The devil works hard, but Jonathan Anderson could just give him a run for his money. The first two months of the new decade saw him present six separate collections: men’s and women’s for both his eponymous label and the Spanish luxury house Loewe, a collection with Moncler Genius, and the upcoming J.W. Anderson x Uniqlo Spring/Summer 2020 collection. You’d think that the result of all this multi-tasking would be a disorienting bricolage of ideas and influences. And you’d be right, if not for Anderson’s deft compartmentalisation (see: the briefly viral photo of his three labelled iPhones) and pin-sharp ability to identify and separate the audiences for each of the different lines he designs for.
For such a cerebral designer, Anderson’s outing for FW20 started with a shockingly simple question: what do you say when you enter a room? Plenty, he seemed to suggest. The show opened with his idea of a little black dress, a midi-length satin number with a two-toned metallic sleeve made from “antique celluloid”. In a collection about making entrances, it was perhaps a mild but charming start.
Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait long for his charming quirks to surface. His first novel proposition was overwhelmingly voluminous coats, rendered in a handful of colour and fabric variations, finished with a wildly oversized leather shawl lapel. His ideas for new silhouettes continued with a series of tinsel cocoon dresses – an idea Anderson said came out of crushing a beer can – in a palette of blue, gold, bronze and black. Tinsel might come with connotations of cheap, tacky decorations, but the unapologetic shapes held their own and suggested that a sort of couture mindset was at the back of Anderson’s mind. Other highlights included 20th century puffed sleeves on a series of coats; a silky, knotted ensemble reminiscent of a straitjacket (look 25); and a translucent, holographic surgeon’s gown (look 26).
Jonathan Anderson's critics used to have goes at him for being too 'conceptual' and 'unwearable', particularly in his earlier gender-bending menswear collections, like the Fall/Winter 2013 that sent kink-inspired tube tops down the runway. At times it's still a valid point but this collection took sound steps towards reality. No, these probably aren’t the clothes you would wear everyday. Grocery runs are easier when you don’t look like a shedding snake (look 34). Get on the train with that tinsel dress (look 14) and your bottom might as well interview for a cleaner job.
But here, Anderson offered up a slice of his fantastical universe while still being semi-grounded in reality (or commerciality, if you’ll allow it). There were plenty of pieces you could wear everyday if you wanted to. His recognisable knits (looks 15 and 16), silky black dresses and beige trench coats were outstanding and practical ideas that fit into a real lifestyle while offering the familiar J.W. Anderson approach of quirk and whimsy. It noticeably anchored this collection in a way that the brand isn’t usually known for. Anderson’s designs for his own label have been more head-in-the-clouds than feet-on-the-ground, and it was interesting to see it find a more mature middle ground.
Anderson’s ability to build castles in the sky is his strength. That he can now convince us to live in it is precisely what made this season’s collection so effective – the J.W. Anderson customer is no longer just a CSM-educated fashion nerd, prancing between organised shows looking for the Next Big Thing. It's been 12 years since Anderson started his own label. In that time, it’s matured into a LVMH-backed, multimillion dollar global business, with its first permanent standalone retail concept opening in London’s Soho this week. His customer has naturally grown too. Experimental showpieces that offer utter unrealism can’t be his only M.O anymore.
While you might have trouble fitting those behemoth coats through the door, the effect of the fashions Anderson is currently proposing reads as viable statement clothing with a refined and precise awareness of its customer and wearer, instead of the provocateur for provocation’s sake effect that his earlier years had.