“I know this sounds ridiculous, but recently I’ve been fascinated by the sound the wind makes when it goes through trees,” says Jonathan Anderson in a deep drawl, surprisingly sonorous given the sweet mien his baby blue eyes and boy-band hair suggest. The Irish designer and I are in the middle of a Zoom call at 7:30am UK time, talking about trees. “It’s the first time I worked out that it’s actually a collective of leaves making the sound, and I thought ‘What would it be like if I were to break that down in music for a show, to take a few sounds we’re familiar with and dissect them into something atmospheric, you know what I mean’?”
The Covid-19 pandemic, while responsible for many horrors, has also provided some unexpected blessings. For the first time in seven years, Anderson is not on the Eurostar headed on his weekly journey from his Victorian home in east London to his Place Saint-Sulpice office in Paris. Instead, like almost everyone in the world, Anderson has spent much of his time in lockdown taking a magnifying glass to his surroundings.
At the age of 36 Anderson is the widely feted creative director of his eponymous label JW Anderson, and of Loewe, the LVMH-owned Spanish heritage brand famed for its supple leather accessories. Few designers helm two brands any longer—the Nineties saw a wave, including John Galliano, Marc Jacobs and the late Karl Lagerfeld—and even fewer manage to sustain the momentum of both.
Instead, Anderson’s accolades continue to stack up year after year. In 2015, he won the top prize in both men’s and womenswear categories at the British Fashion Council awards, an unprecedented feat. He is also a permanent jury member for the LVMH Prize and was named a trustee of the Victoria & Albert Museum by former UK prime minister Theresa May in 2019. To call him an overachiever would be an understatement; he once even described his own ambition as “Machiavellian.”
“Of course there’s an obsession to be the best; otherwise, why bother?” he shrugs.
The Importance Of Making
What struck me repeatedly throughout our conversation was Anderson’s hyper-awareness both of his own character and the cultural zeitgeist, forever using his stage to draw attention to the many collaborators and craftsmen behind his work. “It’s imperative after [this pandemic] that we start to better understand how we make things and who makes them and not take them for granted,” he says. “When we know the story of a product that’s made well, we’ll buy things that will last longer.”
For example, at JW Anderson this year, his team has developed a new double-sided fabric for bags that uses 40 recycled bottles each. Traditional fishing basket weavers in England are also being employed to create the label’s upcoming straw totes. At Loewe, Japanese potter Takuro Kuwata—who was a finalist in the 2018 Loewe Craft Prize, a competition Anderson started in 2016 to spotlight artisans around the world—collaborated on Anderson’s forthcoming fall-winter 2020 collection by making bejewelled panels that appear on dresses and bell charms resembling sea urchins on soft clutches.
Anderson’s fascination with craft in all its forms, be it knitting, weaving or woodwork, is well-documented, but ceramics is by far his favourite, and he is an avid collector of bowls, figurines and buttons by the likes of Hans Coper and Lucie Rie. “Pottery is a kind of physical output where you have to connect the brain to the hand in a very technical way,” says Anderson, who launches into a stream of consciousness when impassioned. “It’s a difficult skill and such a tangible kind of art; it speaks to me.”