On the penultimate day of London Fashion Week, JW Anderson’s AW20 womenswear show drew the coolest crowd of the season so far. From the one and only Eve to The End of the F***ing World’s Naomi Ackie and Sex Education’s Ncuti Gatwa via Alexa Chung, a suave Billy Porter and musicians Rina Sawayama and Charli XCX, the front row was testament to the Northern Irish designer’s reputation for putting on a show.
If the success of last season’s balloon-sleeve trench coat is anything to go by, the voluminous looks we saw on the catwalk today will be a surefire hit come autumn. The collection was a masterclass in playing with proportion. Kaia Gerber led a cast of models who floated down the catwalk in expansive outerwear (think mutton-leg sleeves and dramatic collars with gigantic leather lapels), but it wasn’t just the sizeable pieces that spoke volumes.
Knitwear fans will fall for the dress-jumper hybrids, complete with contrasting capes, while those familiar with Anderson’s subtle and sophisticated take on glitz will appreciate the glittering mohair looks and sheer holographic pieces. Fabric was ruffled and gathered on shoulders to create larger-than-life collars, sleeves were fluted and hems were bubbled. Every one of the 41 looks sent down the catwalk focused on movement, inspired, according to the show notes, by "mixed media art...taken from the familiar to the beautifully strange, blowing them up to extreme volumes."
Anderson has come mighty far since the rubber collars and paisley prints of his very first womenswear collection. This arm of his LVMH-backed label's offering will turn 10 this time next year, meaning we’ll be celebrating a decade of his ingenious design, from that first foray into womenswear through to last season’s showstopping gold suiting and bejewelled breastplates. How does the designer think his brand has evolved in those 10 years? "I think we’re a bit more grown-up but still have those really essential parts of our DNA that have been there since 2011," Anderson tells me ahead of his London Fashion Week AW20 show. "I think I keep evolving by staying curious. I love finding things that challenge me as a designer and finding ways to work with them."
One such challenge is making luxury fashion accessible and relevant to those outside the industry bubble – a barrier he has successfully broken through. For his JW Anderson x Uniqlo collaborations, the fifth of which will be dropping next month, he fuses his aesthetic trademarks (think flashes of bold colour among a muted palette, utilitarian detailing and functional fabrication, plus a smattering of playful illustration) with the Japanese retailer’s high quality yet affordable offering. "I think these partnerships are extremely important," he says. "Let us be a bit more democratic and reach a bigger audience." We can expect plenty of spring-fresh gingham and patchwork from the upcoming SS20 collection, as well as a move into kidswear. With gender-defying pieces already central to his label, this expansion will allow anyone and everyone to cop a slice of the brand.
Heading up his own brand and turning out phenomenally successful high street collaborations aren’t the only reasons Anderson is often referred to as the hardest working figure in fashion. He’s also creative director of luxury Spanish label Loewe, works closely with emerging talent (in 2018 he published Your Picture / Our Future, a coffee table book compiling the work of up-and-coming photographers who were shortlisted for an exhibition of the same name) and, most recently, was announced as part of the Moncler Genius 2020 lineup.
Following in the footsteps of Simone Rocha and Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli, Anderson trawled through his label’s archives for the Moncler collection. "It has been such an incredible experience working with them. The craftsmanship and quality is outstanding," he says of the experience. "We had this concept of an inflated archive. We looked at key pieces from the history of the brand and sort of blew them up for the Moncler collection. There is the ruffled short for instance. Or this giant hat that we did ages ago but is very much in the JW Anderson DNA."
Leading a brand with such a 360° hold on fashion, I wonder what he thinks the secret is to being a truly global name? "I remember when JW Anderson first got onto Instagram, it was before any of the really big brands were on it," he muses. "It was incredibly successful for us, but I think a lot of social channels have made it harder for small brands to find their niche. They have to constantly evolve and try new things."
Speaking of new things, the designer's Soho store is opening on 13th March. With a design concept of having always been part of the local landscape, we can expect the store to feature classic Soho neon signage and a distinct gentleman’s club feel. "We worked with these architects, 6a, who I worked with on the Hepworth Gallery exhibition, and we decided to keep this idea of two shops with two distinct interiors because the space was originally two different shops that we combined into one." Why Soho of all places? "Soho is so incredibly diverse," he explains. "There is the LGBTQI+ element but also so many different ages and ethnicities. It just felt right for us."
Whether it’s opening up shop, collaborating with the high street, hosting exhibitions or discovering emerging talent, there’s no stopping Jonathan Anderson, the fashion industry’s most prolific powerhouse. For us, though, the collections themselves are still where the magic really begins – just as this season proved.