Imagine this for a life-changing moment. You’re approaching your 12th birthday, your team is Real Madrid and suddenly your family relocates from Spain to a modestly sized market town in Lancashire, England.
It’s not just the climate that’s different, none of your immediate family can speak English. There is a huge chasm in cultural adjustment. But as a pre-teen, you’ve yet to define your personality, to establish the parameters on what marks you out as an individual. Your mind is open to new experiences, people, local dialects and environments. You absorb and process information with ease. And, somewhere amongst all the changes in circumstance, on Burnley FC’s stadium terraces every Saturday, the germination of an idea is benignly seeded. It will take another 15 years before that begins to manifest.
If anyone had told the young Aitor Throup that, “one day, you will emerge as a highly regarded designer of men’s apparel,” he would have rejected the suggestion as irrelevant and improbable. In 1992, when he first moved to the UK, he was all but consumed by a passion for football. Today, aged 34, he has successfully completed two fashion degrees, consulted with key Italian menswear labels, C.P. Company and Stone Island, designed the football strips for the England team and established an eponymous clothing brand that is retailed in the most cutting-edge boutiques around the world. Although the name is yet to hit the big league, in terms of mass global awareness, the fashion cognoscenti can’t get enough of him—probably because he has refused to play the game their way. Furthermore, he can justify his reasoning with intellect and deliver it without a PR firewall. If it’s one thing that Aitor has, it is an abundance of integrity and considered philosophy about everything he does.
The above examples of his work output to date already seem considerable. And there is so much more. 2014 is likely to be a turnaround year for Throup, in the same way that 1992—when he first moved to the UK—and 2006—when he graduated with a MA from the prestigious Royal College of Art—both were. This feature is the culmination of more than five years ongoing discussions with Throup, following each step of his burgeoning career. This year will see Throup consolidate his position as someone more than simply a “menswear designer” to look out for. His work output has already begun to shift towards other disciplines—namely, film and creative direction, specifically with the music industry. And by the end of the year, a new involvement in the world of cinema is keenly anticipated as the next evolution of his already considerable artistic portfolio.
Some analysis of Throup’s personal history and definition of his design principles is necessary here. There is already a huge amount of information on his website that outlines all his creative output with encyclopedic detail. Painstakingly reconstructed over the last five years, it offers a valuable resource of information for anyone interested in his work to date. It outlines why Throup deserves his industry accolades and how his unique approach to work justifies the widely held claim that he is a force to be reckoned with.
Throup recalls his early days in England through the regular football games he attended. He particularly noticed the tribal crowd behavior.
“Going to the pub afterwards and they’re all downing beers. I was like, ‘What the fuck’s going on here?’ This is really excessive, and is part of the fabric of this town. I loved it. The older I got, the more interested I became in the sub-cultural behavior of these the football “casuals”, the real hardheads.
“They were all obsessed with these crazy clothes with goggles in the hood and lit up in the dark, that had smog masks built in – and I just found this real form of creative expression, it’s almost like fancy dress – contrasted with this recessive, overt masculinity, and extremely violent demeanor. It still really intrigues me.”
Throup is referring to the influx of Italian sportswear labels that were hugely popular amongst British football fans throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. Brands such as Fila, Sergio Tacchini, and then Stone Island and C.P. Company.
“I ended up working in the shops that sold this stuff just to get closer to it. Seeing the C.P. Company ‘Goggle’ jacket on a hanger, it had a life of its own because it’s got points of reference to specific body parts. It’s like there’s a soul in it, the eyes give it personality. And there’s an aspirational value to it. I wanted to own it all.”
Throup’s earlier childhood in Spain and Argentina quickly receded into the background. Unlike most young boys who might have taken their toys apart to rebuild them, Throup began to create imaginary worlds to inhabit. “I loved the positivity of isolation, how that can feed your creativity,” he says. It began with sketches, something he continues to do regularly that informs his design process. He fastidiously posts a daily sketch on Post-New’s “The Breaks” section. The images in his Daily Sketchbook Archives offer a glimpse into his design approach, the careful analysis of a human torso, examined with forensic attention from every angle. It is echoed in the recent music video he directed for Damon Albarn’s current single, “Everyday Robots”, part of an album project which Throup came on board for as creative director.
The combination of sketching and his interest in football casuals clothing led to Throup studying fashion, eventually to Masters degree level. However, his approach promises a far-reaching and considered analysis of what clothing means beyond the standard ephemeral nature of a six-month season. Which is why you’ll hear him describe his incredibly passionate work focus as the result of a fluid relationship, combining the pragmatism of product design and exploring the creative boundaries of art. That the finished product is a wearable garment is almost inconsequential. Throup’s starting point is more akin to problem solving, with the finished product being a beautiful work of art. In between these two points, there will have been a high level of investigation and experimentation.
