JW Anderson Presents a Fashion Show for the Coronavirus Age

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JW Anderson Women_s RE21 Look 10
JW Anderson Women’s Resort 2021Courtesy of JW Anderson

Debuted via a precious “show in a box” – comprising a mask, dried flowers, fabric samples and more – Anderson’s Spring/Summer 2021 menswear and Resort 2021 womenswear collections are an ode to creativity in lockdown

July marks the beginning of a new, uncharted fashion season, changed and adapted to the age of coronavirus – next week, a digital haute couture week will take place; Milan and Paris menswear will follow, along with an online version of Florence’s Pitti Uomo trade fair. Quite what these will entail is anybody’s guess – several designers and houses are yet to commit to shows, or will skip the season entirely, and those who have announced digital showcases remain vague on specifics.

Yesterday, Jonathan Anderson made his pitch for the stay-at-home show, delivering to editors and friends of the brand an A4-sized cardboard box, inside of which were images of his eponymous label JW Anderson’s Spring/Summer 2021 menswear and Resort 2021 womenswear collections. Alongside these images – some of which were perforated, to be divided into postcards, others poster-sized – were a number of other keepsakes: delicate pressed flowers, squares of fabric samples, colourful affirmation cards reading slogans like “Keep looking up” and “The future is unwritten”, and a mask by Spanish illustrator Pol Anglada. It was a statement – even if the world has moved online, nothing can replace the experience of touch; the joy of holding something in your hand.

“At a time of uneven connections, I thought the show should come to you,” Anderson said via a handwritten note, printed onto a square of pinstripe fabric which wrapped the box. “The portable format makes it playful, engaging and, well, connective. Your presence, wherever you are, is part of the process. The box you are unboxing is an undulating flow of textures, images and formats aiming at one single goal: conveying a sense of optimism. You’ll decide where and when.” (At 1pm today, the designer “unboxed” the package on the JW Anderson Instagram account, allowing his followers to take part in the process, while a filter on the app will allow users to “wear” Anglada’s mask, wherever in the world they may be.)

The collections themselves, photographed on wooden mannequins, have a similarly optimistic outlook: “created with available resources in rather extreme conditions, [they] are a playful celebration of what being restricted can mean and spawn in creative terms,” the brand describes. In the men’s collection, which Anderson describes as “slouchy” and “cosy”, there is a reflection of the domestic life to which most of us are increasingly accustomed: volumes are elongated or enveloping, whether tunic-style knits with “pillow” detailing, floor-length cardigans (printed with illustrations by Anglada, who also created a mask for each look), or nightgown-style shirting. Texture is rich and homely: brocades, florals, lace motifs, and patchwork fabrications are abundant throughout.

These textures provide the bridge between the mens- and womenswear collections, a divide the brand calls “intentionally blurry, but present ... what in menswear takes a slouchy feel in womenswear gets a classic sense of poise and elegance”. Here, volume is not cosy but languid: a satin evening gown with a handkerchief hemline ties elegantly around the waist, while an oversized T-shirt dress with a swirling Op Art-style print has sleeves so long they trail on the floor (such silhouettes take on an almost ghostly presence when worn with Bertjan Pot’s colourful face-covering masks, as they are in the images). Outerwear echoes the shape and style of that in the men’s collection: inspired by the classic safari jacket, a nipped waistline gives way to oversized front pockets, the shape of which is echoed in shorter tailored jackets. Across both collections the trouser for the season is relaxed and cropped, or cargo-style, fastened at the ankle.

The context these clothes will be worn in remains to be seen – though Anderson’s ability to both reflect and refract the time in which we live makes these collections a unique memento of our given moment. In recent interviews, Anderson has instilled the importance of pragmatic solutions to the problems assailing the fashion system – whether coronavirus, or the inequalities brought into sharp relief by the Black Lives Matter movement. Speaking to AnOther’s Alexander Fury, he stressed that attempting to fix a broken system by simply glueing it back together is never going to be successful. “If we’re going to rebuild a system, be honest and come up with creative, pragmatic solutions,” Anderson asserted.

Solutions like these might not be easy, and Anderson joins designers and brands the world over attempting to find their place within a fashion system on the edge of irrevocable and irreversible change. This made for a refreshing start – in a season likely to be defined by an attempt to engage audiences on a mass digital scale, Anderson instead posits the joy of intimacy, of discovery. “This is what interests me,” Anderson said on the collections’ release, “the moment, being present.”