Men’s – Ubi Amor, Ibi Oculus. Loewe AW23

Season after season, Jonathan Anderson keeps on delivering the most innovative, technically mind-blowing, disturbing – in a way great art feels! – and unexpected collections for Loewe. His autumn-winter 2023 line-up for the brand is the most brilliant and thrilling outing we’ve seen this entire menswear season. “I do feel like less is more. But in a new way,” said the designer. “I don’t think we’re heading into modernity like it was. It’s not like ’90s modernity; there’s something more peculiar happening.” For Anderson, clothes are the main objects of consideration – not the runway venue (a white cube showcasing artworks by contemporary artist Julien Nguyen became the perfect, harmonious backdrop), not celebrity appearances (it’s not easy to make the collection itself more attention-seizing than Timothee Chalamet and Taylor Russel sitting in the f-row). This designer is one of the vanishingly few in the luxurysphere who believes that it’s enough to put clothes, and deep-thinking about them, first. It’s reached the point where it feels radical, avant-garde. “I think – I hope – that we’re going into a period where it is about being uncomfortable in design,” he added. “That we are trying to find something new.” This conversation was in his debrief, after a menswear show that proved, par excellence, that there’s nothing more absorbing and mentally exciting than simply being able to react to the meanings of what’s before you. And to witness configurations of stuff you’ve never quite seen before.

In Anderson’s world, the subject of clothes is multi-layered but startlingly focused on clarity; what be called “a reductionist act.” His collection was about exaggerating the materiality of fashion fabrication into the realms of pure-lined 3D sculpture – full metal jackets beaten by artisans from copper and pewter; stand away structured coats molded by hat-makers. What he’d done with the short, back-fastened shirts is quite a riddle. Some of them were rigid, wrinkled vellum – the work of traditional book-binders. Others were delicately made in hammered silk, a match for the boxer shorts, worn with nothing but leather ankle-boots. “I wanted the idea of something which is quite sensual underneath, with something quite hard,” said Anderson. Some of the boys wore angel wings. That’s where the reference spun sideways into the multiple art-historical/homoerotic sensibilities that focus Anderson’s vision. Partly, it was about resurrecting to modernity the iconography of old masters painters, specifically, the work of the French romantic allegories of Prud’hon and the link Anderson has made with Nguyen. His digital artworks – referencing traditional painting techniques – of Nikos, a Loewe model, were blown up in the center of the stage. What might end up sounding complicated was as distilled and to-the-point as could be. Anderson glorified Loewe’s craft skills in leather goods in textures of suede and shearling, shaved into sensuously tactile bulbous silhouettes in this show. But equally as head-turning were his pared-back, brilliantly on-the-money Loewe desirables: long, slimline coats in leather, and the reiterated wool shapes with deeply plunging cowl necklines. They were worn with a gesture—one arm out, crooked in a way which played on the mind like a memory of classical portraiture. Simple, but way out of the ordinary. Anderson felt that arriving at that coat had hit the quintessential mark. “Sometimes, by getting that one look, it helps you to create a narrative throughout the show,” he said. “There’s something in that it says everything and nothing at the same time“.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Men’s – Transgressive. JW Anderson AW23

