Refreshing Ideas in Apparel Design
“I moved from London to New York in 2009 with a plan to get back into design education as soon as I could,” says newly hired Apparel Design Department Head Neil Gilks. “Education is where my heart is.”
RISD had been on the British designer’s radar for years. While working as director of educational initiatives and professional development at the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) in NYC, he noticed that RISD’s Apparel Design students really stood out – a sense he reaffirmed as he began spending time with them as a guest critic for the annual Collection runway show.
“RISD is a great hub of positive energy, which is really refreshing,” Gilks says. “You don’t feel that energy at every school. I’ve always been impressed with the level of design that’s going on here, and I think it can get even better. I’m also excited about the opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration at RISD. There’s no other school where I’d rather teach.”
Gilks describes himself as a maker, whether he’s designing womenswear, menswear or interiors – or working as an illustrator, one of his latest passions. “I have a background in textiles design as well,” he adds. “I find that all of these different mediums work together. Whether you’re a fashion designer or a fine artist, you can’t live in a bubble.”
Gilks will work directly with students this fall – teaching two classes for seniors – as he gets to know the ins and outs of the department and considers potential improvements and advances. “If something is working well,” he notes, “we’ll figure out how to instill some of that magic into other areas that aren’t working quite as well.”
Although he emphasizes the importance of teaching foundational apparel design skills – drawing, cutting, sewing– Gilks also hopes to use his background at the CFDA to help students think about career opportunities after graduation. “The creative industries are constantly changing,” he notes. “It’s important for students to learn about all of the possibilities out there and channel their skills into what they want to do.”
Like many RISD faculty members, Gilks appreciates Providence’s proximity to NYC and is now dividing his time between the two cities. He grew up in a very small village in England, he explains, so he appreciates being a member of a cohesive community.
Before relocating to the US, Gilks earned a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees in fashion design from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, where he also taught. “I was at Saint Martins for 13 years all together,” he says. When his husband wanted to move to the States, Gilks figured it was a good opportunity to try life on this side of the Atlantic. “And now I’ve fallen in love with the place,” he admits.
“This school attracts incredibly talented, insightful students,” Gilks adds. “They’re inquisitive and well aware of what’s going on in the world. I’m looking forward to exposing them to new ideas and seeing how they evolve as designers and makers.”
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