Man of the Cloth

4 minute read
Hettie Judah

Even by the adrenaline-crazed standards of the fashion world, Jonathan William Anderson seems to function at a superhuman pace. The 27-year-old British designer is just about to present his ninth menswear and fourth women’s-wear collections as J.W. Anderson, and his studio is lined with brand-new pieces in textures as diverse as stretch patent vinyl, heavy purled cashmere and quilted leather. While many designers find the relentless carousel of collections and precollections exhausting, Anderson revels in the pressure of it. “I love the speed of the whole thing — I think that it reflects the modern world,” he says. “Younger people move at a higher pace, and you have to move with them.”

Born in Northern Ireland, Anderson won a place at drama school but dropped out after deciding that acting would “never be enough.” The menswear course at the London College of Fashion followed, then an inspiring stint under the guidance of Manuela Pavesi, the fashion coordinator of Prada. Fashion attracted Anderson, because, like acting, it offered the possibility of constant reinvention. “I get bored very easily,” he confesses. “I learnt that with fashion you could have a new focus every few months. When I’ve finished a collection, I almost hate it immediately afterwards, it nearly becomes unbearable to look at.”

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For all his digital-generation quickness and eccentric inspirations — he cites Gerhard Richter’s paintings of members of the Baader-Meinhof group and Ang Lee’s 1997 film The Ice Storm, among others — Anderson is a staunch traditionalist when it comes to manufacture. His collections to date have won particular praise for their use of craft skills, including crochet and raffia work, and for a commitment to heritage techniques and fabrics. Alongside peppy, colorful knitwear, the 2011 collections featured tuxedo-style trousers in an ultra-fine kid-mohair mix of the kind used in the 1940s, and skirts in an outsize houndstooth jacquard, both of which were custom-milled for him in England.

Anderson claims that in all of his collections so far, only two designs have been manufactured in China, but his determination to help keep Britain’s garment industry alive is not without difficulties. “Heritage manufacturing industries are not museums, they’re part of our culture,” Anderson explains. “The craft knowledge in this country is one of the most valuable assets that we have, but every year more product and material knowledge disappears. We’re losing our skill levels. I want to employ people and to stimulate them, but it’s so sad that we can’t find people to sew garments because no one wants to do it anymore.”

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Anderson’s quests into British manufacturing territory have led to fabulous collaborations, however. This season, he is using a range of textiles taken from the archives of Adamley, a 300-year-old silk-printing house in the north of England. He enthuses about the importance to young designers of actually seeing garments and materials being made. If a whole generation grows up sending designs halfway around the world to be produced, it will struggle to understand the skill and craft involved in creating a well-made garment, he believes. “You can push experimental ideas, but if what you’re doing is not chic, or based on good garment architecture, you will fail because your work will end up being seen as a bit of a joke.”

There’s a great dose of rebel humor woven into the immaculate, heritage-stitched architecture of Anderson’s clothes. While the women’s wear centers on an East Coast — corporate-wife silhouette of the 1960s, the knee-length skirts and tailored jackets have been rendered in large checkered prints and quilted leather, hinting at a disorder behind the all-perfect sheen. As Anderson admits, he’s drawn to creating clothes that are somehow classical but with a very definite “wrongness” to them — and if there’s one thing fashion loves, it’s tradition with a twist.

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