The first thing you’ll probably notice about Aitor Throup’s 23-piece debut collection of apparel and accessories are the skulls -- one out-sized, hollow-eyed and upside down, rendered as a black backpack big enough for a laptop computer, the second a satchel of gray melton wool the size of a cantaloupe that unzips across the mouth.
Then your eye will probably wander to the trousers that don’t end at the ankle, continuing on instead into Kevlar-soled foot covers that make the pants look like a Goth-Ninja version of footy pajamas. Only upon closer examination are you likely to notice some seriously bewildering technical innovations, things like fused edge-to-edge seams that look more like cauterized surgical incisions than traditional garment seams, hidden buttons that open with a sideways tug and sleeve “systems” that articulate and conform to the body.
Although wholly functional and wearable, the garments are so strange and beautiful they begin to approach something more like art.
The 33-year-old Throup (his first name is pronounced EYE-tor), is an Argentina-born, U.K.-based artist and designer who has been reinventing apparel from the buttonhole out since receiving his master's degree in fashion menswear from the Royal College of Art in London in 2006, finally introducing his first full ready-to-wear collection to the world in October in London.
We had a chance to catch up with Throup during a recent visit to L.A, to mark his debut at H. Lorenzo in West Hollywood’s Sunset Plaza, the only West Coast stockist and one of only two in the United States. And we found him just as intriguing, novel and hard to define as the clothes he has created.
First, he doesn’t want to be button-holed as a fashion designer. Instead he’s aiming for a sweet spot in between product designer and artist.
“This is the thing with fashion design versus product design,” Throup said. “The majority of fashion design is approached with so many ingredients already predetermined. Like if you need a buttonhole, you go to the buttonhole that’s been around since Victorian times. To me it feels dirty using that buttonhole -- it’s not mine.”
The solution? Precisely laser-cutting a rectangle of semi-elasticized tape and attaching it to the inside of the placket so a simple sideways tug quickly releases the button.
Throup also decided to approach the notion of pants with a fresh pair of eyes. “I kind of struggle with the idea of a garment finishing at the wrist or at the ankle,” he said. “A pair of trousers? I’m thinking more like a pair of legs -- my legs finish at the feet.” (The foot covers on the jeans and cargo pants can fold back and stow against the back of the ankle if desired.)
“What my work is trying to do is say: ‘Hey, maybe we can do things differently -- even down to the way we stitch things or the way we fasten things,” Throup said. “It doesn’t matter that it’s clothing. I could do a chair and make the same statement.”
Whether you consider it fashion design or product design, the result for the consumer is a collection of clothes that’s such a departure from menswear as usual, it makes Thom Browne’s shortened trouser leg -- the last big menswear sea change -- seem like an added belt loop by comparison.
Throup also eschews the conventional fashion industry approach of presenting seasonal themed collections, opting instead to add to a single, ever-growing body of work by tapping into four main concepts, or “ design archetypes.” For example, the out-sized skull backpack has its roots in a concept titled “On the Effects of Ethnic Stereotyping,” in which Throup observes that as a result of global terrorist attacks, “the black rucksack is perhaps the most politically charged wearable object of current times, especially when worn by a non-Caucasian person.”
“The Funeral of New Orleans,” a concept stemming from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, inspired black marching band caps and an assortment of seemingly identical jackets but each ergonomically designed to hold the wearer’s body in the precise pose needed to play one of five instruments in a New Orleans marching band. What’s more, detachable foul-weather panels in the shoulder and neck areas of the jackets can be removed and zipped and buttoned into protective carrying cases shaped like the specific musical instruments. (Due to production challenges, Throup says the saxophone-shaped piece is the only one that’s so far reached retail.)
The most thought-provoking of these concepts, titled “When Football Hooligans Become Hindu Gods,” is also the subject of the art-meets-fashion installation “Redemption/Reflection” that will be on display at the Sunset Plaza H. Lorenzo boutique through the end of the year.
Throup explains that the story involves a gang of British soccer hooligans who attack and kill a young Hindu boy. Realizing what they’ve done, they seek redemption, first by converting to Hinduism and later trying to morph into Hindu deities themselves.
“I represent the football hooligan through the use of generic military garments,” the designer explained, “because that’s what they were wearing when I was growing up. ... The melton wool satchel is a replica of a military bag but I just changed the shape into a skull. When I first presented the collection, the model wears all of these skulls around his neck, which represents his transformation into the Hindu god Shiva, who wears a skull necklace.”
Throup’s collection is priced more in the realm of art than apparel -- an anything-but-basic black T-shirt costs $545, a white dress shirt clocks in at $1,389, a pair of footy denim trousers is $2,825 and the Mongolia Tweed Riding Jacket will set you back $7,395.
Still, of the 15 pieces H. Lorenzo added to its merchandise mix in mid-November, seven sold out within a week.
Perhaps that’s because for a backpack or a pair of pants, the price tags might be considered hefty. But for a piece from the debut collection from Aitor Throup, a designer who’s turning the menswear world inside out?
H. Lorenzo, 8646 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 652-7039.