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Aaron Hüttenmeister turns perfume bottles into clothes

The graduate designer’s work may be subversive, but his attitude is pragmatic

When looking at Aaron Hüttenmeister’s master’s collection, Certified Copy, there’s an intriguing sense that something’s not quite normal. He makes clothes from one pattern piece and folds them into shape with minimal seams. Leather tubes become dresses, boots, and gloves, giving much of his collection a geometric feel. In one pair of trousers, the legs are not fully connected to the seat, creating a peekaboo at the very top of the thighs. Throughout it all, there’s a sense of playing with proportion and garment construction.

“In clothing, there are many codes that are so typical; you read them, but you don’t really notice. So if you take that and change it a little bit – the proportion of the body, or the crotch, or a certain line – when you do that, it immediately triggers you,” he tells me. In his earlier work this subversion was more obvious: an early piece of his was a skirt made from a twisted pair of trousers and tights. Now it’s more subtle.

“I aimed to create a system before designing that could maybe lead to a new language, by not having things that are connected to clothing.” – Aaron Hüttenmeister

Studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Hüttenmeister said that students had so much freedom with their collections that it was helpful for him to create frameworks. One of these was getting inspiration from object-based research: “I aimed to create a system before designing that could maybe lead to a new language, by not having things that are connected to clothing.” He would look at adverts of perfume bottles and translate their shape onto the body in the pattern-making and draping process.

Another system he created in his experimentation stage came from analysing clothing conventions. “I would take a typical piece of clothing, but I would dissect it, lay it flat and fuse as much as I could. But in a way that, when you put it on, it still looks like a constructed piece.” This led to the one-piece garments. Sometimes it wasn’t possible to make a garment from just one piece, so he boiled it down as much as he could, fusing the sleeves in a coat, for instance. In these processes he created clothes that are recognisable but unusual, both in inspiration and construction.

Growing up, Hüttenmeister wasn’t the creative child who would sketch dresses in his exercise book. Instead, his interaction with art and design was to absorb and question the world around him. Looking at his surroundings, he’d think: why are they beautiful? Or not? For example, the German suburbs near Cologne where he grew up. Despite their natural beauty, the lack of design made them visually unstimulating. Though he may not have had the words to articulate it at that age, analysing what he didn’t like about his surroundings led to a fascination with design and world building.

His mum, an interior designer, was influential in exposing him to culture, talking to him about art styles such as Bauhaus, but in a very relaxed and casual way. Even today, he enjoys bouncing ideas off her to get an immediate reaction. Thus, art, design, and beauty were things he was conscious of growing up, even if he couldn’t explain the effect they had on him. What he did understand is that, from architecture to film, he was fascinated with the use of aesthetics to create atmosphere. Eventually, he found that fashion was a way to channel all these thoughts and his love for aesthetics and world building into an applied art.

“I want to keep learning, and that part is only starting now.” – Aaron Hüttenmeister

This led him to Antwerp, where he loved his university experience, particularly working with Dirk Van Saene (of Antwerp Six fame) on his masters. Hüttenmeister admits that it was tough and that the school was extremely demanding, but “if you really want it, then there are no limits and no rules.” He loves the city’s approach to fashion. “Embracing cheekiness, something surreal, it’s very Antwerp. Seeing beauty in a different way, not being so strict. Clever, beautiful, well-made garments that have a conceptual approach, but they’re also just fun.” He is currently living and working in Milan, but hopes to maybe return to Antwerp one day. “I think it’s very authentic. Combined with it being kind of a small city, and the wittiness, and not taking itself too seriously, it feels grounding.”

When the topic turns to the future, Hüttenmeister is not anxious; in fact, he’s very level-headed. ‘Curious’ is the word he uses. “I want to keep learning, and that part is only starting now, in a way,” he explains. He isn’t interested in taking the industry by storm right after graduating, but instead wants to learn and experience as much as he can. Like an increasing number of young designers today, he is interested in longevity over seasonal hype.What’s the biggest challenge facing the designer post-university? “Maintaining your integrity and clarity while being ready to do anything it takes to get where you want to be,” he says after a pause. In a fast-paced, demanding world like fashion, it’s important to remember what you want and why you want it, what feeds you, and try to balance how much you put into yourself as well as your work. “I want to take everything in, as much as I can, but not get swallowed up.”