This started from his first day at college, when he was handed a 1950s book that outlined how to construct a shirt. His innate reaction was to reject established convention and start from scratch. If anything, he felt that existing formats would interfere with the idea of design being a freedom of expression.
“I had no idea how a suit jacket should be constructed. The first thing I did was to make sure I didn’t take on that legacy of background knowledge, how things should be done. The first pattern cutting lesson, they gave me 20 pages on making a traditional shirt. I was like, ‘You’re poisoning our minds with these existing solutions. What is the value in that?’ They explained, ‘First learn the principles then you can expand on them.’ Yes, but that’s someone else’s principles. The principle is, there’s a 3-D object, a 2-D flat piece of fabric, put them together. Or, get an orange, and a piece of fabric: make a pattern for it. Every pattern-cutting teacher should start with that. Then you extract your own principles. In doing that, you learn everything.”
So far, so very graduate studies. But for the fact that Throup’s clothing is not experimental for the sake of it. They are compelling garments that hold a powerful appeal on several levels. From the casual first viewing on a magazine page, to a curiosity in understanding more about the design, the gritty urban silhouetting and appreciation of the unique use of materials.
Since starting his label in 2006, there are five product groups That he calls the concept archive. And is fully aware how incongruous that sounds – to have created an archive before presenting a full collection to retail. But then Throup is not forging ahead intent on designing newness for the sake of being new. That would not work, and he is perfectly aware of this. He is creating his own foundation to base new work from.
Why? Because Throup isn’t one to accept the norm unless it makes perfect sense. Either in the construction of a basic shirt, or in the marketing strategy of a new brand, such as his own. He has eschewed the relentless cycle of fashion that dictates we must consider purchasing new clothes for each season. He has, effectively, single-handedly rewritten the blueprint from the ground up. Creating a vertically integrated business structure that is an all-encompassing mix of source theory, philosophy, design/ redesign, construction, sales and marketing. If the industry standard machinery isn’t providing what he needs to accomplish his vision, he will develop it. Nothing has been left out of the equation.
This manifesto could be considered as borderline pretentious drivel, with all his declared intentions of conceptual integrity and elevating products to design archetype status. And it is worth holding the perspective that, at the heart of all this, is a 16-year old school kid on the football terraces. Not interested in fashion as we consume it today, and yet, a decade and a half later, he achieves a “dream-come-true” moment when the very same company who manufactured garments that he respected so enthusiastically as a teenager would invite him to design their 20th anniversary “Goggle” jacket.
On the final day of his graduation show at RCA, two men approached him with their business cards. The representatives from Sportswear Company, who then owned both Stone Island and C.P. Company, were inviting him to meet their president. A week later in Italy, Carlo Rivetti offered him a position to bring new approaches to the clothing in their company. The first of several such enlightened moments.
What Rivetti had picked up on was Throup’s intense analysis of the human anatomy – something that emerged from his casual drawings, not from scientific observation. And, two years later this resulted in two special edition projects with Stone Island. In the first, Throup was able to flex creative muscle and put his theories into commercial practice. He designed the Modular Anatomy coat – “with multiple-shaped [fabric] pockets that create the aesthetic of a traditional down jacket. Whereas normally there is stitched down so it disperses equally, mine [had] every line as a seam [to create shape]. Like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle.” It ended up being exhibited in the Victoria & Albert museum.
After two seasons, Rivetti called him into his office for what Throup modestly refers to as, “The Big One.” To design the 20th anniversary edition of C.P. Company’s Mille Miglia, their perennial “Goggle” jacket. Throup went back to the origins of this iconic driving jacket and emerged with an ergonomically constructed garment shaped in a driver’s seat position. This, too, led to further recognition when the finished product was nominated for the Design of the Year award in 2010 by London’s Design Museum.
As this relationship was reaching its natural conclusion in 2009, Throup was approached by another sportswear company. Umbro, who had recently been taken over by Nike had maintained an ongoing relationship with Throup since his postgraduate days at RCA. The new ownership meant that, “suddenly, it was a different conversation.”
