Come Together, Right Now
What do London's most experiential designer and Japan’s most popular mass retailer have in common? The answer is far more complex than you’d think.
This season, Jonathan Anderson, as his namesake label JW Anderson, teams up with Uniqlo for one of the most anticipated fashion collaborations.
“We always talk about collaborations being a very new phenomenon, but collaborations have been going on since the days of Salvador Dali. It is not a new phenomenon,” says Jonathan Anderson. “The whole point of a collaboration is that you collaborate with an individual or a company or a brand or a product, and that you want to learn from them and they want to learn from you. If you do something where you don’t want to learn, the collaboration never works. And we know which ones worked and which ones didn’t. I’ve been shopping at Uniqlo for years, and it’s been so amazing to meet Mr Tadashi, who started Uniqlo. When you speak to him, you kind of realise that, yes, we are two different brands, but we’re fundamentally doing the same thing. And through that process, you share information and I learn from him as much as he learns from me.”
London-based, 33-year-old Jonathan Anderson first made his name in the fashion industry in 2008. Since then, he has collaborated with different creative forces across the industry—from Spanish publisher Luis Venegas and English photographer Ian David Baker to rapper A$AP Rocky. In 2012, he produced a capsule collection with Topshop and, in 2013, another collection with Versus under Donatella Versace. That same year, Anderson was named Creative Director of Spanish luxury brand, Loewe under LVMH.
“For me, Loewe is a collaboration. I would do anything for that brand as much as I’d do anything for Uniqlo because you invest in it; you put in your time. It’s like today, I want to be here, I want to talk to people, because I believe in this project. It’s something that I hope many people will enjoy,” Anderson says, during the launch of the collection at Tate Modern in London.
The collection, which goes on sale 22nd of September, is composed of 33 pieces including reversible trench coats, sweaters with Irish military details, graphic T-shirts, school boy scarves—all drawing references from Anderson’s own attire.
“The collection was kind of based a lot on the idea of me. I’m wearing the clothing so I want something which is personal. I remembered seeing a piece by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, a French sculptor who moved to London over a hundred years ago. He lived for a very short period of time. What I really like is he was able to do a singular line to create an emotion; for me, it was very Japanese, this idea of line drawing that’s very pure and emotional. I saw these two drawings and I thought, for me, he is one of my favourite sculptors and illustrators, and it’d be nice to do something which is very personal to me,” Anderson explains of the graphic on the T-shirt that he is wearing from the collection.
Despite Anderson’s ever-gender bending stance on runway fashion—in the past, he’s put guys in skirts and tiny crop tops—his personal wardrobe is surprisingly simple: a sweater, a T-shirt, jeans and a pair of plain trainers.
Instead of diving into the avant-garde, the designer embraces the practical. At his recent Spring 2018 menswear show in Florence, Anderson presented wearable cotton chinos, and basic jeans paired with heart-print graphic tees and sweaters—all echoing the highly-wearable pieces from the Uniqlo collection.
“I ACTUALLY THINK—AND MAYBE THIS MIGHT SOUND WEIRD—NORMALITY IS NEARLY THE NEW AVANT-GARDE. WHEN I LOOK AT FASHION TODAY, IT’S BECOME SO CONFLATED THAT I THINK NORMALITY IS NEARLY MORE SCARY THAN CRAZINESS.”
“We are entering a very interesting moment where there are no boundaries. How great is that? We should kind of just embrace that part. I don’t care what anyone is wearing as long as they are happy wearing it. That’s my biggest thing. It has been my philosophy from the very beginning. For me, the white shirt is the same for both men and women, it’s just sized differently.”
Yes, the genderless approach. Many pieces from the collection carry the same designs for both men and women. For instance, the plaid puffer jackets—an item Anderson was very insistent on—as he has tried to develop them for his own label many times but failed. And with Uniqlo’s technology, he has finally been able to “make it right”. But aside from the more technical aspect of things, Anderson’s design process has been seemingly similar.
“EVERYTHING I DO, I APPROACH IT IN EXACTLY THE SAME WAY. I DON’T SEE ANY DIFFERENCE. FOR ME, IF YOU GIVE ME A PIECE OF PAPER, I’LL DESIGN ANYTHING YOU WANT. I FEEL LIKE THE SAME ENERGY GOES INTO THIS LIKE THAT OF A MUSEUM SHOW; IT’S JUST ABOUT PUTTING IDEAS OUT”
Anderson continues, “It’s compartmentalisation. If I find a creative process restricting, I don’t do it. I like to collect a lot of imagery and textiles; I watch films too. The collection is like ‘a day in the life of’. I work very quickly on things. It’s a very spontaneous, random act, and there is no formula to it. Sometimes, it can come from a very small thing, and sometimes, it can come from 500 things.”
Upon closer inspection, you’ll find that the clothes certainly draw references from a lot of small things (but perhaps fewer than 500), and are a mishmash of British heritage and Japanese culture.
“I’ve been obsessed with Japanese culture since I was a child. My grandfather was a textile designer who ran a textile company in Ireland. One of the first things I remember seeing is a book on Hokusai and I’ve always been obsessed by that: the idea of print-making, modernity and reproduction,” Anderson recalls.
“When you look at the history of Japan in terms of modernity, even architecture, it predates any modernity that was happening in the Western world. I am also obsessed with ceramics. I love early Japanese ceramics and how they are passed on generationally. Another thing that I find very interesting is Zen,” he continues. “I think all these things are built into a culture, and the Western world learnt a lot from it. In a weird way, this is what’s nice about working with Uniqlo: the meeting of two perspectives—British and Japanese culture—because there is a huge history in there. Ultimately, it is about the idea of simplifying.”
Although Anderson identifies himself as Irish, a sense of Britishness was very much on his mind when he developed the collection. Reflecting on the UK’s Brexit referendum, he shares his thoughts on the image of British men today. “I don’t think we’ve changed because of Brexit. What I think is important in terms of British design is a kind of circular thing. It keeps looping itself. For me, when I think of a British icon, I think of a fisherman. It symbolises what the country is about, and it symbolises the idea of clothing that is tough, and not fluid. There is harshness to it because of the weather.
“I think what is so interesting is that, in Britain, a lot of very major moments in style have come out of youth cultural movements like punk or dandy. When you are young, you want to be old; when you are old, you want to be young. I thought it’s important that you get to find something in there no matter what age you are,” Anderson says, noting the broad demographic of Uniqlo.
With a mass retailer like Uniqlo, Anderson’s designs are now dispersed all around the world. But in terms of garments, the designer set only one bar for both teams and himself.
“I want to know what these garments will look like in 20 years. I hope one day, in 20 years’ time, I’ll see someone in the street in them, or I’ll find a piece when I go vintage shopping. That’d be the dream.”
The collection is available at selected Uniqlo stores and online from 22nd September onwards. The article appears on Esquire Malaysia, October 2017 issue.