High heels, which seemed like an endangered fashion species during pandemic-related lockdowns, have made a sure and steady comeback as work and social life has resumed.
But leave it to Jonathan Anderson to crack wide open the possibilities of what dressy footwear can be. At his spring 2022 fashion show for Loewe, birthday candles, bars of soap, nail polish bottles, short-stemmed roses and even broken eggs, the yolk glossy and spilling onto the floor, served as heels on metallic pumps.
He’s also been waking up the eye with spellbinding clothing propositions, melding toy cars and fiberglass flowers into dresses, or simply shrinking or supersizing garments to create alluring, unexpected new proportions.
“I like this idea that by pushing a silhouette, you’re pushing it towards something that can be nonsensical, that can be irrational,” he mused recently.
After nine years at the helm of the Spanish brand, Anderson has opened a new creative chapter at Loewe, which he has variously described as “stripped back,” “primal,” “reduced” and “blunt.”
“A bit of a reset. It’s about opening up a new kind of dimension,” he told a press scrum after that spring 2022 effort, marking Anderson’s return to the runway after dispatching elaborate collections-in-a-box for several seasons when IRL gatherings were impossible during the pandemic. “I wanted something which was neurotic, I wanted something psychedelic and I wanted a touch of surrealism.”
Sounds like a premise for thrilling, thought-provoking fashion, which is why Anderson is receiving the 2022 WWD Honor for Womenswear Designer of the Year.
“Watching Loewe’s spring show felt akin to strolling through a contemporary art fair — your eyes and brain tickled with new forms, concepts and compositions,” this newspaper wrote in its review.
“Jonathan Anderson is hurtling full throttle into a more arty, experimental and playful chapter at the Spanish house,” was WWD’s verdict on the fall 2022 show, and the designer continued his winning streak with a romantic, colorful and sharply focused spring 2023 Loewe collection inspired by the alien-looking anthurium flower.
His collections under his signature JW Anderson label have been equally well received, and characterized by the same sense of audacity, and a trenchant design ethos.
Anderson is slated to speak at today’s WWD Apparel and Retail CEO Summit in New York, delving into his creative process, which is equal parts brainy and intuitive.
With his tousled hair, loose crewneck sweaters, jeans — and a cup of coffee seemingly glued to his right hand — Anderson brings to mind a university student forever cramming for exams.
Journalists relish his post-show, stream-of-consciousness musings, during which he shares a tumble of historical and artistic references that somehow add up to very original, compelling fashions.
“It always has to be something that is slightly knife-edge, when there’s an uncomfortableness to the look,” he declared during the most recent Paris Fashion Week. “Because I think ultimately, you’re trying to find this new balance on things.”
Sidney Toledano, chief executive officer of LVMH Fashion Group, which includes Loewe, is unequivocal about Anderson’s impact: “He took this Spanish brand and he made it global.…He’s offering a new vision, and it’s so fresh.”
What’s more, Anderson’s talent and vision extend way beyond the runway to touch the merchandising, campaigns and the retail experience. “When you get to the store, the dream continues,” the executive enthused. “The image is so consistent.”
At his seminal spring 2022 Loewe show, which cued up the new creative chapter, Anderson cited an ambition to “chart new territory of where we can go, how craft can be reinterpreted.”
To wit: he inserted angular wire contraptions under knit tube dresses and attached wonky metal plates reminiscent of Salvador Dalí’s melting clocks to the front of jersey gowns and the backs of trenchcoats. “This idea of reflection: it’s nearly like a blurred image of ourselves,” he mused about those plates. “I like this idea that they contort the body as if you’re looking into a funhouse mirror.”
His fall collection featured lots of partly deflated red balloons, some trapped on the vamp of sandals, some squashed into bulging heels, some done up as kinky little bras, and still others suspended in jersey draping on column dresses.
Why balloons? “A balloon ultimately creates tension,” he replied. “It’s this idea that a balloon can pop. It is never forever.” (Though his balloon heels can take a beating, as many women stomped into Loewe’s fall show wearing them.)
While some designers chase viral moments via stunts or the right celebrity affiliations, Anderson creates fashion fireworks via emphatic, sharply executed design ideas, both for Loewe and JW Anderson, which has a slightly younger, more irreverent spirit.
Simmering under the surface of both brands you can find sly commentary about the perils of technology, and our estrangement from nature.
“His references to art and surrealism are very present in all the collections, especially shoes that are presented like art works and become later statement pieces in the store,” commented Karen Vernet, chief merchandising officer at Printemps in Paris. “There is always a very thin line between real and unreal in Anderson’s fashion; it’s like he is offering an alternative universe, one where nature becomes objects and can be an accessory, one where we can actually wear a pixelated T-shirt.”
“Every so often you have a glitch,” was how Anderson explained the latter garment. “This idea of things made up of squares.”
A constant throughout Anderson’s fashion career has been a focus on craft, which stems from his personal affection for arts and crafts antiques, and his appreciation for weavers and potters. A longtime collector of ceramics and wood-turning pieces, the designer established an international craft prize for Loewe in 2016.
