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. Don’t forget to follow Design & Culture by Ed on Instagram!
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. Don’t forget to follow Design & Culture by Ed on Instagram!
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.”
Jonathan Anderson is nailing it again, being in his surreal element. Back before Anderson started producing his in-your-face de-gendered mood-driven menswear in 2008 – the “shared wardrobe” concept that ironically led to him being practically frogmarched by his fans into expanding into in-your-face de-gendered mood-driven womenswear a few years later – he had plans to be an actor. That plan changed during an audition for Juillard in New York, where he performed a piece from the in-your-face ’90s play The Pitchfork Disney by Philip Ridley. Nearly a decade later The Pitchfork Disney, which he recently reread, was revived by Anderson as a central element in this first live Milan bow. Anderson said afterwards he’d been moved by “the shock of theater” that the play represented (some of the audience at its premiere in 1991 fainted) to shape a collection that tested our perceptions of clothing and modernity. The BMX handlebars, shattered skate decks and CDs were there to remind us of the intrinsic ephemerality of modernity, and its inevitable descent into anachronism. Anderson tried to add “eating canned goods” to this category of faded fads while speaking to the Italian press, but these pieces seemed more like witty acts of wearable assemblage. There was certainly a cheekiness to the project. The embedded bar codes made consumption provocatively both the ends and the means of engagement. “Fashion is a very modern device,” he said. “But it is not a modern act.” To underline the illusion of modernity he cast Rembrandt as the protagonist in his fashion play via intarsia reproductions on knitwear and prints on sneakers featuring the artist’s leery etching, Self-portrait in a Cap, Wide-eyed and Open-mouthed, from 1630. The nearly 400 year-old selfie stressed that while technology upgrades, the way in which we use it stays pretty constant. All these devices – along with industrial gloves, a stock photo of an apple-eating kid, and hardware-store door hinges – were placed within or adjacent to borderline generic contemporary canons of clothing. This created a have your cake and eat it result: you could wear JW Anderson-issued versions of 2023 uniform, and through those in-your-face interventions included within them simultaneously signal that you understood the narrative was entirely contingent – just a wearable moment in time.
Jonathan Anderson is in his surrealist element, and his work has never felt so liberated and full of expression as now. The autumn-winter 2022 collection for Loewe, which has caused a stir on social media, is an intriguing and confident take on all things erotic and kinky, conveyed through impeccable and innovative craftsmanship. But also, in times when reality becomes outrageous and nonsensical, it’s only logical that fashion should start to reflect illogicality. Anderson’s new season clothes included the following: a mini trapeze dress with a car trapped in the hem; tube dresses with high-heel pumps stuffed down them; rough-cut shearling pervily butting against latex; shoes entirely sunk in some sort of drawstring-bag galoshes; and lots of balloons: red ones squeezed between shoe straps and oozing from bandage-dress drapery; brown and beige ones blown up as bras, the knots bobbling along as obscene parodies of nipples. “A balloon creates tension,” Anderson observed. “It will pop. It won’t last forever.”
Surrealism – the art movement that turned pre–WW II mass psychological tension into art in the late 1930s – has never been more relevant. But Anderson was already going surreal-ward last season – reveling in the freedom of being unshackled from fashion rules, doing things instinctively, without reason. It parallels a time when it was only human to respond dementedly to the trampling of order all around us. But there’s plenty of method in Anderson’s madness. His opening series of short leather, cap-sleeve dresses, the skirts molded to seem as if swishing in the wind, had a lot of Réne Magritte about them. The polish and luxurious colors also had a lot to say about Loewe’s fundamental materials and skills as a leather-based house. Anderson mentioned that he’d also been looking at feminist art. There were references to the surrealist Meret Oppenheim (all the fluffy fur) and Lynda Benglis, who uses poured latex (the rubber tanks and mini-dresses), that art-knowledgeable people would clock as footnotes. Still, the biggest art-Anderson-Loewe connection was set out before the audience in the center of the show: a series of squashes by Anthea Hamilton. The British sculptor and Anderson have already got together on Hamilton’s art performances at the Tate. The squashes, it turns out, were constructed for her in leather by craftspeople at Loewe. There’s clever marketing in all of these interconnections, these compliments to the intelligence of avant-garde, art-appreciating Loewe women of the world. They buy fashion for such things as gallery openings and art fairs: Loewe, in all its wild eccentricities, is a uniform for them.