JW Anderson‘s menswear events have become the most exciting moments of Milan Fashion Week. And there’s a lot to unpack in the autumn-winter 2023 collection. Jonathan Anderson reflected on all his past work by returning to one of his most transgressive statements. Ten years ago, his ruffled shorts, skirts, and minidresses – all modeled by men – drove the London fashion scene crazy. Recalling the moment pre-show, Anderson said: “I found it very strange… that collection was about a shared wardrobe.” Even if, he added, he knew he was being something of a “brat” at the time, the force of the reaction revealed the depth of the subversion. He returned to it tonight to interrogate the notion that recent history’s radical rephrasing – even if still polarizing – discourse around gender would soften its impact. He said: “this feels like an old fashioned thing for myself to say now, but it is still something as a society we have yet to work out. How do we package people? Do we need to package people or not?” The Milan show opened with two boys in underwear holding bolts of cloth: the undressed waiting to be dressed, the unpackaged waiting to be packaged. Then came two models clutching pillows inserted into their garments, whose limbs were painted with tomato images. And then came the ruffled short. The difference between this and the original was that version 2.0 came in leather, but otherwise it was effectively a fresh edition of the garment this designer could barely sell the first time round, and which he still works to buy back at auction when they re-enter the market. The following looks teased your notions of facade and identity. The fully grown non-binary cast wore anthropomorphic frog-faced slides and boots by Wellipets, a recently relaunched but until now kids-only brand that was once worn by the British royal family’s heir and the spare back in the 1990s. As any basic biologist knows, certain healthy frogs can change gender according to circumstance. Torsos, some butch and some slender, were printed on terry vests worn over slouchy pants. There were some infantile animal print briefs and a series of uniform-aping duffle coats, fastened with lock and key instead of horn and eye, in leather and faux fur. The ruffle returned on occasion. Certain garments came inserted at the top of the spine with the decorative leather and plastic SIM cards that also acted as show invitations. One model had his placed over his heart. “Everyone’s attached to one,” said Anderson of this detail. “The idea is that you are taking it and turning it into something completely useless. Also all technology becomes useless in the end.” In the whole this was a radical wardrobe ready to come out and be inhabited, now that the times have caught up with the spirit of its inception.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Natural-Fake, Real-Artificial. Loewe SS23

After his terrific JW Anderson show in London, I was sure that we’re not ready for what’s coming at Loewe. Jonathan Anderson‘s spring-summer 2023 collection hits different. After questioning the fakeness behind our screens, here he set out to explore the fake in nature. A giant fiberglass anthurium grew out of a hole in the floor in his show location, and he adapted the unreal-looking flower for clothing, molding bodices that wrapped around the torso and bra cups out of the suggestive blooms. These were not femme fleurs in the way fashion used to conceive of the term – for one thing the anthurium’s nubbly spadix looks like nothing so much as an erect phallus; for another the flower is poisonous. The women who will wear these dresses fancy themselves more dangerous than dainty. There’s a new element of provocation to Anderson’s work since the pandemic. And a sense of idiosyncratic, Loewe community: Dev Hynes, Caroline Polachek, Hari Nef in the front row, and on the runway in look 1, Taylor Russell, who stars alongside Timothée Chalamet in the Luca Guadagnino (also present in the f-row) film Bones and All. Russell wore a breath-taking strapless black velvet dress with panniers jutting out from the hips, a silhouette lifted out of the Baroque period via the 1920s robe de style that is once again appearing on the runways. Anderson revisited it in three other colors. Repetition was a motif in and of itself here. There was another quartet of strange dresses whose fronts were swagged and suspended from triangular wire peaks that reached up toward the face. Still more short styles – you could hardly call them dresses – were made from enameled metal painted with flowers. As for the babyless baby carriers, they looked sort of like fabric-covered versions of the gold breastplates that made such an impression on the Loewe runway a year ago. It all goes back to the anthurium flower, which Anderson’s show notes described as “a product of nature that looks like an object of design and [was] treated as such.” Another major highlight: couple of tops and trousers in the pixelated squares of Minecraft glitches. They were “this odd illusion that suddenly breaks the pattern,” like avatars from the virtual world made flesh. Real fakes. Anderson keeps pushing the limits.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Subverted Realism. JW Anderson SS23

Jonathan Anderson is high on surreal, escapist and subverted fashion he has been delivering lately, and his spring-summer 2023 JW Anderson collection is one of his best yet (I really can’t wait to see what’s to come at Loewe in a couple of days). But then, the direction Anderson is taking isn’t that far from reality. In the middle of Soho, on the most packed London Saturday night of all, the show’s guests were plunged into the Vegas video gambling arcade (the location was just next door to his JW Anderson flagship store on Wardour Street). His models made a short walk past marshals, crash barriers and hustling crowds into a place where people go for the thrill of gaming the random fates of fortune. A big, metallic bubble of a dress symbolically took in the whole of the scene in its distorted silver surface: flashing screens, views of the audience perched on stools. Everyone laughed delightedly and lifted their phones. “I like this idea of a transient moment in time. I’ve been exploring this for several collections,” Anderson extemporized afterward. “Are we falling into our screens, becoming our phones? I think it’s really like an alternate universe, and there are layers and layers and layers to it. I think it’s probably about realism. I don’t think it’s about futurism. It’s more about a reflection of ourselves somehow.”

