work Ciutto focuses on process, experimenting with various architecture software programs (such as Rhino3D) to design apparel. “Most of the tools don’t translate because the element of softness is lost,” he says. “So I’m trying to improve the digital approach.”

Ciutto says he fell into teaching by accident – as a means of supporting his label. In 2010, after he and Wojtowycz were invited to serve as scholarship judges at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he was offered a full-time teaching post. “During my time there, I taught a couple of RISD grad students who seemed insightful,” he recalls. “I liked their mentality and work ethic. So when I saw an opening at RISD, I applied.”

This fall Ciutto has thrown himself into working with Apparel Design seniors on their thesis and Levi’s collections and with juniors on their cut and sew projects. “RISD students seem to have advanced tastes and skill sets,” he says. “They are inspired and have strong vision and a strong work ethic.”

Ciutto adds that when working with students, he tells them that they don’t need to like his approach to benefit from it. “I want students to think differently – not just about garments but about where it’s all going,” he says. “Every designer has a responsibility to institute change for the better in terms of materials and environmental concerns.”

Since collaboration is at the core of Ciutto’s approach to teaching, he’s especially looking forward to organizing the Collection 2014 runway show in the spring. “My quest has always been to find community. My mantra is ‘aim big and work together to get there.’ Collection 2014 is going to be great.”

–Simone Solondz