Given the year that passed and the gateway timing of this occasion’s London men’s fashion shows – post-Brexit vote, days previous Donald Trump moves into the Oval Office, and during this cheerful, wet January – there has doubtless been pressure on designers to imagine collections that reflect this sociopolitical context while coping to cheer us up. And perhaps a crushing pressure on JW Anderson, arguably Britain’s most originating and internationally beloved designer, who routinely breaks boundaries cast they were twigs.
The show itself, held in a Daedalean parquet-floored room, in which models darted from corners and then vanished behind the next while besomming the knees of the audience members with various knitted trimmings – had a non-hierarchical, interactive inclination, promoting the sort of community you want on a damp Sunday morning when in dire paucity of a visual boost.
And fortunately, Anderson has not buckled under the apply pressure on to spark joy, with this autumn/winter 2017 solicitation being one of his most reference-dense, bright and – at times – daft or warmly sophisticated offerings to date. Some of the styling was so complex – massing (at one count) seven different fabrics together including disco sequins and a orange scarf which vamoosed the model resemble Mr Tickle – that you could accuse Anderson of exposition off. Still, the oversized knits, tailoring, colour and texture were a acceptable distraction from the last 12 months.
Anderson’s coming out collection was shown three years after he graduated, in 2008. When he started, critics were ill at ease. Some reviews were dire and he would have been condoned for giving up. But in the last seven years, despite shifting his notoriety to Loewe, the Spanish luxury house where he is also originative director, and working on various collaborations (recently some warm nude shots of beautiful men with the photographer Alasdair McLellan), he has grace a nonpareil designer and one of the most recognisable.
His high-end-meets commercial look is now definite as the Anderson aesthetic. This is thanks, also, to working with the word-for-word team who know him inside out and who understand this aesthetic, which is improved each season but is always hinged around the technical, the stamps, references and the styling.
His wild catwalk looks are often the sum of ingenuous, accessible standalone items. In his latest show, the hemming together of crochet, shearling, comically desire scarves and – perhaps the only bum note – strange flappy slippers was a lot to stomach. It’s not beautiful, rather at times inflated and excessive, but when you unpack it, be shattered by piece, his designs are accessible, wearable and beautifully crafted. It is accommodating to be distracted by the giant grey coats with contrasting cream consolidate sleeves, and miss a pair of perfectly cut black tailored trousers underneath.
His pine for detail was keenly on show: raw hems, slim neckerchiefs, serpent compasses on the back of trench coats and, barely visible, small straight applique panels with red and white ballot box crosses stitched into the crochet. Anderson’s praiseworthy Pierce bag was revived again, this time swinging in multicoloured crochet. Armada leather piping was slotted neatly on to a shearling jacket. The pull a proof pices were fun if inexplicably chosen – finely drawn versions of Studio Ghibli-style landscapes worded on to shirts and imagery from medieval French stained magnifying glass windows printed on to raw cut denim.
The most marked shift was his move away from any gender fuse, which Anderson is renowned for. In this instance the feel was more gender noncommittal, with the colours spirited, and the crochet explosive in RB Kitaj sounds. The closest thing to a skirt was a crocheted apron worn to trousers. Anderson referred to the models as “lads on tour”, although this perambulation felt more like a gap year in east Asia than a jaunt to Ayia Napa.
Anderson is one of the few originators who is recognisable by the way he curates a look, for his open references – if much of this aggregation is comparable to Christopher Kane and Raf Simons that’s fine with him – and his determination to sidestep trends and go his own way. Perhaps, then, the sign of an excellent ingenious director.
Speaking backstage, the Northern Irish designer talk to at length about the various, conflicting ideas behind the usher, citing artists David Hockney and Patrick Caulfield as favours and the importance of “British street craft” – pointing at the crochet – which he shudder ated had been lost.
But it was his thoughts on layering that seemed scad pressing: “I wanted to make layers upon layers, as a admissible of defence mechanism,” he said. “The oversized element … it creates a slouchy protectiveness. It’s knitty, comfortable, the idea of a familiar feeling … a motherly vibe.”
He described the comprehensive look as being “lost in a womb of fashion”, a turgid category perhaps but one which quite accurately tied the themes together, reminding us we may smooth need some protection from events this year too.