JW Anderson reflects on its codes for AW20
Referencing the work of David Wojnarowicz, the collection was an exercise in focussed introspection.
Courtesy of JW Anderson
“It’s not about having a political voice for the sake of it, it’s about how to create creativity through having one,” said Jonathan Anderson after his menswear show in Paris. The Irish designer was talking about his exploration of David Wojnarowicz, the gay artist and activist who (controversially at the time) chronicled LGBT life in AIDS epidemic-era America. Wojnarowicz himself looked to the nineteenth-century queer French poet Arthur Rimbaud, using his face as a symbol and wearing it as a mask in a series of photographs taken in gritty NYC surroundings. Mannequins wearing that mask sat in seats in the audience at the show. “It’s like Marilyn’s face, but an underground version,” said Jonathan. “You take something poetic and take it underground.”
Yet there wasn’t really an obvious, or at least superficial, reference to Wojnarowicz or Rimbaud in his collection. In this case, the inspiration was more abstract, informing his process rather than more products. This also isn’t a fleeting interest for Jonathan. In 2018, he staged a retrospective of Wojnarowicz’s work at the Loewe gallery space in Madrid, also using his artworks, as well as those of his partner Peter Hujar, in a line benefitting Visual AIDS, a non-profit organisation that uses art to provoke, inform and support HIV+ artists. Proceeds from this collection will once again go towards the organisation.
In terms of the clothes, the word Jonathan kept mentioning was “reducing”, taking one idea or concept and hammering the point home, and in return being left with something memorable — not entirely unlike the way Wojnarowicz used the face of Rimbaud. There were consecutive repetitions of styles and motifs, ultimately resulting in variations on the same items — eiderdown coats, tulip-shaped plissé tunics, chunky Cuban chains (some magnified onto mules, other teensily draped on clothes) and monastic triangular-cut cashmere robes. “It was looking at how you do product that is substantial,’ he explained. “Instead of 15 coats, do one coat in multiple things and develop it so that it feels like it’s always been there.” In an age when the production of clothes should be less-is-more, that’s a powerful sentiment. From an observer’s point of view, it also allows the collection to cut through the noise, burning the image and silhouettes into your brain during a week of interchangeable imagery and clothes.
Oh, and there were paisleys, too, which you may remember Anderson putting on silk pyjamas for his first-ever womenswear show in 2011 (it started as a menswear label, don’t forget). Back then, it quickly became fashion catnip in the age before Instagram. So it felt like the right time for him to revisit them as he was examining the iconography of his own label, decontextualizing it for a very different time. “Sometimes you’re petrified if you’ve done it before,” he chuckled. “It’s being scared of your own brand’s DNA, sometimes you get bored of it. Paisley, I disliked because it became so popular, so how do you take something you dislike and make it work again?” The answer is in the question itself, an indicator of Jonathan’s relentless urge to propel himself forward.