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J.W. Anderson SS16
Peyton Knight (IMG) backstage at J.W. Anderson SS16Photography Chris Rhodes

The five codes of J.W. Anderson

Off the back of J Dubs’ SS16 show, we examine the components of his label’s identity

Since debuting his first collection at an off-schedule London Fashion Week show in 2008, J.W. Anderson has risen to become one of the industry’s most feted designers. He’s not only received recognition for his eponymous brand, but also for his work for Loewe, the Spanish leather-goods company, where he holds the title of creative director. This Saturday, Anderson presented his SS16 offering, described as “an odyssey oscillating between galactic Olympics and empowered femininity” within the clinically white confines of Yeomanry House, near Kings Cross. Here, alongside backstage images by Chris Rhodes, we dissect the five codes of J.W. Anderson. 


Since his brand’s beginning, Anderson has been characterised by the way he defies gender, approaching masculinity and femininity in a very contemporary way. “It’s not gender for me, it’s just clothing,” he has said. “I feel that in a modern culture, if it’s about gender then it’s a very dated concept.” Obviously this had been particularly notable in his menswear collections because of society’s typically more conservative attitudes towards the way men dress. He’s sent male models wearing mini skorts, crop tops, leather dresses and ruffled knee-high boots down his runways. However, his playful take on gender is conspicuous in his womenswear offerings too – take this season, which featured a ribbed knit sports suit and a sheer space uniform-like two piece. While his women are always strong, they are rarely sexy, exhibiting a rather asexual femininity. They are vehicles for his creative vision.


As a designer, Anderson explores areas of fashion that are ugly or deliberately difficult, areas which trigger a sense of discomfort, a second look, or even a stare – remember again, the men in skorts. “It’s about challenging yourself,” he said last year. “Collections should not make sense right away; you need to make sure there is always something you’re not comfortable with. If you’re comfortable, it’s stale.” This season it was the Victorian elements of the collection that provoked this reaction: the ruffed frocks and the puffed-out ballgowns. While undeniable feats of design, these creations, among others from Anderson, are potentially alienating to the average consumer used to high street brands. However, executed with his finesse, these dresses don’t look dated or gauche, but calculated, crafted and beautiful. Anderson exhibits the mark of a great designer: the ability to challenge, stretch and broaden our notions of beauty.

“Anderson explores areas of fashion that are ugly or deliberately difficult, areas which trigger a sense of discomfort, a second look, or even a stare”


As his Instagram feed testifies, J.W. Anderson maintains a keen interest in modern art, collecting ceramics, fabrics, paintings, glass, and furniture (though he refuses to see fashion itself as an art form). Obviously this feeds into his work, but it does so in a way that reflects the manner in which he collects – with an air of curation. For AW14, Anderson cited the work of English painter Graham Sutherland, appropriating the muddy colour palette of his landscapes into his collection. This season Anderson looked to American sculptor Richard X Zawitz, known for his infinity-inspired “tangle creations” made from stainless steel. The influence of these sculptures was evident not only in the similarly metallic belts and chokers, but in the squiggly patterns of the fabrics too. 


Anderson’s references to periods of style, though present, are complex. It’s never as simplistic or broad-stroked as “80s-inspired”. He mixes elements from different decades, proving that no era can claim sole ownership of a trend, cut or silhouette. Take this collection: did the puffed shoulders belong to the Renaissance period or the 1980s? Then there was the leg-of-mutton sleeves which seemed drawn from the late 19th century, the ruffles from the 30s, the ribbed knits from the 70s and the ruched leather from the present. A true blurring of decades. Anderson’s designs evade simplistic categorisation and they are far from a stylistic pastiche. But while these elements are historically sporadic, his collections flow like a well-structured essay. 


Despite his appropriation of the past, J.W. Anderson is unmistakably a futurist. He is taking fashion to places it hasn’t been before. And the combination of these codes creates something that feels new. Tied in with this is that fact that he is impossibly hard to predict – what will he show next season? Macramé leggings? Or a ruched leather boob tube (pour homme)? And that trait of unpredictability is shared by many a fashion legend. However his futurist sensibilities comes through in more tangible ways too; just look at his materials. While one look this season appeared to have been made from a very fine plastic, another seemed to have been woven from translucent strands of an indeterminate material. Each season, Anderson’s models have the aura of beautiful humanoid alien beings disembarking from a spaceship. But, as he said backstage at the show, “If you don't get it, it doesn’t matter.”