Aitor Throup. A name that is not often heard, but those who are aware of the name recognise its value. Is Aitor associated with designers? Artists? Art directors? I would consider him a very much enigmatic paradigm of multi-faceted talent, and a prime example of one who shines out of the current generation of creatively-led individuals.
I have only met Aitor once, and this was a year ago this month, during the International Talent Support competition where he once was bestowed the ITS FASHION award in 2005. He had returned to the competition to be honoured with a special prize that Barbara Franchin (ITS founder) and her committee had put together to celebrate “a remarkable pursuit of unique ideas”. Comparably, this is quite a feat, as the competition’s previous finalists include London’s James Long, Haizhen Wang and Peter Pilotto, each of whom have all gone to create successful brands since beginning their ITS journey.
It is with no surprise that Aitor is perhaps considered the golden child of the competition. He is constantly referred to among his peers within the competition, both past and present. He is a forward thinking individual, and expresses his concepts with an artistic flair required for a designer of “unique ideas”. His ideas are a brilliant example of what happens when someone researches, researches and researches, and though his collections are turned out very much irregularly, this has only added fire to his enigmatic reputation, complementing his ability to create and present something that often leaves its spectators mystified.
Talking with Aitor over a regular conversation is as talking with any, but a conversation over his work and artistic expression as a whole seems to trigger something within his mainframe. I believe Aitor is genuinely passionate about his work, and relentlessly attacks it with self-critique. It is an often cliché to never be proud or satisfied with your work, and though Aitor had expressed this several times throughout our conversation, I’d like to think there is truth in his words. I wouldn’t necessarily call it humility, as the artist/designer is confidently aware of his capabilities, instead the criticism comes from his knowledge of the limitless methods that can be used to create something, and his struggle to find a vehicle of expression that can be defined as his own. There’s an insurmountable amount of conceptual ideas and philosophical depth within the nature of his work, and I’d like to think Aitor is constantly working to find various methods to translate these ideas for others to comprehend and appreciate.
This interview was a year ago and at the time he’d been working through his own mind to develop a understanding and satisfaction for his work as a designer, and with his recent showcase at London Collections: Men titled “The Rite of Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter”, it seems he’s made progress. The somewhat epic titles are standard as far as Aitor’s work goes (“The Funeral of New Orleans” is definitely worth looking at) and are each as well thought out as the previous body of work. What made this one a little more special was the fact it was reflective of his career, and how he has “taken off the armour that was his creative ego”. I’m quite glad I waited to post this as it’s interesting to see Aitor’s transforming perspective prior to releasing his ‘New Object Research’. Whatever happens next we shall see…
It is July 2015 and I’m sat outside with Aitor, an hour before the ITS final catwalk and awards ceremony. There’s a booming soundtrack playing that eerily seems to match the waves and chapters of our conversation. Aitor is eloquent and concise with his answers, and the expected ‘ums’ & ‘ers’ are not present. The answers don’t seem as though they were recited, and instead seem impressively formed on the spot.
A lot of what I wanted to talk about was the fact it’s been nine years since you’ve won ITS, and I’d love to know about the transition from now till then.
Wow I mean that seems like a lifetime ago. I was lucky enough to win the Collection of the Year award back then. Looking back though, the real amazing thing was actually just being here. For the first time in my career (and it was the beginning anyway) I really felt like my work was understood. I am really obsessed and committed to the storytelling part of my work. I think my work is quite hard to grasp in terms of its real meaning and it can easily be interpreted on face value, and these people had actually taken the time and effort to understand it.
In a practical sense, it was amazing because it forced me to do another collection the following year, which I had no intention of doing. I was actually planning on writing a graphic novel, which ended up becoming the collection The Funeral of New Orleans, which was about these musicians dying in the midst of Hurricane Katrina. It really cemented my point of view as a designer, and I was able to prove that my concept was consistent, and that I wasn’t relying on the tricks and aesthetic which I used in my previous collection. It is very meaningful for me in my career because I’m at a point where I’ve made sense of a lot of things literally in the six months or year. I truly believe in my work as a designer for the first time ever.
I feel like I’m trying to define my own design language. In order to do that I’ve had to refine all the tools and aspects, down to the conceptual part and to the philosophical parts of my own design manifesto. Then there’s the practical elements – I wanted everything to be my own interpretation of things rather than using generic standardised solutions of fastening or seams. Not necessarily because they’re better, but because they’re true to me and I’m obsessed with that. I feel like I’ve really achieved a body of work from which I can work as a designer in my own right, working outside of all these dense narrative concepts I’ve had to create for the last ten years. I feel liberated – it marks a new stage in my career.
Your illustrations are just as strong as your designs – did you want to go down the illustration background or was it always designing at the forefront?
Drawing is what I’ve always done. My mum always used to tell me it was an usual thing that I was always able to draw since I was a baby or something – especially as I used to draw in particular the human body in motion. All I remember was drawing but I never knew how advanced. I was just obsessed with it and I still am. That was always the route for many years even after I did my studies – though at one point after my A-Levels I didn’t want to do anything with my art and I didn’t know what I could do with them. Design was definitely a secondary thing that happened. I’ve got Massimo Osti to thank for that – he’s definitely the reason I became a designer – to be exposed to these brands within a football subculture in North England which I fell in love with. Massimo Osti Production planted the seed that one day I’d like to have my own brand, and it eventually came together as my drawings became more detailed. I was able to look at them objectively and think “wow that’s a really cool jacket – I want that jacket”. I asked a seamstress who worked at a shop I worked in if she could make it, but she basically said no so I decided to study it myself. It was all very new to me, I didn’t know anything about design except what Osti had done.
Does fashion still interest you or is there more to it?
