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.
Jonathan Anderson left London and showed in Milan this season… to some extent. In the latest in his series of ingenious pandemic alternatives to putting models on a runway, he made a surprise intervention in public. “We have dozens of trucks with billboards of the collection images circulating Milan all day. Juergen Teller is out photographing them with people at gas stations and other stops. Content becomes content. Image becomes pictures of pictures. Fashion becomes part of the landscape”, the designer explained. As a device for creating a widely seen, soon to be endlessly Instagram-replicated public spectacle, it’s just the latest of JW Anderson’s super-smart manipulations of media – right in the middle of the Italian city where the institution of the fashion billboard has been part of the competitive pride of fashion week for years. And this, simply with one photographer and one model, his friend Hari Nef impersonating four pop-cultural ‘characters’ in a Cindy Sherman-esque, and a fleet of truckers. “We don’t have thematics any more. We’re doing bite-sized, light-hearted things like this,” Anderson said. “We have a young demographic, and we’re a small contemporary brand. With all the multiple issues we’re facing – going from one crisis to another crisis – there has to be learning from that. New types and ways of doing things.” Since the pandemic hit Anderson has been acing communication by playing with printed matter in delightful ways. He’s also re-focused his own-brand strategy on “two main seasons, and two experimental ones. So this is one of those experiments.”
Rolled out (literally) around Milan were pictures designed simultaneously to provoke lots of fun and push Gen-Z memory-buttons. “We’re playing with this media paradox in pop culture where there’s this constant going to the past, and bringing it forward. So things are just as valid as they were, but in a different context.” One set is around the movie posters for Carrie – original graphics from Sissy Spacek’s classic 1976 horror role as the awkward teenager who turns out to have gory telekinetic powers of revenge at the school prom. No random choice, that: “I feel like that movie is such an influence on teen TV series being made now,” Anderson acutely observed. Apart from the obvious T-shirt, sweatpant, and pajama-set graphics, there’s a one-shouldered silver silk satin prom dress. Quite ingeniously, it’s photo-printed all around the hem with “hyper realistic” balloons from Carrie’s own prom.
When Jonathan Anderson referenced “metaverse” in his J.W. Anderson collection last week, he said, “I was using it more in an ironic way. The idea that it doesn’t really do anything.” For all its brilliant and hilarious techy surrealism, his Loewe collection was not a wardrobe for the metaverse. In fact, it felt a lot like it was trolling the very idea of our digital lives lived on phones, and the hoopla whipped up around trendy concepts like the metaverse. If our attraction to VR and AR and whatnot is founded in the idea of possibility, Anderson’s collection was a twisted take on how these imaginings translate into real life. He illustrated it in decidedly normal things made abnormal. Shorts were embellished with sparkles that looked like raindrops, as if it had rained crystals. A wool coat had a gilded stain on its lower back “as if you sat on a park bench and it was gold.” Coats and tops were punched with big bathroom eyelets like you’d digitally dragged your most mundane morning surroundings into your wardrobe. Shoes looked like bags, and transparent coats were actually made of leather. Meanwhile, a series of garments satirized our relationship with technology. The sleeves and lapels of a furry coat had fiber optic lights inside them creating the illusion of wetness, the illuminated waistband of trousers made them seem like they were floating, and the entire frame of a coat was lit up. “It’s the idea that you become backlit because everything on a phone is backlit,” Anderson said, referring to the way we see things on our phones and the way our screens light up our faces. Balaclavas with heart-shaped peepholes played on the idea of digital frames. Similarly, the orbital hem of a shirt and the waistband of shorts were bent in separate directions so it looked like you’d skewed them in FaceTune. It evoked the DIY editing accidents you sometimes spot in people’s selfies where the person looks like a supermodel while the retouching process has turned the background into an abstract painting. We all follow someone like that. And those t-shirts and jumpsuits with faces and bodies printed on them like optical illusions? They were worn by the models who posed for them, distorting and reshaping their physiques the way we do it on those beautifying apps.
Anderson’s collection was an exercise in the surreal, but a post-digital era take on the genre, which he said was more “psychotic” in an existential way. “Who are we? Where are we going? Is it real, is it not real? Are we in that moment? Do we believe what we say?” In a world where we’re more fascinated with creating a metaverse than improving the real one, those were good questions.
