To mark the worldwide launch of Aitor Throup's anticipated Shiva Skull Bag on 4th March, we visited the designer in his East London studio to discover how a lifelong love of drawing has informed his design process.
Alongside the interview, we also have a range of limited edition, framed Aitor illustrations available to buy.
"I've always drawn the body in motion, even from being a really little kid", says Aitor.
As he says this, the designer sits in his East London studio with the evidence of his expression scribbled onto every spare sheet of paper. "Drawing is the one thing that I've always done; it's the one constant", he says.
This consistency is remarkable because in the past six years the Argentine-born designer has witnessed a great deal of change. Heading up his fledgling brand, New Object Research, Aitor has aimed to re-engineer clothing design from first principles, taking nothing for granted while creating a set of design archetypes that fly in the face of conventional fashion thinking.
The results have been nothing short of astounding, but to better understand Aitor and his work you should turn your attention to the characters that leap from every white space in his office, straining sinews as they contort in angular motion. Encoded within these lines you can read Aitor's story, witness his development, and begin to appreciate the innate understanding of anatomy that underpins his design.
Clues to the origin of Aitor's drawing style come from his childhood.
"Up to the age of 7 I was surrounded by medical books because my mum was training to be a doctor", he says. "Sadly she didn't end up being a doctor because we pretty much escaped Argentina in 1987 when it was collapsing".
Despite the personal upheaval this fascination with anatomy stayed with Aitor, who name checks the technical drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci and the illustrations associated with Dutch anatomist Bernhard Siegfried Albinus as early influences.
"I'm interested in contorting the human anatomy to a point where it is interesting", says Aitor, musing on his drawing style, "to where I can see the tension in the shoulder or the face. I want it to imagine how the pose would feel if you were in it".
Aitor has cultivated a unique drawing style and within his kinetic characters you can see an anatomical precision that points back to his formative years. More significantly, it is this innate appreciation of natural movement that has then bled through from his illustration into his design work.
"I'm interested in contorting
the human anatomy to a point
where it is interesting"
"If you look at my drawing", Aitor says, pointing to an example, "look how prominent the shoulder is. It's such a pivotal point of the human anatomy and in clothing it's eradicated. The shoulder is just what happens when the sleeve meets the body".
"From the beginning of my work, it is about solving the fundamental problem of making two-dimensional pieces of fabric work on the very three-dimensional thing that is the human body."
For a designer so in tune with anatomy and the range of human motion, the eradication of the shoulder revealed how the conventions of pattern cutting are weighted towards mass production rather than function, something Aitor encountered first hand when studying fashion at Manchester University.
"Knowledge was dictated to you", he says. "You were given a pattern cutting book and told to follow pages 13 to 28, then you'll have a shirt. It was like an instruction manual".
The prescriptive nature of fashion education jarred with Aitor's design sensibilities and his questioning nature. Mirroring the freedom offered by a blank sheet of paper, Aitor wanted the opportunity to find his own solutions.
This is exactly what he went on to do, approaching each problem with the methodical mind-set of a product designer. One of his first tasks was to painstakingly engineer a new system to better accommodate the shoulder in all its rotational glory.
"It took eight years to finalise the arm hole", Aitor says, going into detail about the numerous panels and sections that combine to create his shoulder construction. "I could do an exhibition of pieces just about the chronological evolution of the armhole."
Eight years for one element may sound excessive, but Aitor is playing the long game, engaging in what he calls "branding through construction". Breaking through the jargon, this means that an Aitor Throup seam or shoulder is recognisable because of its unique structure.
"Now we apply it to everything", he says, referring back to his shoulder, "we never have to think about armholes again. Ultimately what I love is that you can look on a rail and you don't need to look at the brand or the swing tag – it's that shoulder."
Talking with Aitor you realise what an analytical thinker he is: everything is considered, measured and backed up by reason, which he calls "the biggest word".
"Somewhere along my MA at the Royal College of Art, my sketch book became filled with as much writing as drawing" he says. "I started questioning everything and if I couldn't explain anything I'd feel like an idiot."
"The one constant thing between my art and my product design work is that you can't put pencil to paper until you have information: you need your limitations, you need your brief. Then it all becomes a process - the solutions become dictated purely by what the problem is."
Earlier we mentioned the freedom offered by a blank sheet of paper, but for Aitor real innovation must be driven by a process, starting with a point of origin, otherwise you are in the realm of abstract expression.
Once, Aitor's drawing represented the wishful doodling of a young man sketching interesting characters, or bringing to life jackets that he'd love to own, now, as a mature designer, drawing is another tool at his disposal – another pencil in the pencil box.
Finally, Aitor hints at another reason why art and product design are such close companions. It comes from a mutual restlessness, a desire to do better, and the realisation that every project is open ended.
"A true artist's output throughout his career is never what he wanted to achieve", says Aitor. "They're little experiments, little symptoms of his process to try and get to that thing he's trying to achieve – it just leaves a trail of exploration".
It seems that just as no artist will ever produce the definitive work of art, no product designer will produce the definitive chair or sweatshirt. "What I'm accepting is: perfection is impossible to achieve, definitely in a six month period", says Aitor, explaining why his choses to work outside of the artificial six month cycle of the fashion industry. "The closest you can get then, is to build a business model that allows you to improve on an on-going basis."
Little by little, Aitor is finessing his designs until they are ready to be released into the world. Slowly shading areas and adding lines to thoughts and concepts sketched out long ago, he allows himself the luxury of time, knowing that it will help him create products that stand the test of time. If this means spending eight years developing an armhole or a new zip system, so be it.
It seems that, as for an artist, a product designer's work is never done.
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