A Ritual Beauty

With a strong, seductive collection this season, is JW Anderson London’s most engaging designer and captivating label?


JWA SS 2020 P1

We can’t really say why, but the first thing that we saw, charmed by JW Anderson’s collection for his eponymous label, are present-day maidens dressed for timeworn rituals in even more ancient sites, such as the Stonehenge. These pilgrims are togged for celebration; their organic-looking garbs suitably trimmed with what look like trinkets made in worship-worthy silver and gold, and crystal. Some of the drapey dresses come with decorated crystal/rope bust-cups, as if the wearers are of higher birth and deserving of the land’s weavers and craftsmen. Even the suits, with pants tied (or gathered) at the hem (forming part of the rope-sandal) to create a delectable slouch (which, interestingly, is also seen in Gucci’s fall 2019 campaign), have a high-priestess swagger about them. Some of the models-as-pagans wear cross-body bags with a trio of fringed pouches—possibly filled with food for the long hike? And those dresses with embellishment-framed cut-outs? Off to a fertility rite!

This isn’t pomp and pageantry, but there is a ceremonial splendour about it. This is dressed-up with attention to seemingly organic details and, perhaps unintended, symbols of emancipation and, clichéd as it might be, empowerment. We can’t ignore the sparkly ropes that frame the breasts in the shape of the infinity symbol, suggesting limitlessness, even eternity.  Or, as a figure eight, despite being on its side, like a reclining Buddha, a powerful homophone in Chinese culture that denotes prosperity. That these shall be the most sought-after dresses during the next Lunar New Year won’t surprise. Worn with a neo-Bohemian attitude, the effect is refreshing in a time when decked out means either Icon Ball-flashy or ‘blogshop’-backed influencer bosh.

JWA SS 2020 G1JWA SS 2020 G2

The craft-like approach to the clothes is, of course, not new to Mr Anderson. Since taking up the creative director position at Loewe in 2013, he has slowly pushed the Spanish label closer towards its artisanal roots, and, with the RTW, a folksy bent without crossing into shabby chic territory that Rachel Ashwell would approve. For his own line, he similarly approaches designing and embellishing with the spirit of crafts that are more in keeping with those found in villages than tribes, and yet the result is not hippy-fied or clothing you’d find in shops in Haight Ashbury, untouched by the passing of time.

As fashion is more and more consumed without considering the worth of the labour behind what is bought, or even the creativity and the skills, Mr Anderson’s ways with shapes and trims (in unexpected permutations and pairings) affirm that skilled hands are involved and can be enjoyed for the tactile qualities of the output too, in ways that are not only inspiring, but also heartfelt. Clothes like these require appreciation that’s not cursory or just visual; they invite both viewer and wearer to explore by touching and feeling.

JWA SS 2020 G3

The ‘traditional’ touches do not, however, mean old-fashioned or even classic. There is a good balance—stores will appreciate—between sufficient unusual pieces that will delight collectors (the jackets with Victorian silhouettes and their bumped up hips, which Mr Anderson described as “Antoinette-ish”) and the more accessible such as goddess gowns (for a pagan mission?), as well as knit dresses and their 3D geometric patterns. The accessories (bags with macrame attachments and fringes) and shoes (bejewelled, roped, espadrille-soled) will no doubt be hits of their own too.

In spirit, the collection may be described as post-modernist if we take into consideration how not linear it is aesthetically, how Mr Anderson has created his own cultural hybridity, tinged with the exotic, if we can call it that, and how natural—as in unforced—the result are. That every ensemble is a tad quirky helps his cause, for sure. We can’t wait to see what he shall be doing for Loewe in Paris.

Photos: JW Anderson

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