For autumn-winter 2022, Jonathan Anderson embraces all things “weird”, and seems to be aesthetically torn between the 1980s (sparkly party dresses) and now trending, early 2010s “indie sleaze” (metallic lycra jumpsuits). The JW Anderson collection was planned to be shown live in Milan with a late-night after-party. An IRL event would have enhanced and disrupted this season’s menswear week. As Anderson explained in a preview, however, the party element especially was nixed by Omicron restrictions and the live Milan debut has been pushed back until June. During that preview, Anderson used the word “weird” countless times: most often at a point at which he unlocked the thinking that had led to key elements in this collection. It was “weird” how a documentary on Cristiano Ronaldo inspired him to re-engage with “the limits of hyper-masculinity.” This lead to Anderson’s gleeful excavation of the polo shirt – “there is nothing more quintessential”—as a masculine cipher which he then disrupted by variously lengthening it into a hoop-hemmed dress, rendering it in micro-sequin with a vintage “Glamour Bonnet” hair net advert, or reconfiguring it as a high-shorted playsuit. This last look brought back fond back-in-the-day memories. When not watching documentaries “on everything and anything” Anderson spent much of his time weird-scrolling, and the results inflected this collection. The gorgeous eye-graphic dresses had a chin-strokily John Berger inference yet were sparked by a bout of engaging with the world of YouTube make-up tutorials. The menswear tunics peppered with rubber bands and sweaters featuring tubular protrusions that ran from one side of the hem, between the wearer’s legs, and up to the other hem with both pieces designed to generate sound through contact. “A lot of the materials have these odd sounds qualities that are kind of almost sexual… there’s a kind of tension,” he said. These were the by-product of spiraling into ASMR content on TikTok, another “weird” lockdown stop-off. When Anderson detects weirdness, he is not repelled but stimulated: for him “odd” and “bad taste” hold creative opportunity. Allied with his highly refined sense of beauty, the results are unorthodoxly compelling.
Sometimes, it’s great when nothing makes sense. “Neurotic, psychedelic, completely hysterical” are the terms describing the latest Loewe collection by Jonathan Anderson. After months of digital presentations, the designer was on a mission to mark his comeback runway show at Loewe with a massive creative change. “We’ve had the pandemic, and now we have to come out of it different,” he said. “I think it’s a moment of experimentation. If you’re going to reset after this period, you need to allow a moment to birth a new aesthetic. Start again.” It took place in a purpose-built “blank space.” No props, no artworks, no available rabbit holes of reference to divert attention: just clothes. Three long black column dresses to begin with. Minimal – except for the fact that each had a metal structure beneath, each one thrusting a different 3D geometric shape from stomach, shoulder, hip. The notorious “lumps and bumps” Comme des Garçons collection comes to mind instantly. Then three more ankle-length tube-dresses, one in a blurry pale blue and flesh-colored print; one pale gray, the next primrose yellow. So, was Anderson about to offer up an elegantly calm, relatively straightforward palate-cleansing antidote to the complexities and confusions of stepping out into the world again? Not so fast. He has a restless mind, always fighting against the too-obvious response. “In a weird way, I wanted the collection to be hysterical,” he said. “So that there’s a tension. Because this is a strange moment.” The collection had no moodboard behind, but Anderson provided one clue behind the passages of pastel blues and pinks, the swags and wraps of chiffon – and the wing-like shoulder structure that suddenly threw the collection off the straight and narrow. It was a picture of The Deposition from the Cross, painted by the Italian Mannerist artist Jacopo Pontormo in Florence 1528. Anderson liked all the “ hysteria” of the figures in the painting; something resonated. Back to the collection, there are even more exciting details to love. His fresh-start innovation combined ribbed jersey T-shirt material with golden breastplates – an echo, perhaps, of Claude Lalanne’s work for Yves Saint Laurent in the 1960s. There was an elevation of everyday fabric – white tanks terrifically teamed with chiffon balloon pants—and conceptual reworking of athletic tracksuits in taffeta. “Elevating the normal” as Anderson put it. On the feet were strappy shoes with heels surreally made from birthday candles, bottles of nail polish, a bar of soap. Bags in lavender or red were made from stiff teddy-bear fabric. Nothing made “sense” – but that was the daring and the fascination of this collection. We’re living in surreal times. Jonathan Anderson gets that, and is reflecting it back. Such experimentation with fashion is truly rare these days. Bravo to him for that.