First published by Vogue on 15 September 2018
With only 48 hours to go until his first show of the season (his second will be Loewe, in Paris on September 28), the striking thing about Jonathan Anderson is that he is completely relaxed. In a whitewashed loft in Dalston, he and his team carry out a hushed casting session, murmuring to each other as one model after another struts the length of the room. It's unusual that Vogue has been invited – the studio is usually off-limits to press. "Everyone is being very well-behaved today," he says, as we sit down in a room buzzing with sewing machines.
10 years since the launch of JW Anderson, his eponymous brand, the designer is in a contemplative mood. "Over the last six months I really wanted to have a dive into the idea of fashion and women," he says of the spring/summer 2019 collection. "Something really pushing the DNA forward into another stratosphere; something which was a bit more tailored, with moments where it's quite dry or quite textural, mixing volumes. I like that there's a robust femininity to the collection this season."
Part of the originality of Anderson's work comes from his highly diverse inspirations. He based the tailoring on the elongated riding jackets of the 1920s and 1930s – and the odd, side-saddle skirts they were worn with – but he also returned to the work of the sculptor Lynda Benglis, who uses wax and poured latex. "I've always been a massive fan of hers. It's about the attitude of something that is quite liberated in its approach. [When you look at it] you don't know what it is, you don't know what the touch is like, and I think that's what's quite nice in this collection – you don't know what it's going to feel like. There are a lot of layers to the dresses – they have three or four different textural panels – but at the same time they're very light."
It is a collection full of the juxtapositions that Anderson revels in. Stripes are formed by neat lines of thread lying between gauzy fabrics; wooden beads are woven into sleeves and bags. The palette is breezy – lemon yellows, pinks, earthy blues and plenty of white – and soft crepe shirts are given substantial macramé bibs in a contrast that the designer finds pleasing. "It's like a solid with a fluid – you have that tension," he says.
The shoes add another dimension again. Riding boots in red, white and black are decorated with two brooches laid together – "When they move, you get a blur, like a double-take." Meanwhile, the new drop of the JW Anderson x Converse collaboration includes a high-top with a thick, technical sole. "There's something quite naive in pairing that with a deconstructed skirt and a suit jacket. I like the moments of normality with the moments of hysteria."
His aura of calm, he says, is down to having taken a month off over the summer. But it's also due to him being highly organised. He now designs 14 collections a year – six with JW Anderson and eight with Loewe, where he's been the creative director since 2013. The collection he will show in Paris is already finished, he says. "I don't believe in the last minute. I used to do that, and you become flustered and then you don't actually look at what you're doing. Collections take time and the longer I can spend on it the better."
He sees all his work as part of a continuum – "I am involved in both brands and there has to be a dialogue between the two" – but has a clear sense of the different women he's catering for. "JW Anderson is a younger customer compared to what we do at Loewe," he says. "Loewe is more in control, whereas JW doesn't want to sit still, she wants to experiment, she wants to make mistakes, she wants to get things wrong. There's a chicness to Loewe, but in JW it's about taking chic and then not chic, and really pushing it to both extremes. It's a different thing, and keeping the agitation in the clothing is really important."
Loewe has thrived under Anderson's vision. "We have a massive hit with the Gate bag, the Puzzle and the Hammock – and the men's ready-to-wear is up more than it's ever been. You know, there wasn't really a clothing business there before." His own brand has been happily associated with LVMH (the conglomerate holds a minority stake) since 2013. Though this is an astonishing amount to have achieved at age 34, he doesn't indulge in much self-assessment. "For me, the minute you know where you are or who you are in the context of an industry, then you become a caricature of yourself. So it's better to do the work, go home and leave the work at work."
He thrives under the pressure, he says, but no longer allows himself to get stressed. "When I take on a project it's all or nothing – you either do it or you don't do it. And I apply myself in that way because for me that's the only way that I can do my best. Ultimately you have to realise that you can only do your best." He laughs, and adds with a shrug, "The other thing is, you can never please everyone."