Speaking to Jack Moss, the designer discusses his latest men’s Autumn/Winter 2021 and women’s pre-Autumn/Winter 2021 collections, which are captured by Juergen Teller on the actress Sophie Okonedo and a trio of models
As we enter a new year, Jonathan Anderson feels ready for a paradigm shift. “It’s really depressing out there, and it’s depressing for everybody, but maybe it’s a good moment to get off the sofa – or project off the sofa,” he says over Zoom, just before his latest men’s Autumn/Winter 2021 and women’s pre-Autumn/Winter 2021 collections were revealed on Paris Fashion Week’s digital platform. “I am bored of hearing about the sofa life. I want to think about structure, I want to think of things that look bad but could be good, I want to look at honesty, realism, beauty. And fashion is about that, it’s about projecting forward.”
That projecting forward, off the sofa and into the unknown might seem like a leap of faith for most of us at this current moment in time, but Anderson is of the belief that a positive state of mind is our ticket out. “Last year was easy in a weird way, we were dealing with a crisis. Now, we are dealing with the longevity of a crisis,” he says. “We’re heading towards a moment of rebuilding, and rebuilding is incredibly difficult – the vaccine is one thing, but optimism is going to be even more powerful. This is the moment to experiment, to do new things, so when you get to wherever people think the ‘new normal’ is, you’re not stagnated by the time you get there.”
This optimistic outlook defines his latest mens- and womenswear collections. Described by the designer in an accompanying letter as a “palate cleanser”, he says they began with a new kind of simplicity: “blunt, very honest, raw clothing that is what it is.” Decisions were instinctive – a moment of excitement seeing a purple fabric meet a green one, the addition of crocheted radishes to a mohair jumper – and justifications ‘why’ never overwrought. “I really like the purple leather trousers just because they are purple leather trousers,” he says. “It’s not like, ‘oh, it’s about the psychological being of man and dah dah dah’ – no, it’s about clothing, and I can say I don’t know what the meaning is and that’s fine.”
Case in point: a series of colourful shearling tops, pieced together from off-cuts which had been lying around in the JW Anderson storeroom for several seasons. Some he sent to Anthony Turner, a hair stylist and longtime collaborator, who coloured them using hair dye; other pieces became primitive tabard-style tops, complete with tentacle-like appendages, a design completed by Anderson on a mannequin in under an hour. “I wanted it to be something like if you had a blank canvas and these materials, and you just had to do something instinctively with this material in an hour, what can it be?” he says. “I needed something that brought me back to the beginning when I started fashion. This idea of being like, why not?”
The photographer Juergen Teller seemed a natural collaborator for the collection’s imagery, delivered to ‘attendees’ as a series of posters (a continuation of his Covid-proof ‘show-in-a-box’ presentations at both JW Anderson and Loewe in recent seasons). Starring Sophie Okonedo – “one of our greatest actresses,” says Anderson, who had been particularly impressed by a recent performance in Netflix’s Ratched – and a trio of models, the series is shot in Teller’s typically idiosyncratic style at his London studio. (A supporting cast comes courtesy of cabbages, gourds and cauliflowers, and a series of house plants). “It’s very freeing to work with Juergen because there is no pretence, it’s just – ‘I see something therefore I shoot it’.”
Here, in his own words, Anderson tells the story behind the collection, and his collaboration with Teller.
“I think I’ve learned a lot from 2020 – as much as it was a very depressing moment, I wanted to start the year with something incredibly simple. Ultimately, I do two brands so it needs to build as the year goes on. I wanted it to be something that was very honest, very raw clothing that is what it is ... I think they are very uncalculated garments. That’s what I mean by ‘a palate cleanser’ – it’s not like, ‘this is inspired by Rembrant’ or ‘because everyone’s on the sofa therefore we have to make clothing for people on the sofa.’ No. For me it’s just like, ‘oh my God, it’s so exciting to see purple and orange together with gold.’
“Juergen has taken my portrait several times. I’ve always loved his work, ever since I started working in fashion. When you work with anyone you need to be able to learn something, and I think what I’ve learnt from Juergen is just intuition. Do not overcomplicate it. Do not over-intellectualise it. Be free with it. It’s very freeing to work with Juergen because there is no pretence, it’s just – ‘I see something therefore I shoot it’. I think we need more blunt messages. If you’re going to be experimental, be experimental. If you’re going to be optimistic, then be optimistic. It’s fine.
“Sophie [Okonedo] is one of those actresses who is incredibly inspiring – probably one of our greatest actresses. She is about transformation – both Juergen and I wanted to use her because she’s such a fantastic actress. When you meet these people, and work with them, it’s a really great start to the year. It really makes you go, yes, it’s really depressing out there, and it’s depressing for everybody, but maybe it’s a good moment to get off the sofa – or project off the sofa. I am bored of hearing about the sofa life. I want to think about structure, I want to think of things that look bad but could be good, I want to look at honesty, realism, beauty. And fashion is about that, it’s about projecting forward.
“I actually find it an incredibly exciting moment because there is only opportunity. That’s what drives me, that’s what drove me to do posters, and work with Juergen and Sophie, because I’d never done it. I’d never tackled clothing in this way. Which was just like, ‘OK, a mohair sweater with crocheted radishes on it.’ It might not look very different to the viewer, but for me it was really different – the act was so instinctive. If it sells, it sells – at this moment that’s not the priority. The priority is the idea of being creative. I needed something that brought me back to the beginning when I started fashion. This idea of being like, ‘why not?’ I think in a weird way that’s what the collection is about: why not?
“We’re not living in ideal times but we have to project into optimistic times – to get there you have to kind of let go of it. I don’t know what JW Anderson is going to be at the end of the year, and I don't want to, because that would be incredibly boring. I’m excited. I’ve never been more excited about fashion – going to work is another thing – but the idea of clothing, and the making of it, I find there's a new energy. Let’s start at the very beginning.”