Throup's The Rite of Spring is a photographic series featuring Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian, who has been shot entirely in Aitor Throup designs. The photographs have been taken by Throup and, as he explains in a candid interview that follows below, are a visual manifestation of a creative transition that he experienced earlier this year.
Throup, however, has always been interested in transitioning between design disciplines. He is a 2006 graduate from the Royal College of Art’s (RCA) Fashion Menswear course, yet is uncomfortable with the label of fashion designer. Instead, he brands his work as falling somewhere in-between that of an artist and a product designer.
Although Throup continues to design and make garments (under the title New Object Research), and it is through clothing that he is most widely known, he rejects most of the fashion industry’s conventions. Throup's garments are presented on life-size sculptures rather than models, and his practice does not follow the fashion seasons. Instead, all of Throup's work is driven by narrative.
Working with his multi-disciplinary practice A.T Studio, Throup has created projects that span design, fashion, film, photography, event production and creative direction. He is the creative director for British band Kasabian, directing their closing set on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2014, and was the creative director of British singer Damon Albarn's album and single Everyday Robots.
More recently, Throup was commissioned to work on the costumes created for the Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 film. He also acts as a creative consultant for the brand G-Star RAW, having redesigned the brand's flagship store on Oxford Street and art directed its spring/summer 2014 brand campaigns.
To mark The Rite of Spring's release, Disegno spoke to Throup about all of these projects. In the resultant interview, he speaks about his early experience of training in fashion, the inner workings of his studio, and the importance of not being pigeon-holed.
You trained as a fashion designer but your studio works across many different fields. What is the importance of being multi-disciplinary?
It just happened through necessity, I never planned for it. I never had any aspiration to be a fashion designer, it was just a weird combination of references and interests. Having come from Buenos Aires and having lived in Madrid for some years, I somehow ended up in Burnley in Lancashire, where I was surrounded by football culture. I became obsessed by the uniformity of it. What the hooligans were wearing – Stone Island and C.P. Company – were these beautiful, amazing, avant-garde garments.
It was a few years later that my drawings became more and more detailed in terms of clothing, to the point that I wanted to find someone to make one of these jackets for me. I wasn’t considering it to be design or fashion, I just had a bunch of drawings. I went around to a few of the local tailors and asked them if they could make this jacket and whatnot, and no one said yes. So I thought, "I am going to have to figure it out for myself.” Luckily at the time I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up. I ended up in Manchester studying fashion design which was a really weird thing. It was a surprise to all my mates and family.
How did your work evolve from that point?
My course in fashion design just happened. I didn’t have any preconceived ideas, I just had what was in my heart and what was in my head. My process became about doing whatever was necessary to make something happen, so before I knew it I was inventing pattern cutting techniques. I wasn’t drowning in tradition or anything, I was just communicating ideas. Fashion is just clothing design; it is only useful for me if I can use it to communicate my idea. Sometimes it is not useful, so I need to pick up a camera or direct a piece of music. It is all about the story.
Working across so many disciplines, how do you label yourself? Do you identify with fashion or design?
It is difficult for me. I definitely don’t associate myself with fashion as a primary description of what I do. Up until now, my clothing work has been considered as fashion just because it is clothing: people put it on their bodies and it is put into fashion stores. It is more like what I chose to do with it and where I chose to present it. If you present something at Fashion Week and in a fashion store, then it’s fashion. But the clothes were actually just the physical manifestation of the story that I was telling. In that regard I consider myself more like an artist because I feel like I have something to say; I have a message that I am trying to convey through any means necessary.
I am somewhere in-between an artist and a product designer. I really utilise product design principles and a product design approach. Not necessarily everything follows function, but everything follows reason and there is a logic to the work. It is always a problem-solving process.
Was building a brand something you were conscious of when you begun your career?
I didn’t even want a brand. I graduated from the RCA and the last thing I wanted to do was to make another collection. I was actually planning to write a graphic novel about Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, but I won this award [the 2006 International Talent Support] with my graduation collection. It was great, but meant that I had to do another collection for the following year. That’s why that collection became about Hurricane Katrina.
After that, one thing led to another and, before I knew it, I was working with my favourite brands – Stone Island and C.P. Company, the England football kit. Everything was so connected, but it was never planned. It still isn’t.
You’ve now worked on the new The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 film. How did you find costume design? After all, it’s not necessarily about creating pieces with a technical performance, but instead focuses on the aesthetic.
I had questions about that myself. Kurt and Bart [Kurt Swanson and Bart Mueller], who were the overall costume directors for the film, are really interested in authenticity and making things look real. Being true to the book, the costumes had to be very utilitarian and functional in a futuristic way, but not unbelievably futuristic. In terms of ergonomics and function, they wanted to explore that and come up with new aesthetics and new solutions: things that could look like you’ve genuinely never seen them before, but which are also recognisable.
Having said that, it was an incredible learning experience of how, in that industry, you can build ideas so differently. You can actually dream. I always allow myself to dream but in reality, maybe in the engineering sense, certain things couldn’t happen or would be extremely difficult to make happen in my own brand. It is what my own brand would do if, let's say, anything was possible.
Can you tell me about The Rite of Spring photographic series that you’ve just completed?
I had a creative epiphany earlier this year that felt like I was breaking free from how I have always created concepts. In the past, it was almost like I was only allowed to create within a narrative or concept, and I wasn’t allowed to create anything outside of that. It is all down to creative insecurities and my own creative ego: I had a big frustration about the fact that I couldn’t just design objects that I liked.
For about 10 years I have been building these small boxes, but actually you can stack those on top of each other and build one much bigger box out of them. That box is the overarching aesthetic, the overarching philosophy and the overarching identity of the brand. There was a real transformation for me as a person, but also for me as a designer – the old me and new me.
How does that tie in with Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring?
It represents the death of the old me and the rebirth of the new. You have these references of the ghost whose identity has been stolen by his own work, with my mask. He has toy guns draped around him, which he has there to protect himself, but eventually he lets go of those and flowers emerge. They represent rebirth and also the funeral of the old.
I’ve always been fascinated by Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. It really revolutionised classical music by challenging conventions, and I guess that is something that in my own way I have tried to do too. I saw this project as what I have sacrificed in order to get to this, my own Rite of Spring. Which is really symbolic of where the old New Object Research finishes and where the new New Object Research (and the new collection that we are working towards for next year) begins.