Designer Airi Isoda of Wrk-Shp is an avid Home Depot shopper, not because she’s deep into a remodeling, but because she’s on the lookout for new materials.
For her inaugural Fall/Winter 2011 collection for Wrk-Shp, a multi-disciplinary firm she co-owns with fiancé and architect Ryan Upton, Isoda designs clean, minimalist pieces and dips them in concrete, house paint, incorporates wood and metal, or simply uses Tyvek, best known as the stuff FedEx soft envelopes are made of, to create a whole new garment.
"I couldn’t separate myself from the materials. I really wanted to apply the materials from architecture to fashion design," says Isoda, who studied architecture at the University of Southern California and practiced in various firms for three years before making the leap to fashion.
Architecture’s long project timelines—which can take anywhere from years to decades—were frustrating to Isoda. She found more satisfaction in fashion’s quick pace. "With fashion, it’s so quick. You have seasons. You have to have a product or else you’re nothing without a product. It’s really rewarding in that sense."
The piece that started the whole collection was a stark white Tyvek raincoat peppered with brilliant green wheatgrass growing from slit pockets along the coat. It was inspired by a walk through L.A.’s Silver Lake neighborhood, where she came upon Natural Mind, a shop whose facade is wrapped in Tyvek, studded with pockets of greenery.
"The whole purpose of wearing a raincoat is that you’re going to get wet in it, so when the wearer is getting wet in my coat, the plants get fed at the same time," says Isoda. Every order of the Tyvek coat comes with a packet of easy-to-grow wheatgrass. "We tell people who order, they can’t wear this coat right away." They’ll have to exercise their green thumb first.
The rest of the pieces in the collection aren’t as involved, but Isoda and Upton always labor on the materials. For a concrete-dipped coat, Isoda shares that Upton had to "beat the crap out of it" with a hammer to get that nice, crumbly texture.
Isoda’s industrial architectural touches—like the metal belt matched with a silver dress or wooden collar paired with a sheer top—serve as great foils for the craftsmanship. Like the International Style exemplified by Mies van der Rohe, Isoda’s clothing conforms to radical simplicity, and eschews ornamentation.
The young designer is now busy working on R&D for a new accessories line that will complement her collection. This October, Angelenos can catch a glimpse of her work at the Orange County Fashion Week September 30, where she works with carmaker Cadillac to create a garment inspired by the SRX. Apparently, crushed brake lights are in the offing.