His mind’s eye

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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.

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