Milan 2013

The Capsule by Tom Dixon for Adidas


13 April 2013

One of the more surprising projects revealed at Milan was owed to Tom Dixon, who displayed the early results of a new collaboration with Adidas, producing vintage sportswear and military inspired apparel, bags and shoes. Here, Dixon speaks to Disegno about the collection, fashion design and why he's happiest when naïve.

The collection, titled The Capsule is utilitarian and unisex, with an emphasis on modularity and compact packaging. Displayed as part of the Most venue in a disused railway shed, the clothes were displayed on camp beds, tarpaulins and a revolving industrial carousel.

Included in the The Capsule are a parka that converts into a sleeping bag, hooded tops that zip into pouches and backpacks that unfold into wardrobes. Also featured are shoes, tank tops, t-shirts, shorts, trousers and jackets inspired by WW2 motifs, and track and field gear. Packaging for the collection was also displayed: ration pack-style bags printed with a description of the product within.

The items shown in Milan are early prototypes, the fruits of a collaboration that began three months ago and is expected to reach shops in November.

Below, Dixon explains the motivation behind the collection, how fashion differs to design, his working practice and why he was nervous about showing in Milan.

How did the collaboration with Adidas come about?
I was about to do a fluoro trainer, so I thought, “Well ok, let’s see how it is.” I’d gotten interested in sports companies and what they do, so I asked around a bit about the possibilities of collaborating. Adidas were really keen for some odd reason.

How has the collaboration been?
What’s nice about Adidas is that they don’t do a flash in the pan, one-trainer-and-then-it’s-all-over kind of thing. We’ve signed up for four collections, so that’s two years. What we’ve got here is just the first test and then the collection will be in shops around the end of the year. These are the prototypes and our first sketches. The advantage of working for larger companies like that is they’ve got fast prototyping. Fashion is much faster than furniture anyway, but it’s phenomenal how quickly you can convert things into reality. We’re about three months into the collaboration and this is where we’ve got to already.

You collaborated with Lacoste before though.
Yeah, but Lacoste was like two shirts. This isn’t just clothes. It’s apparel, which is a whole new learning curve, and shoes, which are a different kettle of fish again. But I think I’m always happier when I’m naive. My work is a process of trying to become non-expert and throwing myself into things with the primitive enthusiasm I had when starting furniture. It’s nice to be untutored in that way and walk into something. I don’t do sports, you know what I mean? I ride a bike, but not in lycra. So I can go into this sports world and look at it with wide eyes. I mean, my God, you’ve got torsion bars and sticky plastic, springs in the heel, breathable textiles and this, that and the other. Wow.

What will change between now and the launch?
Oh well, you know: yellow won’t be fashionable by next season sweetie. Things like that. There’s also quite a lot of work on the seams to do. There’s some really nice textiles in there. The sharper, flatter textile we’re using for jackets and trousers can be cut to fit your arms and legs.

The customer cuts it?
Yeah. Your shorts can be girl shorts or boy shorts. I want more cutting of things and more seaming with rubber. I want more roughness and texture. Everything’s a bit too sleek and synthetic in that world; I want more simplicity. There’s still too much detailing and I want to strip that away. There’s a syndrome of detailing in sportswear.

But it’s not really sportswear is it?
No, Adidas has a fashion line. Stella McCartney does "Performance", whatever that is; and they’ve got Porsche design which is for businessmen golfers; and Y-3 does futuristic clothing for all kinds of occasions. I don’t really know how I fit into all of that, but I’m sure their communication department will start talking about it. At the moment we’re just talking about things that we’re interested in. It’s super premature to show it here in Milan. I’m very nervous about it, and I’m not the nervous type.

Why are you nervous?
It’s very difficult to show clothes off people. It’s bloody hard to make that stuff look dynamic and interesting. I find that with furniture anyway, but clothes are particularly dead if they don’t have people in them. I’ve tried to give it something else and deconstruct it a bit.

Are you working on your own on this?
It’s one part-timer, an intern and me. I just asked a couple of people in the studio who dressed well and had a good sense of style. We’ve got a sewing machine, so we just cut and made the stuff.

Do the people helping have a fashion background?
No. What’s the point of that? With all these things, like with architecture, people make it sound so much harder than it really is. The people who do the hard work in architecture are the structural engineers and the people who do the hard work in the fashion business are the pattern cutters and the seamstresses and mould makers. It’s interesting because I say the same about what I do: it’s not that difficult frankly. I have an idea and put it into production. I never trained, so I approach everything like that. It means that I’m not super proficient or technical, but an idea is an idea.

Will the final collection be presented in the same packaging?
We’ve tried to get Adidas to think about the presentation. In sports shops and fashion shops everyone does the same packaging and it always suffers from a lack of information. I wanted to make the packaging as “non” as possible. I don’t like big shoeboxes you have to throw away and I was thinking about how to get the most in as small a space as possible. I come from retail, so I want to make sure that when I’m in the Adidas shop I’m quite dense and rich, and people can understand it straight away.

How does it relate to your furniture design?
It’s the same thing. I’m trying to make things as unfashionable as possible. Although it’s all put together in a faintly trendy way, I’m trying to reduce it to silhouettes that don’t have too much recognisability about which era they’re from. Some things look fairly medieval, and others faintly space age. When I’ve made something successful in design, it could be put in lots of different contexts. The quality I look for is non-specificness. It’s a bit hard to explain as it’s my own theory, but when something is successful people tend to read it in different ways.

Is that the same with the fashion?
Some people have said it’s very masculine, others very feminine. With the clothes I was thinking about unisex for a really long time. Although girls do wear boyfriend jackets, no company really claims to be unisex. So I was thinking about how a pair of underpants could be acceptable for both men and women. I haven’t really cracked it yet: they’re a bit baggy. But I like the idea that you can look at something feminine and transfer it to men.

It doesn’t seem masculine. It seems more neutral, like Muji clothes.
I’ve gone Japanese? Shit.