Wrk-shp Uses Concrete to Make Clothing and Planters Alike

Designers Airi Isoda and Ryan Upton see architecture everywhere—in everyday objects, interior spaces, and ready-to-wear apparel.

Nominated by Rose Apodaca, co-owner of A+R

A portrait of designers Ryan Upton and Airi Isoda, founders of studio wrk-shp

All images courtesy wrk-shp

Los Angeles–based design studio wrk-shp is a “workshop” in the truest sense of the word. For Airi Isoda and Ryan Upton, the wife-husband duo behind it, it’s also a state of mind—a way of collaborating, experimenting, improvising, and, ultimately, making cool stuff that bridges the worlds of architecture, fashion, and everyday objects.

Both designers studied at USC’s School of Architecture, and the thinking behind what they do always goes back to this training. Isoda worked in a number of firms before veering off into fashion, while Upton, who still practices, is developing the architectural arm of their business. “We try to create things people need but also want,” says Isoda. “We love art and admire artists, but we don’t see ourselves as artists. The architects inside us always say, ‘Make it functional.’”

As a creative team, wrk-shp is akin to Charles and Ray Eames, whom Isoda and Upton, both 30, cite as inspirations: their cross-disciplinary work springs from the back-and-forth discussions at the heart of the pair’s close design process. What emerges from this collaboration can be understated and edgy at the same time; everyday things wrought with a minimal, no-nonsense aesthetic in materials more commonly associated with buildings or industry. “We try to keep things on a basic level. It’s not high tech at all,” explains Isoda, who is not shy about using concrete, wood, Tyvec, metal, and latex paint for her clothing. “People expect laser-cut this and weird geometry that, but we’re more about truth in materials,” adds Upton.

This hanging vessel is a simple but elegant solution to indoor planters. Wrk-shp’s concrete iteration can be hung against a wall or placed on a desktop.

In objects like their concrete hanging vessel, for instance, they look for the interplay between different materials. How a green succulent or dried flowers can enliven the dull, grayish hue of concrete. Or, with their pendant light, how fabric-covered wires twined like rope and tied to a wooden wall cleat—the way boats are tied up at a dock—can add another layer of surprise.

This interplay is nowhere more evident than in the concrete-dipped pieces from wrk-shp’s 2011 autumn/winter collection, which launched the young designers’ careers. “We thought of protecting the body and how there could be a sudden material change to something completely different,” says Isoda. While dipping fabric in concrete certainly adds material interest, the effect is taken a step further by hammering the concrete into a broken pattern. The intrinsic properties of fabric, having just been concealed in the hardness of the concrete, are once again revealed, but in a new and unexpected way.

In spring/summer of 2015 they will release a new line of clothing inspired by skate culture. The new collection will look at the stuff of skate parks—half-pipes, pools, and fluid shapes—translating them into lines and contours of fabric.

A skate-park inspired clothing line for spring/summer 2015

Wrk-shp’s breakout concrete-dipped clothing

“The architects behind downtown Los Angeles’s multidisciplinary studio wrk-shp—Ryan Upton and Airi Isoda—have made a life taking what shouldn’t work together and making it work as if it always has. Cast concrete is juxtaposed with fabric-covered wires in a minimalist light. A T-10 bulb protruding from a block top is another surprise to a table with three legs. And Airi, the bulk of her energies now spent as a fashion designer, dips canvas bags in latex paint. They’re also breaking the rules by mixing business with wedded bliss.” Rose Apodaca, co-owner of A+R

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