Was this a greatest hits collection?
These days, there is a TV programming trend here: the various cast of old television dramas get together to 话旧 (hua jiu) or reminiscence about the good ’old days. On Channel 5, there is On the Red Dot: Reunions and, on Channel 8, The Reunion (小团剧 or xiaotuanju). Each program banks on the viewers’ love of nostalgia and looks back at old TV series through the eyes of the cast. This reliving of the past are mostly dull, augmenting not the viewer experience. In some ways, the JW Anderson autumn/winter 2023 show is in the same vein, but they engaged the mind far much more, and tugged at the heart strings immensely too. Mr Anderson was looking at Scottish dancer/choreographer Michael Clark’s vast body of work. Both men have never collaborated before (Mr Clark did pair up with the ’80s British label Bodymap. The brand’s designers Stevie Stewart and David Holah had conceived costumes for the dancer’s performances and, in 1986, Mr Clark choreographed a Bodymap show), so this was hardly a reunion. But, it was an exercise at revisiting both their work, concurrently. As Mr Anderson explained in the show notes, “As I looked back through my own archive for this show, resurrecting elements from each collection of the last fifteen years, Michael let me rifle through his. It helped me pinpoint my own obsessions.”
Mr Clark was often described as the choreographer-provocateur who “brought punk to ballet”. He was also a fashion circuit regular: Hussein Chalayan designed his 1988 piece current/SEE, and he choreographed Alexander McQueen’s 2003 Spring/Summer presentation Irere. Mr Clark’s own dance performances in his early years were known for their “circus-like quality”. While Mr Anderson did not quite create a circus for his show, there was a hint of the entertainment in the form of a rink as runway (at the Roundhouse in Camden), and in which three, box-like installations were placed, adjacent to each other. On one, was a Warholian illustration of the male genitalia (in place of Mr Clark’s famed prosthetic dildos!). Another, a photo image of two fingers held up to denote the peace symbol. The third a rift on Coca Cola, but with the text, “Enjoy God’s Disco” instead, followed by the rhetorical “Is there nightlife after death?”. In sum, they seemed to offer a more controlled, even neater version of Mr Clark’s madcap, sexually-charged dance world. JW Anderson fitted this nonconformity (some might consider it deviancy) rather nicely, without quite shaking the conventions associated with current fashion the way Mr Clark did with the orthodoxies of dance.
If you were expecting cut-outs in the rear of pants, exposing bare bums, you’d be disappointment. JW Anderson is beyond what Mr Clark considered of the infamous (and impertinent at that time) buttocks-exposed costumes, design by the late London nightlife impresario Leigh Bowery: “I thought they were a lovely fashion detail”, he told the Barbican Centre in an interview to coincide with the 2020 exhibition Cosmic Dancer. There were, of course, details in the JW collection, but they were in technical finesse, rather than titillating minute parts: wrecked sweater ends (and still decorated with glittery bits), seemingly hand-torn hems of trousers, peplums that moved to the bodice, overalls with zouave-like bottoms (the inverted smiley face a clear reference to Mr Clark), or the triangular legs of the jodhpur-like pants. For those who hoped to own key pieces of JW Anderson’s past, there were smart (but never overly) gray pant suits and checked coats, or those with massive triangular—almost habit-like—collars, or sweater-knit pullovers with tubular necklines. We are partial to those shell tops with a sort-of-half-shawl wrapped asymmetrically to the left, a deconstructed trench coat truncated into a complex top-cape, and those mini-skirts that could have been an obi deliberately worn on the hip, askew.
In paralleling his past output with Michael Clark’s, Mr Anderson strangely made his eponymous work less subversive. There was, of course, the underground vibe of that dress that appeared to be made of Tesco (not the more posh Waitrose) plastic bags, but on the whole the collection was not a rigorous attempt to challenge anything, least of all his own 15-year output. This was, to us a casual look-back, a pleasing replay, a reiteration that was not offensive, penile glory on the chest of a top notwithstanding. In 2016, Michael Clark told the press, “I never really had a plan, except to express myself as purely as possible.” Mr Anderson has had a plan since the quiet birth of JW Anderson in 2008, and he has expressed himself, if not purely, at least unapologetically, and for that, we will look back with him, but we prefer casting our sight forward. Something greater awaits, we’re sure.
Screen shot (top): JW Anderson. Photos: gorunway.com