Creating a collection for Uniqlo was a labour of love for designer Jonathan Anderson, says Eva Wiseman
There is an unnerving busy-ness to Jonathan Anderson: his daily schedule planned six months in advance, the small mountain of iPhones beside his coffee and the way his conversation slips from business ethics to the history of Japanese ceramics in the same sentence. But this is how the 32-yearold fashion designer, who oversees his own label as well as the Spanish luxury brand Loewe, thrives: leaping from one idea to the next – from Paris to London to Madrid, to his country retreat near Norfolk. He spends a lot of time mid-air. You get the sense he would really, really like a cigarette.
He is at Tate Modern today, caffeinated and well-lit in this small room up near the roof. Earlier, as a Uniqlo exec presented Anderson’s first collection for the brand, the designer stood slightly hidden in a crowd, and blushed to be described as “an artist”.
Anderson, who last year put on an exhibition of fashion, art and sculpture at the Hepworth Wakefield, doesn’t even call himself a designer. What he then? A rare pause. “What I think I ultimately do,” he says, taking a huge sip from his tiny coffee, “is curate. I’m curating people, curating campaigns, curating stores, curating collaborations. It is about taking all these components and arranging them in a way that makes sense. It’s like doing brain zen: you have to arrange objects into a certain configuration that feels… right.” He’s as notorious for his near-obsessional collecting of art and craft as he is for the “challenging” (he called them “ugly”) gender-unspecific clothes he first showed in 2008, including the 2013 bustiers for men, worn with ruffle-topped riding boots on hairy legs. But listening to him talk, even in this PR-ed environment, even about things as mundane as sock design, it becomes clear that both are part of some larger vision, some grand project of living, created through careful juxtaposition of teapot, or sleeve, or antique nutcracker. “I do have a compulsion about owning certain things,” he says, “because I have to look at it to actually work out why, or how.” Like what? What things? “I’m obsessed by damask napkins at the moment from the 14th, 15th, and 16th century in Great Britain and Ireland.” His grandfather worked for a textile company in Northern Ireland that specialised in camouflage and at home his grandmother would turn the camouflage scraps into ornate bedspreads. “So I think there’s always been this obsession with fabric. There is something that is so magical about it because it lasts for ever.”
His 33-piece collection for Uniqlo is made up of cable knits and Highland tartans, with a few rugby stripes, too (a nod, perhaps, to his brother and dad, both former professional players). There are no feathers, there’s no chainmail, in fact none of the kinky details he made his name with. Instead there are clothes that will remain wearable long after the autumn ends.
“If you design something, it is the person who wears it who will make the clothing,” says Anderson, who claims