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A Fashion Show in a Box? Jonathan Anderson Says Why Not

By Bianca Husodo

Jonathan Anderson, photographed in his London townhouse last year.
 
Kristin-Lee Moolman
Jonathan Anderson, photographed in his London townhouse last year.

Like most of us, Jonathan Anderson is bored of looking at a screen.

The 35-year-old creative director of the fashion namesake JW Anderson declares this through a Zoom call from his studio, matter-of-factly staring into his camera. “I’m bored of being on my phone. I’m bored of emails,” he says. “I think what people want now is tactility.”

A day prior to this call, the JW Anderson team delivered A4-sized parcels to editors, buyers and those who would have been attendees to its fashion show in London, if circumstances were different. The cardboard box came wrapped in a striped cloth on which Anderson had his note screen-printed in a calligrapher’s italic handwriting. “At a time of uneven connections, I thought the show should come to you,” Anderson’s message says. “The portable format makes it playful, engaging and, well, connective.”

Courtesy of JW AndersonWrapped inside a striped cloth on which Jonathan Anderson printed his message is JW Anderson’s ‘show in a box’ parcel for men’s Spring/Summer 2021 and women’s Resort 2021.
Wrapped inside a striped cloth on which Jonathan Anderson printed his message is JW Anderson’s ‘show in a box’ parcel for men’s Spring/Summer 2021 and women’s Resort 2021.

The box contained a distillation of Anderson’s vision for his men’s and women’s ready-to-wear lines, packaged in what he dubs as “mail art.” Later that day, in a video the brand released across the brand’s social media platforms, Anderson demonstrated the unboxing of it. The contrast is apparent: Rather than explaining the essence of his collection backstage after his show to clamouring journalists shoving their phones and recorders in front of his face, Anderson gets to sit down in his well-lit London office against a window that frames the gentle swaying of the verdant trees outside.

“I like this idea that you could have a quiet moment with fashion,” Anderson posits in the call. “Fashion needs to learn to be a bit quieter, less schizophrenic and hungry for likes.”

Courtesy of JW AndersonWhat’s inside the box?  Alongside the show notes and lookbooks are fabric swatches, pressed flowers, a DIY mask designed by artist Pol Anglada, colourful cards printed with aphorisms like “The Future Is Unwritten”.
What’s inside the box? Alongside the show notes and lookbooks are fabric swatches, pressed flowers, a DIY mask designed by artist Pol Anglada, colourful cards printed with aphorisms like “The Future Is Unwritten”.

The past few months, the pandemic has brought the fashion industry’s seemingly unstoppable lightning speed to a screeching halt. As retail slumped and production capacity became limited, Anderson and his team, too, slowed down. Working from each of their homes, they took the inadvertent deceleration to find solutions, to do things differently. He says, “It really shows the power of creativity and what you can do in extreme situations. Creativity sometimes gets more reinvented somehow.”

And reinvented it was.

Instead of resorting to the expected format of a digital fashion show, Anderson dispatched boxes filled with fabric swatches, photographs and pressed flowers. Instead of having models, Anderson had mannequins (“I haven’t worked on a mannequin for many years. It’s been nice to think around a sculptural format.”) and masks designed by artists he discovered online — Pol Anglada for the men’s expressive cartoon characters and Bertjan Pot for the women’s spiralling rope masks — as their faces. (A mask design and a cord to attach it to are part of the parcel for recipients to DIY.)

Courtesy of JW AndersonJW Anderson’s women’s Resort ’21 looks.
JW Anderson’s women’s Resort ’21 looks.

It really shows the power of creativity and what you can do in extreme situations. Creativity sometimes gets more reinvented somehow.

Courtesy of JW AndersonJW Anderson’s men’s Spring/Summer ’21 looks.
JW Anderson’s men’s Spring/Summer ’21 looks.

Craft has always been central to Anderson’s narrative. He’s unafraid to reveal the figurative hand of the artist in his garments. But during these difficult times, his surreal underscoring of this proves to be particularly inventive. A bright orange shirt dress in the men’s Spring ’21 collection, for instance, has Anglada’s mask design woven along the torso down to the feet and looks as if it is meant to be a “hanging tapestry.” A trench cape, meanwhile, is designed to also be a jacket and a hoodie, and is made from a patchworked motley of Mackintosh fabrics. This poring over the handmade takes form in the women’s Resort ’21 pieces as well in bias-cut dresses, pom-pom trims, or a handkerchief-hemmed dress is a collaged swath of different silk scarves.

“I always believed in showing what people handmade, and this period has been really interesting to watch people make things,” Anderson says, alluding to the TikTok craze over recreating the knitted cardigan that Harry Styles wore, which came from Anderson’s previous collection. Exactly a day before his unboxing video premiered, Anderson shared the pattern for the viral cardigan for anyone to download. “We had nearly 24,000 downloads of the pattern,” Anderson shares, proving his point that these weird times have, indeed, ushered in a grand return for the earthbound, the slow, the anthropological.

 

 

Likewise, for his collections, Anderson decidedly sees it as “a letter of optimism.” Recently, the designer has become more excited about not predicting the future and just living in the present. The future, he says, is unwritten. “But I like that [at this moment] fashion can transcend out of its own box.” And in this case, into another Anderson whimsically created.