j.w. anderson is the most exciting and challenging designer of his generation
By copy-and-pasting and manipulating the past, present and future, Jonathan Anderson’s designs, for both his eponymous line and Loewe, are familiar yet otherworldly.
Edie wears all clothing Loewe
"It's a mood board," Jonathan says about his cover wrap design for i-D's 35th anniversary issue. "It showcases objects of my life - my possessions and my past, present, future." A tightly curated still life of his life and loves, the design provides a snapshot of his character and creative approach. "As an extension of its newfound democracy, fashion has to be open, it should be personable. These are all items that have sentimental meaning to me, they are moments of my life," he concludes.
As Jonathan confidently treads the tightrope of taste, there are always aspects that will seduce some and repulse others, but we're all united by our intrigue. In Jonathan's world, a heart-warming family portrait sits dangerously close to a dildo; he never wants us or himself to be entirely comfortable. "If you're too comfortable then it's stale, it means you're not doing a good job or pushing hard enough," he says. "The minute you fully believe something is truly amazing, you become too comfortable." For fall/winter 15, discomfort came from re-imagining Berlin in the 80s. "We have a stigma towards the 80s," he noted backstage after the show. The mere memory of this decade sends sartorial shivers through most spines. But not Jonathan's. He thrived on reviving the 80s tropes that those who are old enough to recall would probably prefer to forget, managing to re-imagine and re-package everything, from the glitzy lamé to pussybow blouses and chunky heeled knee-high boots, in a way that tempts a new generation.
As he floats through eras and cultures, we question the past and see future daydreams through his filter. It's challenging, provocative even, but it's forever exciting. Jonathan's true talent is knowing what both the industry and the consumer desire long before they realise it themselves. "One of my greatest frustrations with fashion criticism is that fashion is never meant to make sense in that moment, you're ultimately designing for the future." Despite having an eye on the past and the present, Jonathan's gaze is firmly fixed on tomorrow and beyond. And he is not alone.
"I'm very open about who I work with," he says. "This is not a one-man show. It's two brands that and they both contain countless talented people and you collaborate with them, and that's where modernity is today," he explains. "Benjamin Bruno is a person I've worked with for a long time now and we challenge each other, almost to the point of distraction. Our working relationship is a knife-edge thing, it can become argumentative but you need that. We know how to create conflict but ultimately it's the conflict that develops the ideas. Every fashion brand has this, even if they're not as visible. You need someone else to create that friction, that spark, that energy," he adds.
The days of popping down a few fire escape stairs for a quick chat with my (now former) neighbor are long gone. Jonathan is in demand and hard to pin down. On this occasion we speak over Skype and despite the crackling connection, the designer's clarity of thought never falters. He's sitting in his Hackney studio but he could be anywhere. His energy, focus and talent now reverberate across Europe and beyond. Between working on his eponymous line and re-engineering Loewe, the designer is omnipresent.
Despite his success, Jonathan continues to confound. Countless adjectives are thrown around from the confused minds of his peers and critics. The media has a penchant for categorizing people, but he isn't a designer who's comfortable in any box, however big; he's always trying to move forward. He has been called everything from a cunning strategist and image maker to fashion's most interesting designer, but how does J.W. Anderson define himself?
"Some people have misconstrued me and that's the hardest thing about fashion and media. I would meet people and they would say, 'Oh, I thought you were really difficult or Machiavellian' and so on," he says. "People can misinterpret what ambition is and what it is to run your own company. To come up with the volume that any designer does today, under the pressure of what is a fast-moving system, is very difficult." It's hard to disagree. Today, between J.W. Anderson and Loewe, Jonathan designs ten collections a year. "I thrive on it ," he admits. "It might change as I get older, but at the moment I enjoy daily challenges. I'm extremely fortunate that I have a voice in this industry."
"When you're going down a river, you're going so fast that you don't notice what's happening," he continues. "It has been quite a surreal journey, but it involved a lot of work. Ultimately, you compete against yourself. That can be both the joy and the danger because nothing is ever good enough." For Jonathan, the bottom line is sheer belief and work ethic. There aren't many, if any, who are as driven or as ambitious as he is.
"What sometimes frustrates me most and why I've stopped reading, is that people think I had been handed it on a silver plate," he says. Anyone who has paid any attention to his development under the spotlight of London Fashion Week and London Collections: Men will know how ridiculous that notion is. Our first meeting was in the basement of cult Covent Garden boutique Two See for the presentation of J.W. Anderson fall/winter 08 - a curated presentation that delved deep into the disturbing mind of Rasputin, while playing with themes of sexuality, isolation and existential vulnerability. Despite showing promise, it's remarkable to see just how far he's come in these subsequent years.
Has success changed him? "My focus has been heightened and I have to make decisions quickly," he says. "For me, it's about momentum, I can't get distracted. I can't go out and get shit-faced every night, you have to have limits. My grandmother brought me up and instilled in me that it has to be about moderation. Even the work has to be in moderation. In this job you have to take responsibility, it's people's livelihoods. Yes it's LVMH but it's ultimately about people. You have responsibilities to the factories, the employees but you can't overthink it, like my mother says, 'You can't eat the whole elephant,' it can overwhelm you," he adds with a laugh.
So where does Jonathan see himself and his eponymous line in thirty five years? "I'm hoping J.W. Anderson will be more established and that I'm still here," he concludes. "I'll probably be working right until the day they put me in the ground. Creative people are addicted to being creative - ultimately, it keeps you alive." You would be a fool to bet against him.
Text Steve Salter
Photography Alasdair McLellan
Styling Benjamin Bruno
Hair Malcolm Edwards at Art Partner
Make-up Lynsey Alexander at Streeters London using Estée Lauder
Nail technician Jenny Longworth at CLM using Chanel S2015 & Body Excellence
Set design Andy Hillman at Streeters
Photography assistance Lex Kembery, James Robjant, Matthew Healy
Styling assistance Natalie Cretella, Shaun Kong, Natasha Arnold
Hair assistance Jason Lawrence, Rebekah Calo
Make-up assistance Camila Fernandez
Set assistance Sam Overs
Retouching Output Ltd
Model Edie Campbell at Viva London