This month we meet Adam Atkinson – the 25-year-veteran designer of bags and leathergoods for industry heavyweights such as Globe-Trotter, Nike, Puma and Radley; his own brand CHERCHBI and most recently, Awling. Having sold CHERCHBI earlier this year, he continues to consult to the new owners while he makes plans for his new venture, ‘Utility Archive’ – an outdoor bag brand.
On my desk today… I have a pen, paper, MacBook Pro, mouse and a big screen – the essential tools of my work. I like to recycle as much as possible – generally speaking I’ll use whatever pen is to hand and the reverse of printed paper. For sustenance I keep a big bottle of water and a large bowl of fruit close by - I get through lots of each. There are always various fabric swatches and material samples rolling around on my desk, despite the efficiency of my project organisation. Right now I’m working on tweed and leather bags, neoprene hats, camera straps, leather belts, outdoor backpacks and transitional work/travel bags for a variety of clients, and there are materials, sketches and other information related to each.
Adam Atkinson working on Awling designs in his London Studio
To inform my own current project – Utility Archive – I have stacks of reference books and magazines: untold copies of Mountain Magazine from the ’70’s onwards and Mountain Craft magazine from a little earlier, then various mountaineering and climbing books. In my youth I worked part-time in a climbing shop in Kendal and ‘Mountain’ magazine was an irresistible window on a glamourous world where our local crags and local climbers – many now famous names on the world scene – were featured alongside mountains in Yosemite and the Himalayas. Extraordinary film photography was set against austere typographic design for the front covers and was – with hindsight - an early influence on me… they still look great to me now.
Mountain Magazine, Issue 11, 1970
Now, years later, I’ve returned to these publications as useful design references. Considering bags - and backpacks particularly - are such an essential piece of outdoor kit - they don’t feature very frequently in reference material. As a designer it’s always great to discover a good archival image of a bag in use in an outdoor situation.
Bag and garment design continuously evolves because of the innovations in materials and manufacturing techniques that we have at our disposal. But looking at the evolution of design helps me to get to the real essence of things – what does the design really need? It’s a modernist principle.
Looking back, an indelible early influence was… growing up in the Lake District. I’m from Kendal originally and from my earliest days we would venture up to stay at High House - a 17thCentury former farmhouse in the remote Borrowdale valley. My parents have been staying in the bunkhouse there for fifty or sixty years and it’s a special place for us all. It was there that I first felt the physical and mental freedom that being in the mountains can bring. I spent a good part of the ’70’s and ’80’s there - walking, climbing, canoeing, running, camping and skiing. Yes, skiing! Work eventually took me to London, which is my postcode now, but my DNA is Cumbrian.
High House, Borrowdale, Cumbria.
A true master of his craft is… Ray Mears. I’ve long admired his passionate interest and knowledge of the culture of living in harmony with the outdoors. He’s a great educator and advocate – his enthusiasm is infectious, I think. And this is tempered wonderfully by his pragmatic communication. He has effortless style too - he knows exactly what he’s doing; what to use, what to wear and why, and all of that is much more important than any notion of contemporary outdoor trends or gear ‘must haves’ – his absolute authenticity makes him a style icon, in my view. He’s very cool.
I was really moved by… the film, ‘God’s Own Country’ by Francis Lee. A 'Yorkshire Brokeback Mountain’, said the critics. The superficial similarities are clear, but the real resonance for me was the juxtaposition of this beautiful, expansive, demanding landscape, with the complexity and honesty of the commonplace relationships – fathers and sons and neighbours living out their struggles, hopes and fears alongside each other. It’s a very tender and truthful story of a culture and geography I love.
I always enjoy a visit to… Margate. Go to Botany Bay, swim in the tidal pool, pick up some vintage delights in the Old Town and some amazing skincare products with real provenance from Haeckels. Finish with fish and chips from Peter’s Fish Factory [there’s a reason that queue is always out of the door], and eat them on seafront steps.
Products at Haeckels, Margate
A favourite quiet place to sit a while… is the back of a camper van watching the sun set over the sea – perhaps the west coast of Scotland - with a beer in hand and various guidebooks and maps across my lap. I would happily sacrifice some of the quiet to share the moment with my wife and young son.
A place that inspires me… Yr Eifl on the Llyn Peninsular in North Wales – it combines the majesty of a mountaintop with the exhilaration and optimism of the coastline. Park in Trefor, walk along the pebble beach and climb steeply up into these 500m conical peaks. There’s an Iron Age hill fort on top of one. A complete day out.
One of the best gifts I’ve ever received was… For Christmas in 2012, my wife, Kirsty, bought flights to Iceland for the following June. We campervanned around the Westfjords for a week. She was 5 months pregnant with our son, Stan. This was our little adventure into the beautiful wild before we opened the next chapter. If you have chance to go, the south is full of amazing places, but also full of other people. Resist and travel north west… head for Isafjordur.
I recently discovered… Altitude. I’m no stranger to the mountains but I’ve not spent much time above 3,000m. This summer we stayed in the Alpujarras in southern Spain, in a villa overlooked by Mulhacen, the countries highest peak. We were staying at around 1,000m, drove to 2,500m and walked to the summit at 3,479m. Ascending almost 2,500m relatively quickly brought on dizziness, shortness of breath and a sense of fatigue comparable to wading through mud. But what a physical experience! My mind and body weren’t working as they normally do – I couldn’t properly make sense of the map and seemed to lose all sense of time. But such a feeling of achievement and satisfaction. Wonderful, unexpected, unprecedented sensations.
Adam trialling prototype Utility Archive designs on Mulhacen in the Spanish Alpujarras.
We stayed near Pampaneira, a picturesque mountain village clinging to the edge of the Poqueiera gorge. If you’re going, stop for lunch at El Arca Noé in Lanjaron for simple but super-tasty fare. In the back they have a great selection of local wines and sherries in huge barrels, all available to take away in litre refills. Also explore the Rio Verde gorge at the eastern edge of the Almijara y Alhama Natural Park. Be sure to arrive from the north via the A4050 on the border of the Otivar Parque Natural, a simply breathtaking road.
On my bedside table is… A vintage 1960’s Maclamp, designed by Terence Conran for Habitat, I think. Also a stack of books at varying stages of completion, including The Unofficial Countryside by Richard Mabey, H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald, Full Tilt by Dervla Murphy, The Outrun by Amy Liptrot and Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane.
1960s Maclamp by Habitat
Adam Atkinson’s website: www.aaba-design.co.uk