The video connection through which I am talking to Aitor Throup is glitching. Simultaneously, a loud noise from outside, perhaps drilling, threatens to drown out the scattering of words that are surviving the glitch. Our flow broken, I look around to see what we can do to fix the situation, when Throup’s voice comes through, suddenly perfectly clear, albeit still harmonized by the drilling: “This is a metaphor for inside my head,” he says, drily.
With connection restored and the mysterious drilling abated for now, we continue. Fittingly for a designer who has throughout his career approached design as an experiment in radical innovation and reinvention, we are speaking via ‘video conference’, in identical white rooms, with representatives from G-Star Raw auditing on both sides. It feels as though I am communicating with the leader of another planet from the control room of his immaculate white spaceship.
And perhaps there is something otherworldly about Aitor Throup. Certainly he has never subscribed to the rules of the ‘fashion world’, preferring to engage with his projects at a circumspect distance, rejoining the ring only when he feels that he has something truly new to offer, much like Comme des Garçons founder Rei Kawakubo.
Despite eschewing the relentless march of seasonal collections that has driven many designers to disillusionment over the past couple of years, in June, Throup reentered the fray with a capsule collection of prototypical designs, somewhat ironically entitled The Rite of Spring / Summer / Autumn / Winter. The collection shared part of its name with Stravinsky’s riotous ballet, which incited such outrage at its premiere in 1913 that the audience erupted into violent disorder. At the time Puccini derided the piece, calling it, “the work of a madman…sheer cacophony”. Today, it is hailed as, “the founding work of all modern music”; a Year Zero for composition, comparable to the postmodern alarm sounded by Malevich’s Black Square in 1916.
“After tying himself in knots season after season, Throup was, “a little bit lost, trapped—I was forcing myself to work within these constrictive narrative concepts, these small boxes.””
Similarly, the response to Throup’s 20 minutes-plus presentation at the London Collections in June; six looks animated by ominous puppeteers along a darkened catwalk, divided opinion. Some onlookers were so bewildered by the performance that they simply walked out, whilst others remained for the duration, with an air of grudging indulgence. Conversely, a large number of others seemed positively jubilant with appreciation, as though here had come at last something to be excited about amidst the usual routine of the Men’s Collections. Perhaps the collection’s titular comparison to Stravinsky’s ballet was not, then, as hubristic as it first appeared, but rather an accurate prediction of the chaotic reaction it would inspire in its audience.
It might be fair to say that Throup’s relationship with his work has been rather fraught. It was, that is, until a particularly significant train journey on the 13th of February 2015. At precisely 22:30, Throup had an epiphany that threw all the existential and narrative panic that had been consuming him for years to the proverbial wind. After tying himself in knots season after season, Throup was, “a little bit lost, trapped—I was forcing myself to work within these constrictive narrative concepts, these small boxes.” Throup explains that his epiphany suddenly offered some perspective on this toxic cycle of enforced storytelling: “When I was able to zoom out, I could see that in creating these smaller boxes over the years, I had actually been creating one much bigger box, which still contains me, but is a much healthier place to live in.”
In order to understand this sentiment, it is important to understand the way Throup’s mind works. “I’m still in touch with my inner child, in fact I’m virtually like a child in that I allow myself to dream. But on the other side, I’m very structured—I’m devoted to these systems and formulas that I’ve created to sustain me, so the two sides are locked in a constant, healthy conflict. I think it’s how my brain can be as mental as it is without causing me trouble!” This dualistic approach to creativity, when applied to design, sounds almost mechanistic. “On one side, there’s an artist, creating stories, narratives, things that have meaning and value from a philosophical, moral and personal perspective. Then my rational side starts building physical systems to transform those ideas into material metaphors. There’s a metamorphic transformation whereby turning those stories into metaphors, physical metaphors, I turn into a product designer. So on the one side I’m an artist and on the other side a product designer. And from a product design approach, I end up developing products anatomically, so you end up with a product that is inherently connected to the concept, but that you couldn’t have imagined before, without having the concept and going through this process.”
Listening to Throup expound upon his philosophy, it’s worth remembering that what he’s talking about, fundamentally, is designing pieces of clothing. I ask him if he is squeamish about working in ‘fashion’ and there’s a pause in his almost stream-of-consciousness-like flow. “I mean, I wasn’t afraid of it…” he begins tentatively. “I was conscious that that wasn’t what I was interested in. There’s an element of fashion that entails a designer imagining the end result as part of their creative process—which seems really obvious, right? You imagine what it’s going to look like at the beginning of the process, and then your process is figuring out how to materialise that. It sounds obvious but that was fundamentally different to how I was working, I wasn’t imagining or visualising what the end result was going to be at the start of the process…which is kind of suicidal.”
“That realisation has actually made me excited about fashion for the first time. I now dare to imagine a final garment and a final look before I start, which is exciting!”
But then the epiphany recalibrated Throup’s relationship with his own creativity and suddenly he found himself able to engage with his dual role as both artist and product designer in one. “That night, I zoomed out and realised that I had all these unique tools at my disposal, which I had been developing over a long period of time, according to the unique way that my mind works. And that realisation has actually made me excited about fashion for the first time. I now dare to imagine a final garment and a final look before I start, which is exciting!”
