Jonathan Anderson: defining the future of fashion
The British designer has long harboured a love for past idols. He discusses with friend, writer and drag performer Amrou Al-Kadhi how clever clothes can make contemporary icons of us all
By Amrou Al-Kadhi Photography by John Balsom Grooming by Paul Donovan Set design by Lianna Fowler Backdrops by DROP Backdrop Tuesday 1 September, 2020
One of the most feted British fashion designers, Anderson has carved out a much lauded and duly awarded career – notably the first person to ever receive both Womenswear and Menswear Designer of the Year in tandem at the British Fashion Awards. As Creative Director of namesake label JW Anderson, as well as Spanish luxury house Loewe (where he was appointed Creative Director and has remained since 2013), Anderson envisions pieces of design that outlive trend and cultural fad, defining a moment and then transcending that moment. Last year, a Vogue headline relating to Anderson simply read: ‘He’s Really Good at this Stuff’, cutting straight to the point. In every sense of the word, Jonathan Anderson is – though he’ll not use the phrase himself – a modern-day fashion icon.
What I’m saying is par for the course; Anderson has long been celebrated by the media as the designer who ‘revolutionised gender’ in fashion. But, to my surprise, this is not something he was ever actively seeking to do. ‘I was obsessed with Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith,’ he explains. ‘There’s this picture of her wearing a white shirt and him wearing a white shirt, and they meant two different things. And I was just like, maybe it’s not about gender, maybe it’s about a shared wardrobe – anyone can use it. If you like it, just wear it. However, the minute you put it on the body, people want an explanation.’
'I feel like fashion needs to realise that T-shirts don’t grow on trees, people make them, there is a process, there is talent and it’s a talent worth meriting'
Take, for instance, the JW Anderson 2013 fall collection (his second ‘real men’s collection’), which featured male-presenting models in dresses – as well as what Vogue so succinctly described as ‘frilled knickerbockers’ – with hands placed in pockets high up and on the front of garments in a colour palette of peach and baby blue. ‘I was obsessed by this idea of the early Chanel miniskirt of the 1980s, and where they had the hands placed very high,’ Anderson recalls. ‘It’s an idea of silhouettes, like power dressing.’
It is this respect of clothing as something that belongs to us all that’s at the heart of Anderson’s designs. Nowhere is this more present than in the SS21 collection of his namesake label released during lockdown. While many brands have responded to the pandemic with dread – believing the global halt to be incompatible with the rapid consumerism of the fashion industry – Anderson and his team have embraced the current situation as a chance to rejoice in the power of making clothes. Brimming throughout the collection, which explored ideas of childhood, playfulness and masculinity on mannequins bedecked in masks, is the feeling of tactility. Pillow sweaters, cropped trousers and trenches looked as if each piece was entirely woven with the loving hands of craftsmen, every stitch a reminder that a designer has at one point held the item.
Jonathan Anderson (Getty)
‘I think people want to know where and how things were made,’ Anderson tells me with conviction. ‘Everyone’s like, “fashion’s going through this existential crisis” – no, the world is going through the existential crisis; we’re trying to discover where we will land. I feel like fashion needs to realise that T-shirts don’t grow on trees, people make them, there is a process, there is talent and it’s a talent worth meriting.’
‘Everyone’s like, “fashion’s going through this existential crisis” – no, the world is going through the existential crisis; we’re trying to discover where we will land’
Courtesy of Jonathan Anderson
Courtesy of Loewe
From queer artist Paul Thek and the Finnish artist Tom of Finland, whose homoerotic dolls can be purchased in the JW Anderson flagship store in London’s Soho, to drag film star Divine (who formed the subject of a collection he designed for Loewe), Anderson creates clothes that celebrate the landmark figures of our cultural heritage and embodies the essence of what made them so iconic. The Loewe x Divine T-shirt dress isn’t just emblazoned with her image and the delicious line ‘Divine is divine!’, it’s also an exaggerated fit, the bottom adorned with black feathers to project the audaciousness that made Divine such a beloved figure. ‘I love icons,’ Anderson repeats in admission. Returning to the coffee, and to his opening trail of thought that started our conversation, he smiles and says simply, ‘I design so the underdog can be a contemporary icon.’