No, I see it as my work enters a fashion context after it has been re-appropriated. I love that someone can adopt it when it goes into a fashion retail context, into their wardrobe, without necessarily knowing the meaning behind it. It takes a life of its own. By definition I think that’s what fashion is – something that is bought and worn mainly for how it looks and how it makes someone feel – but that’s not the driving force behind why I create my work. That’s a cool side thing. I’m just obsessed with two different aspects of fashion – one as an artist creating physical transforming metaphors of narratives I’m trying to get across, and one as a product designer, where I am trying to innovate and have a unique point of view on design, analysing each aspect.
You’ve mentioned you were getting into photography. Is that another outlet for your expression?
Yeah it’s just a communication tool. I am a strong believer I have an idea of what art is, and for me any design or art that is genuinely true or timeless – which I strive to create – is actually very simply described as a form of communication. Non-linguistic communication that doesn’t utilise existing systems of language of communication. A way to say something in a new or different way – visually, sonically, whatever. I’m a strong believer that if you got something to say, say it in a new way.
I’m lucky to have worked in a lot of different industries since I started – in music and recently in film – and it’s allowed me to realise that you need to expand your toolbox to communicate a message. As long as it’s consistent. I just can’t see where it can stop. My real goal is to create an energy within an environment that is fully immersive and conveys the message that I want to say.
Does the fact that people consider you successful or talented drive you? The confidence…
Yes I think confidence is a mental thing. Not sure how much of it comes from the outside world as I think it comes from yourself – a form of stability. Once all the different aspects of your life are stable and you have a good relationship with yourself, you feel like you’re doing the right thing and in the right place – in your flow. I’m a strong believer in the Dao, and the Ying. The philosophy of doing whatever it takes to do what is right for you, which doesn’t necessarily mean what’s best or what’s most enjoyable. Up to this point I’ve never honestly enjoyed my work, I’ve just had to go through a process (in the last 6 months) where I’ve gone through a creative epiphany and have begun to enjoy my work, and realise designs I’ve never been able to. That’s why I haven’t put out collections – I hadn’t earned the right to.
Outside recognition is very important and that is what ITS has shown me…
Well through ITS you mentioned you had people finally understand your work, and on a international platform.
Well ITS were the first people to really understand what I was doing – that was really inspiring for me. At that stage I thought maybe what I was doing was too difficult to understand, maybe I don’t have the right way to convey it, but if art and design is about communication and my communication is committed to saying something new in a new way, it could have easily been too new and too difficult to grasp. So because of winning this award (9 years ago), and me looking into Barbara’s eyes and their team and that they were genuinely passionate about it and how much they believed in what I was doing and how committed I was, I was like “okay I have to keep doing this, I have to make another collection whether I like it or not”. And that was really my biggest challenge. I didn’t want to rely on the aesthetics or the direct visuals I used in my first collection, but I wanted to prove that exact philosophy of art and product design, converging into this metaphorical vehicle of objects that tell a story. That’s why the second collection – Funeral of New Orleans – I was able to evaluate truly what I wanted to do and say, and it sort of snowballed from there. But really it was a process of experimenting and pushing myself to define my point of view and my design language, and I couldn’t use those tools until they were ready. And by use those tools, I really mean to actually become a designer – that’s the point. I think a designer is able to use tools more freely than an artist, so as an artist I’ve been defining my tools for 10 years, in order to become a designer, rather than up to now – the design side of me has been purely there to facilitate the conveying of the message of the artist side of me.
With this upcoming generation where whoever can be whoever or whatever they desire – “multifaceted” – what do you think it takes to say… become an art director? a creative director? Someone who works across a multitude of levels, for themselves or for another brand? Is it experience or can someone just be that brainchild?
I honestly think that it is about self belief – I know that sounds cheesy, I’ll explain it. If you really believe in what you are doing is beyond the aesthetic – what I mean by that is I see a lot of designers who invest a lot in their aesthetic, which I read as a manifestation of their insecurity. It’s a very natural way of reassuring themselves in order to gain confidence. But the kind of designer who can bring something to a fashion house is able to inherently step out of the aesthetic part of what they are trying to convey. They are so secure in what they are trying to do, in the true meaning of design or art, that it becomes instinctive to transfer that to another brand or company without feeling like they need to put their stamp on it. I think good art and aesthetic is genuine communication. When I step into a project, the last thing that I think about is me or my aesthetic. I really enjoy the part of my work that is involved with design, because design is problem solving I think. Looking at the generic problem that came before the generic solutions that are now standardised. So the idea to de-standardise generic solutions that came through industrialisation, by looking at the problem, is very inspiring. That is the driving force for any true designer.
I’ve worked on many projects with different companies and different industries, from innovation with Nike to the headline Glastonbury set for KASABIAN. It would be impossible to do that if you are bogged down by what your aesthetic or ulterior motive is. If you are confident in yourself that you are doing things for the right reason and not investing into your own aesthetic or your own ego, and taking your abilities to help people to solve a problem – that’s if you genuinely do that – it’s not the easiest thing in the world and is very demanding. That’s probably why I haven’t found my work enjoyable. Probably because how committed I am to doing it the right way. Maybe success is identified by when a designer or artist is able to step out of that ego/aesthetic self, and solve a problem in a way that it takes him or her by surprise. In all those different fields and all those different genres, I have definitely been shocked at what has come out, because it couldn’t be anything else. I was just making connections so it had to be that. I’m not doing this for my ego I’m doing this for the right thing. It’s lovely when you find yourself in positions where “wow I didn’t think I’d be doing this”. That’s my driving force really.
I know you said you didn’t want to be boxed in as a conceptual designer. Could you define what is the signature of Aitor in one quick sentence?