He seeks out and collaborates with an array of specialist ateliers in Europe for moulded and 3D-printed designs. For his sensational spring 2023 Loewe men’s collection, he conscripted Paula Ulargui Escalona, a Spanish fashion designer who has been experimenting with growing plants on fabrics. The two created sneakers sprouting blades of grass and jeans trembling with delicate green tendrils.
According to Toledano, Anderson revels in pushing the capabilities of Loewe’s own leather ateliers to create unique accessories that are rarely as simple as they might appear. “With him, we talk about excellence,” Toledano said, also lauding the “poetry” and “fun” the designer brings to the industry.
Retail executives rank Anderson as a leader in the luxury conversation, whose runway razzmatazz translates into dynamite sales.
“He really knows how to carefully curate his vision to immerse his audience, not just on the runway but beyond the shows themselves, continuously capturing customers’ attention in store with beautiful and bold products and memorable brand experiences,” enthused Ida Petersson, buying director at Browns Fashion in London. “Both Loewe and JW Anderson have a highly engaged customer base. Particularly with Loewe, these customers are incredibly loyal and proactive in preordering key pieces from the runway, and we see this strongest with shoes and bags.”
Petersson also called Anderson “a champion at influencing the luxury conversation with his unique ability to adapt and amplify current seasonal moods into covetable collections that are often referenced but not easily copied.”
Printemps’ Vernet noted that customers perceive Anderson’s designs for Loewe as “very creative and intellectual, while easily understanding it and being able to integrate it in their daily wardrobe.”
Alternatively, they can “buy a slice of the runway, a piece of art, a garment that is part of fashion history.
“His interconnections with art, music, current events and psychology bring to luxury a more cultural dimension and a modern approach as a whole, as a full concept and not only as product to sell,” Vernet added. “It’s a whole world he makes us dive into, and it’s an intellectual message to spread to wake up the minds and inspire generations.”
“Across all categories, Loewe delivers unexpected pieces with an elevated sense of fashion,” according to Roopal Patel, senior vice president, fashion director, at Saks. “Since Jonathan took the reins as creative director of Loewe, he has brought so much fashion, imagination and creativity to the brand. It’s now one of the most influential and coveted luxury houses.”
Patel noted that he “even reimagined the simple straw bag with his popular Loewe x Paula’s Ibiza collection. It was seen carried in every resort town this summer.
“As the brand’s business has expanded across the U.S., handbags, footwear and accessories continue to be key entry categories for the brand, while ready-to-wear has built a steady following across core basics, including leather, tailoring and shirting,” she noted.
Patel also agreed that Anderson’s “tongue-in-cheek, whimsical approach to design has had a profound impact on how we think of luxury and has made fashion more accessible across a wider audience.”
Libby Page, market director at Net-a-porter, concurred that Anderson’s “fantasyland” shows and “conceptual moments” are backed up with “desirable clothes and accessories for the everyday consumer. For instance, his anagram sweaters, denim pieces with the Loewe patch logo, the Puzzle bag — these wearable, commercial items with a fashion twist are the building blocks to the success of the brand.”
She also flagged cited strong demand for the recent Loewe x On sneaker capsule, lauding its “fresh feeling.”
Seville Chow, senior vice president of fashion at Lane Crawford in Hong Kong, called Anderson “simply a force in fashion — a visionary whose runway is so powerful and empowering it can take you to another world.” What’s more, he then “he masterfully bridges the conceptual to a collection on the floor that our customers feel compelled to buy in to because they just have to have a piece of it.”
Chow lauded his freewheeling, and occasionally disquieting, exploration of digital and new virtual worlds, often juxtaposing heritage craft with haute technology.
“While we talk of living in surreal times, he shakes us up with a surrealism that is empowering for these times — sensual, provocative, eye-catching and amusing,” Chow said. “Jonathan is an enduring talent because he continues to push his creative boundaries on top of a solid business built on the success of ready-to-wear and leather goods, which is nowhere near as easy as it might sound.”
Born in Northern Ireland in 1984, Anderson studied men’s wear at the London College of Fashion, graduating in 2005 and going on to work in visual merchandising at Prada under Manuela Pavesi. He consulted for several brands before launching JW Anderson in 2008.
He quickly attracted attention for provocative and androgynous designs such as frilly Bermuda shorts and bandeau tops for men. And his womenswear shows quickly became the most sought-after ticket of London Fashion Week.
In 2013, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton took a 46 percent stake in his JW Anderson label and handed him the creative leadership at Loewe.
At JW Anderson, he has collaborated with a range of marquee brands and retailers, including Moncler, Uniqlo and Converse.
His makeover of Madrid-based Loewe has been sure-handed and innovative. He initially appropriated ’90s-era fashion imagery as present-day ad campaigns; brought an unvarnished, spontaneous spirit to the typically glossy luxury world, and introduced some dramatic store concepts with artistic elements, including Picasso ceramics and Rennie Mackintosh chairs, putting the brand in a cultural context.
At the root of everything he does is daring.
“For me, fashion is exciting, and it should be exciting whether you get it wrong or right,” he told WWD in a 2015 interview. “If you do generic things, you know, after a while, brands or designers become stagnated. You have to be slightly uncomfortable with what you’re doing, and you have to be able to try to find moments of newness.”