In between sending male models in ruffled shorts and strapless tops down the runway, rolling out the sophomore collection of his successful collaboration with Topshop and designing the premier capsule collection for Versus Versace, this season sees J.W. Anderson launch his first ever advertising campaign.
Created in collaboration with Dazed co-founder Jefferson Hack’s MAD London agency and art directed by Dazed & Confused's creative director Christopher Simmonds, the images feature new faces Lucan Gillespie and Oliver O’ Brien lensed by Jamie Hawkesworth and styled by Benjamin Bruno. The seemingly simple yet striking photographs offer a tactile visual experience upon closer inspection: soft car carpet replaces the ubiquitous cold studio setting whilst the shiny lacquer of a crimson car door or sheen of a ruched leather dress juxtaposes the matt texture of the foam menswear and knitted womenswear constructions. In short, just as with each one of Anderson’s collections, there is a lot more to these visuals than first meets the eye.
Dazed Digital: What made it feel right do your first advertising campaign this season?
Jonathan Anderson: I was approached by Jefferson. He triggered in my head to try to capture an image of something. He got it. It was just a point and level at which we were at. To do imagery is ultimately like a full reflection, to be where you are and sum it up into a single image or a series of images. It gives you an overview of what the overall character is.
DD: What was the concept of the campaign?
Jonathan Anderson: It was a view take of a boy and a girl; they were suspended architectures within a space. The objects like the car door and lights are used to articulate the silhouette.
DD: What was it about that idea that was in unison with the visions of both collections?
Jonathan Anderson: In terms of where we are at the moment - in terms of design, brand, where I am at at the moment - it’s about this idea of a shared wardrobe. It’s never become about gender per se, it’s just that in the beginning women started buying clothing from the men’s collections. That’s how it started, it’s an articulation of style really.
I like the ambiguity; the idea of the girl being always posed on the floor and grounded, which to me makes a different silhouette, whereas the man is more of an elongated silhouette. There’s something quite interesting in terms of the proportional heights of it that balances out the balance of power in the image.
DD: Why did you decide to use car carpet to line the floor and the walls of the set, as well as car pieces as props?
Jonathan Anderson: It was taking a car map and the idea of it consuming the space, the mundane and the beige. It softened the environment to give it warmth. The abstraction of the car pieces are mere embedded objects to glorify the silhouette. I always like red and beige together, the tonal texture of those things in the plastic-ness of the car and the dryness of the carpet.
DD: Speaking of casting, what was the reason behind choosing new faces to front the campaign?
Jonathan Anderson: I love when Benjamin Bruno and Jamie Hawkesworth work together; I’ve known Jamie from way, way back when I first started and then Ben and him started to work together. What’s great is that they are able to build characters. Fashion is about characters. All imagery - no matter what it is - has to feel like something you want to rip out and stick on a wall. It was about trying to find characters no matter what form. We did a lot of casting to find who the boy and the girl could be and what was modern about them. I think you look at good imagery as imagery that you want to keep. Certain imagery you will remember and certain imagery you will destroy. The idea here is to try and create imagery that you will remember.
DD: Was there anyone in particular that inspired the way you think about fashion advertising as more of an art form rather than a commercial mode of communication?
Jonathan Anderson: Certainly the team inspired me, Ben and Jamie inspired me massively. Every time they do something together, I find it’s the most modern thing I’ve seen. That’s what it’s about and for me it fits the brand and with what I like. It’s theatrically awkward. I love the idea of awkwardness in people, there’s something so beautiful in the awkward self.
DD: Which is quite refreshing when a lot of advertising is so highly stylised and photoshopped.
Jonathan Anderson: I just don't think you need to be sold something. Consumers are intelligent and want to see what you’re thinking. Good advertising makes you think. No matter if it’s fashion or anything else, it just makes you think. Ultimately the idea of the image is for you to take away what you want from it.
DD: There was such a big controversy around your AW 13 menswear collection, people were shocked to see men in such feminine clothing. What did that reaction say to you?
Jonathan Anderson: I never really thought in that way. When you’re working so insulated in a studio, you don't see the reality of what will be when you let it go into public domain. Do I care what the reaction is? I find it interesting. Last season really triggered something in people. We are still not comfortable with men and fashion. It’s never been more fashionable to like fashion, but men in fashion is very hard.
I didn't feel like I could find anything modern for men at that point. I didn’t find styling modern, it was too controlled. Even in casting, none of the new kids were exciting enough. There was something that was lacking and for me it had to go to a modular state. It had to go to the mundane and be selfish in a weird way; focus on how to cut a neckline and how to improve something or how to just find something.
You have to be ready to make mistakes. The harsher the criticism, the better the brand will be. You’ve got to roll with the punches. You need the criticism to be able to compel yourself into something else, reject something or not reject something because you believe in it that strongly. That’s the whole point of this exercise. Especially menswear is like a laboratory of working out everything, because it’s where you can articulate into womenswear. Whatever's not modern on a woman can be modern on a man in terms of line or garment and what is not so modern on a man can be modern on a woman. It’s ultimately about trying to find modernity, awkwardness and wrongness that makes you feel uncomfortable. Does it work? I don’t know. Will it work? I have no idea. It doesn’t really matter, it’s about a process.
DD: You were saying this campaign is more of a reflection of where you’re at in this moment. Where do you see your brand, yourself and your advertising as an extension of your brand going forward from this point?
Jonathan Anderson: I’ve been going since 2007. A lot of people think we’ve come out of nowhere, but we have been working a long time to get where we are. Fashion today moves very quickly compared to what it used to, but I feel you have to keep new with what is happening all the time. You have to keep everything to a certain level. Collections are there to make people think, shows are shows, advertising has to be an extension of what you are thinking and ultimately, you let the consumer decide.
This year we’ve got a lot on, it’s going to be a very good year. If we can continue doing advertising, increasing sales and increasing visibility, what will come in the future is to reach the masses. I love when mass media is challenged by what we do. That’s part of the game.
DD: After your latest collaboration with Nikon, do you have any other projects lined up for the future?
Jonathan Anderson: That’s the last of our projects at the moment, but never say never. I really like doing different projects out there. It lets you into a different market, you can explore things you’ve never done before and it's part of the brand. I don't see the brand as a closed door, it never will be. We'll always be open to different collaborations to different things because to me, it’s what keeps it alive.
Creative Direction: MAD London
Art Director: Christopher Simmonds
Photographer: Jamie Hawkesworth
Stylist: Benjamin Bruno
Hair: Mark Hampton
Make-up: Ciara Web
Set Design: David White
Models: Lucan, and Oliver O'Brien
Production: Laura Holmes