Neil Gilks has a new gig as RISD’s apparel design department head.
The British designer first got a glimpse of the students’ know-how, while working as the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s director of educational initiatives and professional development for the past few years. He also served as a guest critic for RISD students’ gearing up for the Providence, R.I. school’s annual runway collection. In that role earlier this year with fellow jury members as Derek Lam, Tina Lutz and others, Gilks doled out his share of precise, yet always humorous criticism to such former seniors as Elizabeth Hilfiger.
Gilks is not a rookie to the world of academia, having spent 13 years at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, where he earned a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees in fashion design, before going on to teach there as well.
Describing RISD as “a great hub of positive energy, which is really refreshing,” Gilks said, “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.”
He succeeds Meg DeCubellis who had taken on the interim role of department head, and who now remains at the school as a faculty member. Gilks isn’t the only designer joining RISD in time for the fall semester. Gwen van den Eijnde, whose portfolio includes fashion, accessories and costume design, is now on staff. His eclectic résumé features time in Robert Wilson’s WaterMill Program, Hermès atelier “Petit h,” and the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw’s fashion department. And last year he traveled to Japan, thanks to an Atelier Mondial grant from the Christoph Merian Stiftung, Basel to research traditional Japanese textiles and the art of sculpting the kimono.
Gilks, whose resume includes designing women’s wear, men’s wear, textiles and interiors, as well as work as an illustrator. He said, “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.”
This fall Gilks will teach two classes for seniors. In addition to emphasizing the importance of foundational apparel design skills of drawing, cutting and sewing, Gilks aims to share his CFDA experience to provide a reality check of sorts, guiding students to consider post-graduation career opportunities. “The creative industries are constantly changing,” he said. “It’s important for students to learn about all of the possibilities out there and channel their skills into what they want to do.”