After years of admiring – and wearing – the cult Chuck Taylor, the designer finally got his chance to put his own spin on it
“I have a very long history with Converse. I have worn – I wear – Converse all the time,” Jonathan Anderson emotes. “When I first went to university in Washington DC I became completely obsessed by James Dean to the point where it was ridiculous. I read every book on him, I was at drama school and I was in all the plays that he did before he became a Hollywood icon. You get to look at American culture through that one character, and obviously, Converse are linked to that.”
J.W.Anderson’s new collaboration with Converse is something that clearly means a lot to the brilliantly cerebral designer. The Glitter Gutter collection is the newest collaboration for the award-winner – who also designs for Loewe – and sees the collision of Anderson’s limitless fashion knowledge and genuine adoration for Converse. His whirring bank of cultural references explode onto a collection that is evidently a dream come true for him.
“We were sitting in a fitting, and I work with a stylist called Benjamin Bruno, and we were trying to work out what we would do. The suede pair are a version of myself, but the glitter is like the other side of me. I had this idea of adding a glam aspect to something, but in a kind of John Waters way. A bit John Waters, a bit Pierre et Gilles, it becomes contemporary through its kind of sugariness. It’s twisted.”
Anderson talks a lot about how his new suede and glitter Converse will look after one, two or three years of use: and it’s this subjectivity he finds so exciting when it comes to wearing, and working with, these design classics. For a designer whose collections have taken us through countless different cultural codes and artistic influences, but often appeared post-finale to wave in a pair of Chucks, it’s safe to saythat hee is in a committed relationship with Converse.
“The power of something like Converse is that it reminds you of amazing moments. I think shoes in particular do that – because they’re sensory. My whole thing with Converse is that as a shoe, as an iconography, it becomes you. I have kept every pair I’ve ever had, that I’ve ever worn: I have about 40 pairs. And some of them are threadbare, but they become conceptual objects in themselves. There are some pairs I could never part with, because they remind me of different periods. And I think that’s what Converse is – kind of like vinyl – it can never go away. I believe in them. It’s like the white t-shirt.” But it’s not just about this bank of personal memories, over the course of our conversation, Anderson provides a condensed history of multiple subcultures, all with Converse in common.
“There’s not very many objects in life that ultimately represent youth culture, you know? They, for me, represent, this moment in the 50s and 60s where people became obsessed with American culture – with music, with the way people dressed, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe. Nowadays, skateboarding has become the new Birkin – we’re in a very strange moment – whereas skateboarding was this incredible, underground thing. Then in London, the amount of times I’ve seen a Converse in Camden with sheepskin and a stud is kind of remarkable. And maybe I moved to London at a weird moment, but it was the moment when Hedi Slimane was a huge deal at Dior, and there were these amazing nightclubs. It was the first time fashion had kind of become more about youth culture – Hedi was working with musicians, Babyshambles, that kind of thing. You could buy a very skinny pair of jeans, and to pull off a very skinny pair of jeans you needed something with a very tight top on a shoe – and Converse was the perfect high top.”
“I think that’s what Converse is – kind of like vinyl – it can never go away. It’s like the white t-shirt” – Jonathan Anderson
So what do you do when you get your hands on the perfect high top? Well, for Anderson, working with Converse was a chance to escape from his own work and into a world where he got to add his point of view to one of the most important designs the world has ever seen. “When it comes to doing a collaboration it’s a big process: a) because it’s a lot of work, and b) it has to be something you’re obsessed with. But they have the best design teams in the world – so you work within very good hands. Because sometimes the simplest things are the trickiest things. Like the glitter: you have to get the right kind of glitter that’s going to wear, that’s going to be well cut. The list goes on. And even just working out colour balances and stuff like that has been fantastic – for me, it’s been like a lab, you can hybrid all these things.”
Design director of Converse, Matt Sleep, echoes Anderson’s sentiments totally. “I think first and foremost it starts with the fact that there’s a true passion for him with us and Converse – he’s clearly a big Converse wearer, we’ve always known that and he’s loved Converse since he was a kid,” he tells us. “I think we very much could see that, and we also have a lot of respect for what he’s been doing in the fashion industry. And that for us is a key thing, and a key part of the identity that we want to look for in any collaboration. It’s that love and that balance between where his aesthetic and our aesthetic can meet, bringing our two brands together – clashing those: it’s youth culture meets high fashion and the beautiful medley that comes out of it.”
In a world where collaborations have become central to the success of brands, it feels like Converse and J.W.Anderson are more than just the right fit. After talking with both designers, the pair are both incredibly excited about what the final product looks like. For Anderson, it’s clear that this partnership has been a labour of both love and obsession. “I think everyone remembers getting their first pair of Converse. I remember when I was a child getting my first pair, in red, and then I had an American flag pair – you remember that moment. And I’m obsessed with that quote, which Yves Saint Laurent said, which is “I wish I had invented blue jeans.” For me, Converse is like that: I wish I’d designed it.”
Now he has, and they’re covered in glitter.
Hair Jonathan De Francesco, make-up Siobahn Furlong, models Aweng @ Nevs, Benjamin & Max @ Supa, photography assistant Alexa Horgan, stylist assistants Nico Carmandaye & Emilie, hair assistant Kite Chang