In his frank observation of the state of human consciousness in a disorderly world of events, it’s as if Anderson has turned the bizarreness of chance itself into his medium, and he’s playing with it. Parts of the collection, the prints of goldfish in plastic bags, a map of the planet, pictures of palm-fringed beaches and sunsets, were lifted “from stock digital pictures you find on the internet and can buy for a dollar.” Then came a halterneck top made out of old computer keys – a person half-merged with their machine. In this topsy-turvy world, chunky sweaters might also be worn upside down – why not? But Anderson is simultaneously in the mood for straight-up clarity. He also showed long charmeuse lingerie lace-trimmed slips and draped T-shirt dresses with plenty of hip and torso exposure. Exactly like life these days: one thing can come along after another without warning. This past week, as the whole world knows, Britain has had to deal with the death of its monarch. So did Anderson. On an emergency British Fashion Council conference call with fellow designers, he was the one who took a decisive lead in rallying the community’s resolve to carry on with London Fashion Week for the sake of small brands who couldn’t afford to cancel. And then, to mark the moment, he sent out a black T-shirt printed with a graphic commemoration of Her Majesty The Queen as his finale. All was not quite as it seemed, though: he said it was a replica of the posters which have gone up on bus stops all over London. Marking the significance of a passing moment of history with an image of an existing image. How very JW Anderson is that?

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Men’s – Grow. Loewe SS23

It’s safe to say that Jonathan Anderson’s spring-summer 2023 menswear collection for Loewe was the most mind-blowing moment of the season. Fashion is on the brink of entering the Metaverse, and arguably our human consciousness is already fused with our digital devices: Jonathan Anderson marked the moment with an intriguing exploration around the subjects of perception, nature and progress. “A fusion of the organic and the fabricated,” he called it. On the one hand, part of his collection was seeded, watered and grown over 20 days in a polytunnel outside Paris. Chia plants and cat’s wort, living greenery, were made to sprout from trainers, tracksuit bottoms, jeans, coats. A collaboration which Anderson forged with the Spanish bio-designer Paula Ulargui Escalona. And on the other: there was Anderson, toying with manipulating tech and his set to make this physical show appear to be a non-real, computer-generated entity when viewed via his livestreamed video and lookbook. “I like this idea of high definition, the idea of that you remove everything away from the clothing, and it becomes about silhouette,” he said in his backstage debrief. When you could drag your eyes away from the fascination of boggling at how Anderson had pulled off the verdant decoration, all was simplicity and clarity. Luxurious leather coats and hoodies, sometimes minimally tailored, and sometimes exaggeratedly puffed up. His ultra-desirable oversized sweaters, teamed with second-skin sport tights. Iterations of Loewe Puzzle bags, utilitarian cross-body and basket totes, dangling on logo ribbons: all of the above underscored his enormously successful talent at focussing on desirable items for the house of Loewe.

There was more to this picture than that, though: the ones who walked down the white, metaversial slope of the set with wraparound masks, or coats and T-shirts implanted with screens playing videos of people kissing, flocks of birds at sunset, tropical fish, flowers and winking eyes. “When you’re sitting on a train or in a cafe, everyone is looking at the screen,” said Anderson. “And in weird way, I was fascinated by this idea. What happens when a screen becomes the face?” At its best, stirring up cultural discussion is the job that fashion can take on. Anderson’s show and the waves it will make do just that. What he presented was less of a judgment than a question, though. “I think we should have a place to be able to talk about these things constructively,” he said. Pitting nature against tech isn’t a forward-thinking formula, as far as he sees it: “Maybe out of this through we can find progression somehow.”

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

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