Cur­rent fash­ion wun­derkind J.W. An­der­son’s col­lec­tion of clas­sics for Uniqlo pushes the cre­ative into un­charted ter­ri­tory. By Alice Bir­rell.


Fash­ion wun­derkind J.W. An­der­son’s col­lec­tion of clas­sics for Uniqlo pushes the cre­ative into un­charted ter­ri­tory.

Above the teem­ing sum­mer masses skirt­ing the River Thames, Jonathan An­der­son is en­sconced in the up­per reaches of the Tate Mod­ern’s new­est wing. He is seated in a jut­ting cor­ner en­clave with the ninth-floor win­dows of the brick Blavat­nik win­dow flung open to the oc­ca­sional blus­ter. A ca­bal of rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Ja­panese re­tailer Uniqlo, with whom he’s just un­veiled a 33-piece col­lab­o­ra­tion to an assem­bly of press, sur­rounds him. Rather than the sharply dis­so­nant, jig­saw aes­thetic An­der­son is known for, every piece is stream­lined, sub­dued, clas­sic. The project caught out the de­signer as much as the re­sult did the me­dia pack.

“It’s quite scary, be­cause Uniqlo has al­ready cre­ated all of this,” he says, al­lud­ing to sta­ples like neu­tral T-shirts, denim, cash­mere jumpers and tai­lored sep­a­rates just shown in the airy gallery-turned-show­room a few floors down. “It was this kind of very tall or­der for me of ac­tu­ally fo­cus­ing on every sin­gle de­tail,” he ex­plains of the brief to cre­ate Bri­tish clas­sics from Uniqlo, a brand that is known for pro­vid­ing af­ford­able but high-qual­ity fash­ion.

Imag­in­ing An­der­son daunted is hard. Once an un­known Lon­don Col­lege of Fash­ion grad­u­ate from North­ern Ire­land, and now head of a LVMH-backed name­sake la­bel he founded in 2008 that is a Lon­don fash­ion week must-see, An­der­son’s tra­jec­tory is one of fash­ion’s speed­i­est. In 2013, he was ap­pointed cre­ative di­rec­tor of LVMH’s lan­guish­ing Span­ish lux­ury house Loewe, a la­bel he’s since re­sus­ci­tated with a cul­ture-rich bedrock that re­flects his un­bounded cu­rios­ity. He now jug­gles two de­mand­ing re­mits: one churn­ing out edgy non­gen­der-de­fin­i­tive cloth­ing for East Lon­don types (J.W. An­der­son); the other in­tel­li­gent cloth­ing for Loewe’s top-tier clien­tele. For one of fash­ion’s fastest movers, a cot­ton T-shirt would surely be a breeze.

“It ended up me kind of, in a weird way, de­sign­ing for my­self for the first time,” he says, lean­ing back in a wooden chair in jeans, a T-shirt and black Nikes. That meant try­ing things on, which he never usu­ally does “be­cause I’m very tall”, he says with a half smile, ash-blue eyes glint­ing, and by pic­tur­ing shop­ping for a jumper but buy­ing some­thing else. “What would be that other thing?” he says he posed to him­self. “I wanted to cre­ate a few of them.”

Half an hour ear­lier, the an­swer to that ques­tion was dis­played on a gag­gle of mod­els – boys and girls – who lined up in all-over tar­tan ver­sions of Uniqlo’s ubiq­ui­tous Ul­tra Light Down puffers, pro­por­tions blown up, wrapped in rugby-stripe scarves in pri­mary colours made with Uniqlo’s in­su­lat­ing Heat­tech. Fair Isle in­tar­sia knits and moss Bar­bour-es­que quilted jack­ets were in the mix as well as her­ring­bone over­coats ready to launch to mil­lions of Uniqlo cus­tomers, in­clud­ing Aus­tralians, this month. By tap­ping into the prag­ma­tism of her­itage util­i­tar­ian gar­ments, An­der­son was re­act­ing to the mul­ti­plic­i­ties of to­day. “We see so much on a daily ba­sis; we are bom­barded by im­agery, so ul­ti­mately things just have to be kind of sim­plis­tic and easy.”

But An­der­son’s as­cent hasn’t been as sim­ple and with­out con­tro­versy. For his au­tumn/win­ter ’13/’14 col­lec­tion, he sent men down the run­way in ruf­fle shorts and tube tops, draw­ing ire from some of the tra­di­tional fash­ion

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