Polite and soft-spoken though he is, Aitor Throup will bristle if you call him a fashion designer—a pejorative term to someone who doesn't give a toss about being trendy. He's an artist who'll no doubt rank among high-conceptualists Hussein Chalayan and Martin Margiela soon enough, but don't tell him that either. A stand-out at Man, the men's group show put on by Fashion East during London Fashion Week last September, Throup defies all labeling and authority, so much so that he'd like to bring about an end to the current system of seasonal cycles.
Argentinean-born and London-based, Throup creates military-style suiting heaped with layers of abstruse meaning (consider the titles of his two collections to date: When Football Hooligans Become Hindu Gods, The Funeral of New Orleans) using a sci-fi clay-to-computer sculpture technique of his own development. You could say—but again, please don't—that he's the George Lucas of menswear, crafting characters and building stories from scratch. Here, the Royal College of Art graduate and royal contrarian divulges his enigmatic ways to LEE CARTER.
We haven't even started and I already have a headache.
(Laughs.) I've heard that before.
Let's start with your design philosophy, because you definitely have one.
Okay. The way I think about my concepts, collections and everything else would be like a gallery setting, in the sense that, and not to be arty here, I view my work as a static product and the audience should be active around it. They should view it whenever they want and as long as they want, which ties into my beliefs about the seasonal limitations of the industry.
Currently, we as consumers are not allowed to buy things when we want or even when the designer wants, which runs contradictory to the essence of creativity. While fashion cycles may give structure and boundaries that creative people think they need, designers can become self-absorbed and indulgent. Whereas I'm very strict in my exploration of my creativity, in that every single thing has to be justified and make sense, so much so that if I also submit to the limitations of the industry and its deadlines, I think I would choke.
I would get all of nothing done if I didn't have deadlines.
I see a better future for the fashion industry. I see a section of the industry opening up to allow for more experimentation. A new group is emerging and exploring new possibilities. Magazines will benefit, consumers will benefit, buyers will benefit and the Internet will benefit because there will always be something new in the windows. What I hope to see in the future is a sort of mirror of the music and art industries, in that fashion would allow itself to show a product whenever it's ready, not in predetermined cycles. Now more than ever, people like to layer rather than having a winter wardrobe and a summer wardrobe. That's such an old-fashioned system.
Especially when seasons are so different across the globe at any given moment, while fashion is becoming more and more global all the time.
Imagine if the music industry did it that way. Imagine if they released all their new music every six months. You'd have to listen to the new albums all at once and, worst of all, once an album comes out, you're only allowed to buy it for six months. After that you have to buy the new album, which would probably be shit because they only had six months to come up with a concept, develop it, record it, do the artwork, etc. My collections operate a lot differently.
Let's talk about your collections. They're like no other.
In my mind, my collections are very conceptual, not based on the colors or silhouettes of the season. I've almost got an advantage over other designers in that I was never really interested in fashion. I kind of fell into it. I got into it through a love of the product rather than a love of aspirational values attached to it.
How did this love of product start?
When my friends and I were teenagers growing up in Lancashire, in the north of England, we started getting really into clothes, but it had nothing to do with fashion. We were fascinated with anything that came from Massimo Osti, the guy who set up Stone Island and C.P. Company and other labels after that. For me, he really pioneered a new casual menswear. Before he came along you'd look down the street in England and see a sea of suits. He was well established by the time we were dressing in it in '96.
What exactly did you like about it?
It had a lot of integrity and every design feature was justified. So while it was very expensive and we were 16 buying a new jacket for ₤500, we knew we were buying into concept and quality. We knew the fabric and treatments were innovative, and parts of the jacket could be moved around in utilitarian ways. Some of the pieces could even could save your life if you were in a jam. Each piece had a justified design philosophy. Our fascination was completely detached from the concept of buying a jacket because it's the hot thing.
You were a teen cult.
Yes, and we didn't know what we were going to see until we got to the shop. We didn't study fashion shows and look through magazines to see what's coming out. If it was the first day on the shop floor, and since we were friends with the managers, they'd give us a call and put one behind the counter so we could see it first. So we were really judging the product and basing our purchase on seeing it and studying it and falling in love with it.
I can totally see that.
Yes, and through it all, I had no interest in fashion. I was just passionate about those pieces. I even got a job there later. Then I spent one summer in Majorca working in a restaurant. I was really missing those winter jackets and jumpers from C.P. Company and Stone Island, so I was sitting around doing nothing one day and I took a little paper place mat and began doodling. I've always drawn comic book characters, so I drew characters on the place mats, and the clothes started getting really detailed, more C.P.-esque or Stone Island-esque. Then I thought, why not go back and show the drawings to the seamstress we used at the shop. I thought I could go back with the sketches and she'd make me these clothes that no one else had. (cont'd)