In a couple of months, J.W.Anderson is opening his first mixed media exhibition, Disobedient Bodies at The Hepworth, Wakefield. He’s always been a curator - gathering ideas and visuals from all over and mixing them into a new proposition. Aptly, given his history of pushing gender-bending fashion before the rest of the pack, a sense of warping form underpinned his A/W 17 show - sleeves hung long, scarfs trailed along the floor, gathering dust. He’d also warped the surfaces with a range of flashy finishes and textiles. Anderson deals well in a street style hit - remember those checked knits? Or those anchor logo sweatshirts? Or that ubiquitous pierce bag. The latter was back in force on today’s runway. So too was a lot of colourful crochet - sure to be a hit amongst shoppers with showier tastes.
One got the sense that a gaze beyond fashion has been formative for Anderson. For A/W 17, odd ecclesiastical details appeared - one thought of church textures and stained glass windows. Paint decorated jeans and knits with long tassled threads gave the collection the sense of something touched by hand, something laboured over. Anderson’s collections always feel crafty - he has an interest in British arts and craft moments, in antiques and pottery. That came through in the paintbox colours and tactile elements - they felt very now, in keeping with the maximalist spirit that’s dominating today’s fashion landscape thanks to the Gucci effect. So too did the silly shoes with floppy embellishments and the Miyake-tribute pleats. Fun enough, but in the classic chilly, cerebral Anderson way.
‘Cerebal’ is a complicated word in fashion today - it’s a hard time for over thinkers and intellects. Nonchalance is big news right now. It’s not sex that sells anymore, it’s a sense of irreverence and apathy. That’s the winning recipe behind Vetements, Balenciaga and co. Anderson’s collections stand apart from this mood - they look considered, worked, oddly planned, sometimes forced. The references are complex, the execution clever, the twists and elaborate elements well planned and artful. They try hard. They demand the same input from their wearers - the shapes aren’t oversized and easy, the surfaces don’t offer any quick wit or clever slogans. They’re not easy to like, or especially easy to wear - sure, there’s commercial pieces tucked in amongst it all, but the main story is always the mad stuff. But isn’t fashion meant to challenge? After all, as they say, it’s the effort that counts.