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lilian
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Posted: Wednesday, September 13, 2017 09:36:51 PM
JW Anderson: ‘We have to democratise fashion’
There is an unnerving busy-ness to Jonathan Anderson: his daily schedule
planned six months in advance, the small mountain of iPhones beside his coffee
and the way his conversation slips from business ethics to the history of
Japanese ceramics in the same sentence. But this is how the 32-year-old fashion
designer, who oversees his own label as well as the Spanish luxury brand Loewe,
thrives: leaping from one idea to the next – from Paris to London to Madrid, to
his country retreat near Norfolk. He spends a lot of time mid-air. You get the
sense he would really, really like a cigarette.
He is at Tate Modern today, caffeinated and well-lit in this small room up
near the roof. Earlier, as a Uniqlo exec presented Anderson’s first collection
for the brand, the designer stood slightly hidden in a crowd, and blushed to be
described as “an artist”.
Anderson, who last year put on an exhibition of fashion, art and sculpture at
the Hepworth Wakefield, doesn’t even call himself a designer. What is he then? A
rare pause. “What I think I ultimately do,” he says, taking a huge sip from his
tiny coffee, “is curate. I’m curating people, curating campaigns, curating
stores, curating collaborations. It is about taking all these components and
arranging them in a way that makes sense. It’s like doing brain zen: you have to
arrange objects into a certain configuration that feels… right.”
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He’s as notorious for his near-obsessional collecting of art and craft as he
is for the “challenging” (he called them “ugly”) gender-unspecific clothes he
first showed in 2008, including the 2013 bustiers for men, worn with
ruffle-topped riding boots on hairy legs. But listening to him talk, even in
this PR-ed environment, even about things as mundane as sock design, it becomes
clear that both are part of some larger vision, some grand project of living,
created through careful juxtaposition of teapot, or sleeve, or antique
nutcracker. “I do have a compulsion about owning certain things,” he says,
“because I have to look at it to actually work out why, or how.”
Like what? What things?
“I’m obsessed by damask napkins at the moment from the 14th, 15th, and 16th
century in Great Britain and Ireland.” His grandfather worked for a textile
company in Northern Ireland that specialised in camouflage and at home his
grandmother would turn the camouflage scraps into ornate bedspreads. “So I think
there’s always been this obsession with fabric. There is something that is so
magical about it because it lasts for ever.”
His 33-piece collection for Uniqlo is made up of cable knits and Highland
tartans, with a few rugby stripes, too (a nod, perhaps, to his brother and dad,
both former professional players). There are no feathers, there’s no chainmail,
in fact none of the kinky details he made his name with. Instead there are
clothes that will remain wearable long after the autumn ends.
“If you design something, it is the person who wears it who will make the
clothing,” says Anderson, who claims to own 100 Uniqlo T-shirts. “That’s what I
get from Uniqlo: when you wear their clothing, you make it.” One of the simpler
pieces he’s designed for them is the white T-shirt he wears today, printed with
a sketch of a man’s profile, in a jaunty hat. “It’s a drawing by Henri
Gaudier-Brzeska, a French immigrant who came to Britain.” A Brexit-heavy moment
of eye contact. “I remember seeing it and thinking that what was incredible was
the singularity of the line, and the humour. When we started the collaboration I
thought we needed something from the past to bring it to the future.” He thinks
for a second. “Whether or not a customer knows it’s a 100-year-old drawing by
Gaudier-Brzeska, it’s emotional, it’s personal to me. It adds a layer of
mystery.”
It was his Hepworth show, he says, that changed the way he worked for ever.
“It was a real discovery to look at, say, a William Turnbull [sculpture] beside
some knitwear.” Both, he says, teach you about how bodies move. “And as much as
it was an emotional roller-coaster doing that show, it has really helped me on
everything I have done going forward.” It made him realise that, in designing
clothes, whether a man’s bustier or this white T-shirt, the exercise is the
same. “What we put out is an artform no matter what it is – there are
fundamentals. You are changing the body, and you have a responsibility.”
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Which is a fairly big idea for a £14.99 T-shirt. But, he says: “I believe
luxury does not exist.” He utters these grand statements as throwaway comments.
“I believe that we have a cultural responsibility in terms of our stores, in
terms of how we communicate, because ultimately we’ve got to help each other to
try to ‘democratise’ fashion in such a way that it can be accessible on any
level.” Hence his hop from the £1,000 JW Anderson handbag to the £35 Uniqlo
jumper.
He carefully unwraps a Tate-branded chocolate on his saucer, and savours it
with nostalgia. “Growing up in Ireland, I remember going to Dublin to visit a
Vuitton store and I came out with a brochure. Then I went to Prada and I came
out with a magazine, and I felt like I was part of the brand. All those things
matter. And, of course, I can’t afford a Rembrandt, but I can still come to the
Tate or Hepworth, and I can still enjoy it.”
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