The ruffles and frills that first established Jonathan Anderson as London’s resident provocateur and style pervert when shown on micro shorts and girly bandeaus at his A/W 13 menswear show were back in various guises on his S/S 16 womenswear runway. They flounced on the front of a deliberately frumpy peach dress, fanned out across bodices creating cartoonish, flat silhouettes and, as Keith Haring-esque prints, snaked across skirts tops and trousers. The diversity of usage matches Anderson’s eclectic mentality - he lets various stories emerge from the same starting point; some sensual, some deliberately awkward, some commercial, some futuristic, others almost comedically historical. So mutton of lamb sleeves and corsets jostled for space alongside eighties party frocks and lace pedal pushers. Those mash-ups and contrasts make Anderson’s collections feel rich, and through that significant and complex - they are layered, literally. But, you get the sense increasingly that Anderson is driven by aesthetics and showmanship rather than concepts. He’s pondering taste, not politics or emotion. That’s why his collections so often seem to be about sex - British perversions, fantasies, fetish - they speak to our unspoken desires, our instincts, our gut. He’s musing on how far he can push things, what looks new, what appears current, what references are ripe to be reproduced.
The suggestion of an awareness of bigger topics than fashion often comes in the catwalk theatre, through the words and wit of others. A few seasons ago Anderson, via music maestro Michel Gaubert, used Big Hard Excellent Fish’s Imperfect List to subtly dig at ‘silly pathetic girlies’, ‘stinking rich females in furs’ and ‘evil gossiping fashion bastards’, and today he called on Fran Lebowitz to throw some shade, using quotes from Martin Scorsese’s documentary. Lots of the passages referred to fame, suggesting that Anderson was critiquing celebrity, status and those who are held up as icons. That explains why Gaubert cut the passages against very modern icons like Justin Bieber and Rhianna. All together, it suggested a certain loftiness - a sense that Anderson is about smart clothing, not easy, commercial celeb-friendly red carpet pieces and ‘armies’ of famous admirers. That said, you couldn’t help but consider the context in which these clothes will end up. There’s a certain irony to the fact Lebowitz once said, ‘designer clothes worn by children are like snowsuits worn by adults. Few can carry it off successfully.’ Yes, not many can carry these off - even some of the willowy child-like women who wore them on the runway looked oddly awkward. Few of these pieces will have a life beyond the flat image. But that’s apt for a designer whose forte is control of image and conjuring up a sense of taste and a curated life through campaigns, social media, look-books. Amusingly, the garments that do make it off the runway will be adopted by the street style pack into that same circus of fame-hunting, posing shallowness that the likes of Lebowitz would laugh at so heartily - the prints and cuffed trousers will live on in the image archives of Tommy Ton on the back of some Instagram starlet. A few pieces will find a more balanced existence - the closing look, a sweet short skirt and lace shirt suggested consideration for the women who will buy this in stores, not those who will social media it from the front row or borrow it from a PR for the shows. Tunics with zips at the collar and cuffs and delicate semi-sheer sweaters had similar commercial potential. They'll have a life beyond the intellectualising at the show, and outside of the fashion circus. Somewhere between Lebowitz and Sartorialist.