His mind’s eye
JW Anderson introduces the places that inspire his work
The endlessly original designer JW Anderson talks to Tamsin Blanchard about the places he finds creatively refreshing, beginning with the gallery where he presented his latest show. Photographs by Harry Mitchell
The last time I interviewed Jonathan Anderson, four years ago, he was working from a small studio in Shacklewell Lane in Dalston, east London. He had a team of only four, and his autumn/winter 2011 womenswear collection, with its neon-coloured paisleys and its strange, hairy shoes, had been greeted with rave reviews.
I met him at the flat that he was in the process of moving into or out of (I wasn’t quite sure) above a computer-game shop on Kingsland High Street. The room was bare apart from two chairs that looked as if they had been rescued from skips, and sheets of A4 photocopies and books that were the references for the new collection he was working on. Back in those days he was working 24/7, not stopping even on Christmas Day. He was turning out collections of both womenswear and menswear (which is what he started with), and was a consultant for the British basics company Sunspel.
Four years is not long, but in fashion it is an eternity. Designers are feted and fail within shorter time spans. But Anderson has been busy. In September 2012 he collaborated with Topshop to make a shop within a shop, selling everything from kilts to loafers, from bat-patterned jumpers (‘I’ve never seen anything sell so fast’) to pencils and notebooks. It was one of Topshop’s most successful collaborations to date (there was a second collection the following season).
Then, in September 2013, Anderson was appointed the creative director of the luxury-goods house Loewe, the Hermès of Spain, which is owned by LVMH, which in turn invested in his own company. He now divides his time between his London HQ (which has been upscaled to an entire threestorey industrial building not far from his old one) and the Loewe design studio in Paris (on his request, it was relocated from Madrid). He produces 10 collections a year, including his own increasingly
important collections for pre-fall and resort. While the mega brands Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Dior and Gucci flew their guests to far-flung destinations including Seoul, Palm Springs and New York for their resort shows, Anderson organised an away day closer to home: he took a small group of fashion editors and buyers to Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge. But the location was key to giving a sense of atmosphere to the collection.
Kettle’s Yard was once the home of Jim Ede and his wife, Helen. Ede was a curator at the Tate Gallery in London and a great friend of Ben and Winifred Nicholson. He was a man with an incredible eye and an uncompromising vision, but by all accounts was a nightmare to live with. Everything had to be in its place at all times. It was not only the painting that mattered to him, but the way the painting was framed and hung, how it was positioned within a room, the furniture it was with, the way the light and the shadows fell on it. It is not surprising, then, that his home (which was bequeathed to the University of Cambridge in 1966 with the proviso that nothing could be moved from its original position) should appeal so much to Anderson, a designer with a very singular eye and an astonishingly clear vision. Two weeks after his presentation, Kettle’s Yard was closed for a twoyear period of renovation.
Speaking of how his life has changed in the four years since we last met, Anderson tells me, ‘My life is very different from what it was. I hope I haven’t changed; I hope I’ve become a lot more focused than I was. When you deal with two brands, that’s 10 collections a year plus leather goods plus sunglasses plus perfumes and campaigns. It is a very intense process, and you have to reconsider your life a bit.
‘I soak up everything and I can be very obsessive about things and then completely reject them. So it is sometimes quite difficult because even in my personal life I want, want, want something, then I get it and then when I’ve got it, I’m over it. I will always reject something in the end. My biggest challenge is to not do that.’
Anderson has been very smart at carving out a niche for himself. There are now 40 people in his team including his first CEO, Simon Whitehouse. ‘It’s really enjoyable. I’m in a very lucky position having LVMH to help me and invest in part of my company,’ he says.
While he has well and truly found his place in the fashion world, he is far from complacent. ‘The minute you are comfortable where you are at you need to move, you need to find another search engine. I don’t want the brand to be narrowed into one direction. I think it’s important that we are always on our toes with JW Anderson and Loewe. Both need to react to what’s happening out there. That’s how youth culture works – it’s moving so fast. It’s the same reality, the goalposts just get bigger. “You’re never there” is my biggest mantra.’
The most striking change from four years ago is that Anderson now has time off. It is timetabled into his schedule (a year in advance). And while he is constantly processing the stuff he sees around him, it means he is enjoying spending time at home as well as rootling around in bookshops and returning to the galleries that inspire him.