“This shape has been appropriated by society and culturally has taken on a significance beyond its original function. But it’s charged with uniqueness, we feel that there is a reason for it…”
At this point I feel bound to ask if it was merely coincidental that what Throup was producing prior to his epiphany was also clothing. His conception of his creative process as something akin to a conceptual sausage machine suggests that it could have been almost anything that popped out at the end; a parka, a painting or, indeed, a ballet. “Definitely!”, Throup responds enthusiastically, “I definitely believe in symptomatic aesthetics. One of the things I’m obsessed with is the visual that you get from the hood of a hoodie but when it’s worn on the shoulders. If you think about that for one second, that’s an incidental aesthetic, isn’t it? The hood’s function is being stowed away but it’s also an activation of a new form. That’s what I’m obsessed with: designing new objects, new things that create new aesthetics that are incidental to their function.”
I posit that detaching clothing from its function in this way elevates it to an art form, as it is transformed into a purely aesthetic experience. Throup nods enthusiastically, “Producing any form of visual art, I think, means you have something to say. So if you think of a fishtail parka, it is a piece of art because 99.99% of people probably don’t know what that fishtail is actually for, why it slopes down at the back into that weird shape. So this shape has been appropriated by society and culturally has taken on a significance beyond its original function. But it’s charged with uniqueness, we feel that there is a reason for it, but with hundreds of millions of them being sold, no one thinks to ask, “Yeah, what’s that bit for?”. *
“The end result is the sum of all these parts and its how they interact together that result in the final aesthetic, rather than just a surface that’s been inflated with air on the inside; everything is affected by everything else.”
It seems almost ironic that the result of such lofty, almost ethereal processing, should be clothing as utilitarian as Throup’s. The innovation lab’s experimentation with denim has led them to focus on selvedge denim; a rough, thick, double-sided denim with one light side and one dark. The pieces are baggy and layered, the figures bearing them are hunched and misanthropic-looking. There is a dystopian element to the clothing, as though Throup were designing armour for a band of survivors in some desecrated future-world. What is more, Throup disapproves of the prevailing norm of seasonal collections and prefers to work in the manner of car companies, perfecting the design concept in prototypes and then releasing them to the masses. There is a symmetry between this factory-line sensibility and the functional aesthetic of the ‘prototypes’. Even the language used to describe the G-Star RAW Research Spring/Summer’17 looks is baldly practical and dripping with machismo: “EXTREME, RIGID, LOOM-STATE RAW DENIM. BOLD…ERGONOMIC.”
This latest instalment in Throup’s collaborative relationship with G-Star is a continuation of his fascination with anatomical designing. “I really believe in the power of art, design, and anything that you can immediately experience as having anatomy, meaning that it has been systematically constructed from the inside out. If you think about the human body, there are bones, organs, connective tissues and then at the edges, there is skin. The end result is the sum of all these parts and its how they interact together that result in the final aesthetic, rather than just a surface that’s been inflated with air on the inside; everything is affected by everything else.
“All these layers and internal components, the way that a tailored jacket fits so beautifully around chest, shoulders, neck, is all the result of internal components, which allow the external surface to sit naturally.”
I think that at a subconscious, even spiritual level, human beings feel connected to things that are constructed in this way, anatomically, and they have a deeper effect upon us, only we don’t have the surface level subconscious intelligence to understand why—we just sense it. I’ve built my approach to design with that theory in mind, although it’s taken ten years to get to this point!”
A catalytic event in Throup’s development seems to have been his introduction to G-Star and his work with the RAW Research lab. Even mavericks need to know that their vision is shared by someone else and G-Star appears to have been just the sounding board and creative partner that Throup was searching for. “It’s interesting”, he ponders, “because when G-Star approached me, the first thing that struck me was how at key periods in their timeline, they had proven that they were also fascinated by anatomy. All these layers and internal components, the way that a tailored jacket fits so beautifully around chest, shoulders, neck, is all the result of internal components, which allow the external surface to sit naturally. In the context of denim tailoring, that’s what I’ve been so struck by at G-Star; they’re at the forefront of denim, utility wear and streetwear, using the same philosophy of anatomy, and that’s why it’s been so instinctive to work together, it’s a great connection.”
In light of this symbiosis, it is perhaps unsurprising that Throup has just been announced as the new Executive Creative Director for G-Star RAW. His SS’17 RAW Research collection, photographed here by our Editor-in-Chief, Ali Kepenek, and styled by Alexander Gabriel, is an ode to the brand and its dedication to functionality, futurism and, above all, the miraculous adaptability of denim. Utilising the famous double-sided selvedge denim, the collection abounds with utilitarian detail; the back of a parka detaches to become a backpack, the seemingly decorative straps on the back of a jacket transform seamlessly into straps, allowing the wearer to carry his discarded jacket on his back, without needing a bag, the bottom half transforming into a bumbag.
Aitor Throup was announced as the Executive Creative Director on October 25th and the RAW Research SS17 collection is available as of early December.
*As one of the 99.9%, I had to ask Throup what the original function of the fishtail parka was and he kindly explained. “The extended back panels, split at the back by the ‘fishtail’, allow the back of the jacket to be wrapped under the legs. Through a system of draw-cords, these can be fixed to the front panel counterparts, ensuring that the hem of the jacket secures itself to the body when needed.”
The fishtail parka was first used by the United States Army in 1950 to help protect soldiers from the elements in the Korean War. Following the end of the Second World War the US army recognised the need for a new cold weather system for fighting in as the existing kit was inadequate; the fishtail parka solution was the result of a concerted design effort.
Words by Claudia Paterson.