Craft versus commerce is a tussle fashion has long wrestled with. How to create something precious, without the price-tag rendering it unattainable? How to create something handworked in the age of the machine? That was the idea J.W. Anderson took as the overarching theme behind his Spring/Summer 2012 collection - a pretty hefty call for a designer only on his second womenswear presentation.
The question is, did Anderson's talent stand the test. It's a strong yes. He managed to move his look on just enough to excite a fashion fraternity obsessed with the new without alienating that same audience. That was because his message was clean, clear and simple - the craft came through in the textures, the machine in the graphic, streamlined shapes, and the contrasts between the two was where the magic lay. Drop-waist shift dresses were smothered in raffia embroidery or hand-cut leather chain-links, aerated suede bands wrapped neat, drippy dresses actually buttoned together from a couple of old cardigans, and ramrod-straight trousers were cut in soft striped poplin, one step up from pyjamas. That was a game Anderson played last season with paisley silk, but this time the top half became a canvas of cut-out leather, metal eyelets, lacing, contrasting textures wrapping the body. The same was toyed with on the shoes - pointy-point stilettos that contrasted raffia, leather and 'fake swansdown' - and across pleat-sided gladiator dresses and sleeveless coats. Thos had an undeniable air of recent Balenciaga to them - but rather than plagiarism, it felt as if Anderson had simply alighted on the same indefinable mood that makes Nicolas Ghesquiere's work chime so perfectly with the here-and-now. They're both thinking about how woman should look for the future. That's exciting.
Last season's paisley made a reappearance, reworked on a couple of sleeveless suits and a pair of round-collared shirts, teamed with floppy kilts and cut in crisp cotton. The industrial, however, came across in backpack strapping, itself embroidered to within an inch of its life and slung over those paisleys, or in the prints themselves, blown-up and distorted as if seen through a microscope. That was the future - the past came in the fact the printers have been going since 1700, likewise the fact Anderson's kid-mohair manufacturer started in 1819. Even his t-shirts, made by Sunspel, can be traced back to 1860. Anderson has always made a point of producing his clothes in the UK - the Craft Council should have been sponsoring this outing, so compelling an argument was it for the handiwork and tradition that makes British fashion truly great.
So, suffice it to say, there was a lot going on in this collection. That in itself isn't difficult to do - but the nigh-on impossible part is to make it all look effortless, to pitch every decorative element perfectly against the others, and more than anything else know exactly what you're doing and what you want to say. Adding a black leather hem and collar to a bubble-gum pink mattress-ticking trousersuit could easily look horrendous. Likewise the beautiful-ugly pitch of some of Anderson's shoes, where he superglued a Nike Air sole to a golf cleat. Okay, they were truly hideous - but they were done with intention, intelligence and conviction, just like the rest of this collection. That's what made it all work, and work so very wonderfully.