Creative block is not a problem in the world of JW Anderson. For his spring/summer 2016 show at London Collections: Men, the capital’s premier menswear designer presented a plethora of ideas – all shined to a gleam expected from someone who has since 2013 also designed for LVMH luxury house Loewe.
If a collection was any more confident in its significant abilities, it could have been accused of being boastful. Anderson, who founded his brand in 2008, has swiftly risen to become the complete package – a designer with a unique and sometimes downright weird point of view who sells clothes and has celebrity fans such as Alexa Chung, Pixie Geldof and Kim Kardashian.
The Northern Irish designer was an early champion of the androgyny that is now a fully fledged trend, putting male models in corsets two years ago. In tandem with these headline-winning catwalk antics, Anderson has the commercial cred to win the attention of a fashion conglomerate like LVMH. Stocked at major retailers such as Matchesfashion and Net-a-Porter, the label is a strong seller.
For Sunday’s show, the androgyny was moved on a touch, with shock value replaced by a kind of gentleness. Shapes were mostly soft and rounded, ranging from those trousers to shirts with polo necks and cropped jumpers cut to reveal, and caress, a sliver of the model’s back. There were also flesh-coloured mesh sleeveless T-shirts scrawled with silver paint, and buckled vaguely medieval-looking heels so unusual that they perhaps defied modern ideas of gender altogether. Using raw denim, crisp calico, buffed soft leather and hand-knitted cotton, this is a label now in luxury territory. The fabrics looked of the highest quality.
Abstract ideas were anchored with pop-culture references. It was this combination that tethered the collection and will make it work cerebrally and commercially. The trouser shape was a nod to those worn by David Bowie during his mid-70s Young Americans period. Some pieces came with patches that had the words “flight” and “orbital” on them, and there were knits – sure to be statements for next season – with patterns that looked like a stocks and shares ticker.
There were even nods to DIY, with most models wearing a safety pin brooch with tiny silver charms of a spanner, axe, ratchet and pliers. Backstage, Anderson’s explanation of the show was as varied as the clothes on the catwalk. He mentioned a desire to “slow the tempo down, and reduce fashion to things like calico”, the fabric typically used for the prototypes of clothes.
He then namechecked a “boy in space with his naive take on doing his own thing” and both a youth’s bedroom or a shed full of objects, like those DIY trinkets, as inspiration. “You arrange them to something that means something to you, adding value to something that has no value,” he said.
Of course, everyone’s take on youthful naivety is based on their own experience and this, arguably, is where the two disparate sides of Anderson’s world come together. At the grand old age of 30, Anderson is still that boy arranging things just so. It’s just that now he applies that to clothes, and does it on a global scale. At first glance, this collection could be seen as abstract but, picked apart, it was actually very personal.
Sunday was the third day of London Collections: Men. The shows began on Friday with Topman Design and the event, now in its second year, lasts four days. The number of brands on the schedule has increased from 46 to 77. Attention for men’s shows, usually the quiet brother of the flashier womenswear season, is growing – partly because the menswear market globally is doing the same.
Menswear’s growth currently eclipses womenswear – 4.5% year-on-year compared with 3.7% – and this can be seen locally, too. Last year, menswear contributed £12.9bn to the UK economy.
With shows from Coach and London talent Craig Green the highlights so far along with Anderson, the shows conclude on Monday with presentations from Tom Ford and Christopher Kane.
The headline buzz is likely to be on Burberry, the biggest British brand on the schedule. Christopher Bailey, chief creative and chief executive officer, can be relied on for the final catwalk fireworks for the end of the season. The focus will then turn to Milan, where the menswear shows begin on Thursday.
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