LONDON — Top chefs tend to keep things simple in the everyday, no matter how complex their creations may be for the dining room: an off-duty meal of mozzarella di bufala; poached eggs and bacon, or roast chicken comes as a relief after a day of stress and complex creation.
The same goes for male designers. Giorgio Armani has been wearing a variation of the same outfit — navy round-neck top and fluid trousers — for decades, while other designers opt for a uniform of black turtlenecks, white button-front shirts or jeans.
Jonathan Anderson is no exception. His go-to look of blue jeans and dark, round-neck T-shirt or sweater rarely changes — and for spring 2018, he’s celebrating it.
On his J.W. Anderson runway, the designer has pushed the boundaries of men’s wear with his androgynous designs and complex runway narratives. Over the past year, he has sent out satin jumpsuits inspired by “Le Petit Prince” and two-tone Dr. Seuss sweaters with sleeves dangling to the ankles. But now he’s moving on — and into more pared-down territory for his signature label.
“I think this is the first collection that is a reflection of me, as a person. Instead of having a fantasy of what I would like to wear, it’s a fantasy of what I would actually wear, so it’s a different kind of theme,” says Anderson, dressed on a recent summer’s day in a uniform of unbranded vintage jeans and a dark long-sleeve shirt.
“I think it’s more a personal self-discovery idea of the normal, which is something that I’ve never done, and I’m quite excited about it. It can go as reduced as this,” he says, pointing to a picture of a model in a white T-shirt and knee-skimming khaki shorts.
“And it’s got this element of going to Florence and being an exchange student and being attractive and manly,” says the designer with a smile during a walk-through of his first collection to be shown at Pitti Uomo in Florence. While many of the pieces are indeed pared down, this is Anderson, after all, so androgyny remains a strong element – as does a passion for pattern, color and narrative.
Pieces from the spring collection include wide-leg jeans with upturned cuffs, a languid Breton top that knots at the waist, T-shirts with frayed sleeves and jean jackets with a retro, swirling J.W. Anderson branding, like an old Coca-Cola logo. There’s an oversize cardigan with a white swan gliding across the back and an Irish hand-knit sweater, too, while a colored heart motif pops across T-shirts, leather jackets and denim tops.
The show is scheduled for June 14 in the garden of Villa La Pietra, a Renaissance home now owned by New York University and nestled in the hills outside Florence. Anderson says it was partly the idea of showing in a different country and venue this season that spurred him to change direction, and partly the desire to mark out a new creative cycle after a decade in the fashion business.
He says that in Florence, “you’re competing with a very impressive landscape, and ultimately it articulates how you would dress in that landscape. I also think the brand has reached a maturity. I think we’re at a point where we have to move on and find a new way of working, a new vocabulary.”
His show will feature sculptures by the Toronto-based artist Yam Lau, based on travelers’ portable furniture from the 1800s, while Anderson will also be screening that Florence-focused classic film, “A Room With a View,” based on E.M. Forster’s novel.
He says the time was right to show at Pitti, where so many of his peers, including Raf Simons and Gosha Rubchinskiy, have already appeared. “They had been approaching us for many years and we had spoken in-depth with them, and I think the time felt right. It’s a good moment to do it now, good for me just in terms of changing my mind-set a bit and thinking differently.”
Pitti’s Lapo Cianchi says the fair’s organizers had been keeping a careful eye on Anderson’s for several seasons.
“The way he reinterprets elements from the contemporary art scene and from the youth culture, alternating emotional impact [out-of-scale volumes, for example] and transgressions that are projected toward anticipating the future, leaving very little room for nostalgia, is very interesting,” says Cianchi, who is director of events.
Anderson clearly sees this moment as one of transition. He says that while the brand’s sales have quadrupled in the last couple of years, “and we’ve done very well with the bags, it’s important that we define the J.W. Anderson man through the process.”
He says he’s rethinking his approach all round. The brand, which is positioned in the advanced contemporary market, has reduced pricing on the men’s collection by up to 20 percent in some categories with the aim of keeping pace with “how we shop today. I think we have to build on that, and it’s kind of an amazing process because all the components change and you feel refreshed and fun again.”
He notes that the company was able to achieve the 20 percent price reduction by cutting volume, limiting the number of stockkeeping units, using fewer fabrics — and getting the best out of them.
Was it his shareholders LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton who put the heat on?
“No, that came from me,” insists Anderson, adding that he’d been talking to colleagues — and to Pierre-Yves Roussel, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Fashion Group — trying to work out what men’s wear is about today.
“I think it is about classics with a twist. We are a British brand and we have this youth culture. We continue to make as much as we can in Britain and abroad and we’re trying to look at what the core values of the brand are. I think it’s just about maturing as well.”
He says he likes the idea of the white T-shirt and the chino short — in reality and in the abstract. “What excites me is that reduction. You can have embellishment, but I think it’s about pulling back. We’re in a very odd moment in fashion, where it has become sugary, and I think sometimes you have to take a step back to go forward.”
Asked what he means by “sugary,” the designer says “we have sucked dry the references of fashion, there’s no such thing as a decade in fashion, there’s no such thing as seasonal fashion, so for me it’s about how do you create something that is you.”
Anderson has also been collaborating with Uniqlo on a collection of men’s and women’s apparel for fall retailing. Working on the collection, which will land in mid-September in time for London Fashion Week, has clearly had an impact on his thinking.
“Working with Uniqlo is probably the most incredible template of democracy in fashion, and it’s nice that my design can be accessible to anyone, on all different levels,” Anderson said at the time of the Uniqlo announcement earlier this year.
Anderson is certainly not alone in cleaning house: Earlier this month, Demna Gvasalia of Vetements announced he was turning his back on the runway and opting to do showroom appointments in Paris instead. He also plans to style and photograph the collection himself, and release the images to the media.
Talk about paring down — and moving on. Maybe the future is all about a roast chicken dinner and old blue jeans.
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