“They said, ‘imagine what the England kit could be.’ When we’d go to the pub to watch England, all I wanted was the ultimate authenticity of ‘you’re wearing the official England kit.’ ‘Cos authenticity is so valuable. But it was always a hologram that told you it was official. And it was shiny. And it looks crap with your jeans. You’d be like, ‘fuck’s sake, let’s get a 1966 one then.’ Not because you want to be retro but because it’s well designed. It doesn’t have any bullshit on it. So we spent a week doing a think-tank with them and they said, ‘we want you to design the England kit.’”
Throup did two—in 2009 for the home team—and 2010 for the away games. And elements of the new strip, less fancy embellishments more pure design essence, have since trickled through into other club kits. He explains, “we had the confidence to say, ‘let’s innovate properly. Once we do, let’s not put any arrows pointing to it. And just paint it all white.’ That’s what the 1966 kit is. Sir Alf Ramsay worked with Umbro closely and it was proper product innovation in the ‘60s. They got rid of the shoulder seam, but you’d never know it. It’s very humble, very British.” In studying the heritage of both sport and brand, the studio produced a solution that returned it to its earlier strengths, referencing the past to move forwards.
Such projects have drawn heavily from Throup’s own design concepts that are not generated, like most fashion design, from a two dimensional drawing but rather, 3-D life-sized sculptures. His hand drawings are the source material for his “Justified Design Philosophy,” a design approach that isn’t based on aesthetics but rather, a reason for its very existence. His umbrella statement of intent is “New Object Research” in which his design studio is the collective entity dedicated to research and development of new innovative objects. The focus lies more in the process of design than the finished product. As he sees it, the ideal shirt or trouser is never fully resolved—there will always be external factors that create change and allow for further improvement.
When he talks of shirt design, he has three sections in mind—a body, shoulder and sleeve as opposed to the standard body and attached sleeve. And when he adopts a location such as Mongolia or New Orleans as a source reference for one of the archive concepts, he doesn’t rely on any inherent notions of the exotic to do his bidding, like so many fashion designers. He thoroughly researches the history to arrive at a fully considered set of solutions that reflect a depth of knowledge and inspirational creativity, placing the idea beyond its origins into fresh context.
Furthermore, there is often a strong political statement that is deeply embedded into the work. Again, a rhetoric that the fashion world is notoriously evasive about. Throup likes to posit ideas and enquiry amongst his audience.
During June 2012’s inaugural London Collections showcase for menswear, the studio exhibited one singular object as a prelude to the first collection of 22 garments, to be shown in January 2013. The “Shiva Skull Bag,” constructed in the form of a human skull represented the culmination of six years research into product design. It is perhaps typical that he chose not to present a more standard garment, such as jacket or trousers, but an accessory.
Throup’s position remains steadfast. The skull bag may appear as a super cool fashion accessory to someone unfamiliar with his work. However, for him, the bag is one example of how a product has come to market from the five concept archives he works from. In this case, drawing references and design construction from his first archive that he completed his MA with, “When Football Hooligans Become Hindu Gods.” It takes influence from a variety of military satchels and bags. Its complex arrangement of straps and D-rings are re-engineered from an original military water bottle, and allows for the bag to be worn in several different ways—as a belt attachment, rucksack or shoulder bag.
If there are cynics lining up to take a pot shot at all this high-level theory, Throup is a step ahead.
“I like the idea of having criticism. Criticism represents anticipation. That is what there isn’t in the fashion industry. There can’t be because everything is pre-determined. I would love for people to be waiting for my next big concept. Because, then it’s a beautiful moment when it does come out. It’s unexpected and it’s not prescribed. It’s all of the above because a system was generated that allowed for ideas to develop and grow naturally, not under a creative dictatorship.”
It may come as no surprise that, of the retailer wish list he hoped would express interest in buying his first collection, Throup soon found himself fielding orders from 20 stores, some breaking convention and offering to pay in advance for the opportunity to secure his label on their roster. During 2012’s Frieze art fair in London, the studio presented another four items in Dover Street Market as a further insight into what would become the full launch for Fall/Winter 2013.
Now that the first season is over, what is next for the creative maverick?
Throup is intriguingly coy about whether there will be another collection made available to the normal retail channels. The strong interest in clothing is still prevalent, and there is an intention to continue the design process, in whatever form. However, other artistic projects have recently been occupying his time and energy.
At the start of 2011, he was announced as Creative Director for electronic rock band, Kasabian and their fourth album, Velociraptor! He had previously produced a short film with Nick Knight alumni, Jez Tozer for SHOWstudio for the “Ethnic Stereotyping” concept, but this was his debut as a music video director with the album’s first two singles, “Switchblade Smiles” and “Man of Simple Pleasures”. He went on to design the album packaging and a TV promo that won an award at the UK Music Video Awards.
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