Opinion: sexuality without the sex

Susie Bubble on J.W. Anderson and his notions of femininity: can sexless still be sexy?

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Photography Alexandra Waespi

In recent seasons, J.W. Anderson’s menswear shows have produced a string of Daily Mail shockers that seem to deny men the freedom to show shoulders, hairy legs and midriffs.  Even though they’re happy to positively objectify a topless footballer on the beach or indeed, praise lithe and fit female celebrities for their ability to show curves. 

What then to make of Anderson’s latest womenswear S/S 14 collection, which the press release describes as ‘avant-bland.’ Anderson likens the deconstructed classicism and Japanese-led draped sculptural separates to caryatid columns and Vestal Virgins.  The former, originating from enslaved women and the latter, devoted to a life of observance of Roman state ritual.  The J.W. Anderson female character isn’t necessarily either of those things, but she isn’t about to appease the opposite sex with what she wears either.  In other words, the collection was significantly devoid of “sex” or conventional notions of femininity.  

The cleverness of Anderson’s designs is that what is supposedly sexless becomes the very opposite

Anderson plays with gender archetypes as though he’s setting himself a dare.  Never mind gender bending, he’s increasingly speeding up on an ongoing gender swerve, playing with levels of masculinity and femininity in both his menswear and womenswear as though they were adjustable dials on a turntable. What’s interesting though is how appealing Anderson’s apparently ‘sexless’ clothes are to women.  Very feminine women at that, judging from the number of J.W. Anderson pieces seen on editors on the streets of New York and now London.

Anderson is by no means the first to reject the lines, silhouettes, colours and motifs which ‘flatter’ women and play up to their femininity.  However, he is resolutely steadfast in his approach towards ensuring women have the choice to wear jutting out shapes oddly placed around the neck, skirts that are layered and proportioned unexpectedly and shirts that have windswept bows splaying at the waist.  The cleverness of Anderson’s designs, which has aided his ascent (to the point where LVMH are now reportedly sniffing around), is that what is supposedly sexless becomes the very opposite.  Sexy, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder.         

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