Meet Mr Anderson
Away from the main catwalks, another young star is rising in London's firmament. Rebecca Gonsalves meets him
On 17 September last year J W Anderson turned 27 and showed his second standalone womenswear collection.
It was also the day that three female members of Vogue staff chose to wear his designs in signature paisley to London fashion week. Could there be any more overt a sign that the designer has arrived than this unified show of support?
Jonathan William Anderson, studied menswear at the London College of Fashion, graduating in 2005, before making his debut at London Fashion Week in September 2008. The acclaim which met his initial offerings led Anderson to show a capsule collection of womenswear. That in turn achieved enough of a buzz to be presented as a standalone for autumn/winter 2011.
"I have major issues with menswear," says Anderson in the showroom of his public-relations agency in Shoreditch, east London. "Not in a negative way, but is it relevant any more? Is there a men's market or do men look better in a T-shirts and jeans? I would rather do more conceptual things with menswear because it's more about an idea factory so it makes money and covers itself."
"With women you can build a character and architecture and a woman will take the risk. I don't see any woman who buys my clothing would sleep with a man who is wearing my menswear. My issue is believing in men in fashion. I love Gap on men because it makes a man look like a man. But that's why I would rather exercise extremities, obscurities and ugly on men – because it's ugly."
There is something to be said for Anderson's somewhat contrary approach to selling clothes, for commercial viability is certainly a consideration for the designer. "Sometimes I find the biggest selling pieces that we do are actually things that are really difficult because there's so much on the market.
"When you find something really new, I always find it's really ugly because your eye isn't used to it and I think it never makes sense in the beginning – you will hate every drawing and reference. But by the time it hits the shop floor it makes sense because it's meant to. If it makes sense for people too quickly then there's no point."
His signature paisley prints are a case in point – they could be credited as the germ of spring/summer's pyjama trend. "It's exciting to see someone in full paisley because it's really ugly, but it works."
Ugly isn't a term that's often bandied about in reference to the staff of Vogue – who present themselves with as glossy a sheen as the pages of that magazine. When asking Anderson about the case of the strikingly similarly dressed Voguettes, I begin to ask if it was an orchestrated show of support, "No! Not by us," he says, before I can finish my question.
"Vogue internationally, and Anna Wintour, have been imperative [in getting where we are now]. We've been very lucky but ultimately we put the work in to do it. Ultimately you need that American backing. It's easy to stand out in London but to stand out in America is a lot harder. You have to be able to appeal to the masses. We did [a collaboration with] Aldo because we wanted to get out to people – it won't be ignored. It's all part of the big system. I will do a collaboration with anything as long as I believe in it and can get something out of it."
And there he is focusing on the commercial concern again. As well as collaborating with Aldo and Topshop, Anderson is creative director of Sunspel and receives financial backing from the Newgen programme. "It really helps. There's the belief that a show can be knocked together for £10,000 but that's impossible. It's more of a mechanism, because in London you have to be put into something and if you don't keep up with the pace of it you can lose your window and momentum. You have to be able to come out of it so that the next person can come in. You have to try and stand on your own."
A major influence on Anderson's aesthetic is his former boss Manuela Pavesi, fashion co-ordinator and right hand woman to Miuccia Prada. Now, his time working for the Italian superbrand has informed his approach to branding and retailing. "Clothing is worldwide and yes, you have to come from somewhere but ultimately you have to appeal to all markets – to a woman in India and a woman in China. China is our biggest market. We're lucky because we entered [retailers] as a brand and were placed alongside Miu Miu and Proenza Schouler. My biggest focus was making sure the stores got it and you had to starve them from not having it to the point where we got to be exactly where we wanted because we held back and worked on the mechanisms."
With Anderson, everything is "we" and "us", though it is his name on the lips of some of the most influential names in the business. "In the last three seasons I've had a really great team of people who I love working with and it's like a little family. That's what makes it work, when you trust people. Because it's not just me on my own, we've really pushed things and tried to make things sharper and less London, more international but still coaxing out ideas and pushing things. That's the biggest aim – building architecture that is new with twists of the old."
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