Spellbinding Simplicity

Loewe goes without ornamentation, not a blade of (real) grass, not a single stalk of flower, Oh, just those feathers

Spare is not, as Loewe illustrated in their autumn/winter 2023 collection, nothing. Clean lines are not trimmed of details. The calf-length A-line dresses, as simple as shifts, that opened the show are not quite that straightforward. On the dresses, cut from duchess satin (itself a tricky fabric to handle) and shaped with practically no darts, are over-prints that make you wonder if your eyes are playing tricks on you. The singular images are not sharp—the bane of anyone professionally involved in the business of printing. Some looked like faded ’50s house coat florals, a trio evoked the shape of a body sheathed in a dress, one a trench coat (complete with corresponding details printed at the back), and another that could be the result of a prenatal ultrasound scan! And on these, if you look closely, some had strategically placed (but designed to look random) creases on the upper bodice. Clearly a lot of thought had gone into such a simple (sorry, that word again) garment, the various sleeve lengths and shapes and the print placements.

If there is one thing that may work against such technical finesse is that few women will appreciate it. Jonathan Anderson has made these clothes rest on dressmaking of a certain exactness, not logos or any identifiable motifs attributed to brand DNA, and used to death, to stand out. Ironically, it is in the restraint and clearness that Mr Anderson has distinguished Loewe. The show, as before, was in a massive white space, only this time it’s in the 613-year-old Château de Vincennes, once a prison between the 16th to19th century, outside of Paris that predated Château de Versailles. The set, designed by the Italian artist Lara Favaretto, comprised of single-colour, waist-high cubes covered in confetti. They are similar to those in the 2016 installation The Man Who Fell On Earth, a composition that is the total opposite of the other artist-conceived runway at Dior. The clothes, therefore, became the true focus, and just as with Ms Favaretto’s cubes, you couldn’t ignore Mr Anderson’s sculptural purity

It is convenient to describe the collection as ‘normcore’, as some already have. But these are not quite the norm of the staples we see in a fashion consumer’s typical wardrobe. These clothes, we suspect, have far longer staying power. The leather pieces, for example, are not fashioned as leathers usually are. Here, they take on the form of a shirt-dress with a draped side, supple coats with a liquid quality about them, a ‘pullover’ with a fold-over neckline, a shell top with four triangular pieces as part of the bodice (in the rear too), and cropped tops with a sweet primness about them, and those molded dresses and skirts. When it came to knits, more over-printing on the cardigans, and oversized for those as long as dresses that intriguingly clung to the hips. The spareness was even evident in the separates composed of feathers (we assume, for now, that they are real): there was no decorative, frilly arrangement; they take the shape of the garments—blouses, skirts, and trousers. which could be those worn as limbs of beasts with plumage.

It is dispiriting to think that the Loewe collection is “buzz-worthy”, as has been pointed out. Distasteful it is that clothes so carefully considered and deftly designed would be selected by consumers because of the potential buzz they would generate. The Loewe pieces deserve far more than social media attention; they should be admired, bought, and worn. And again. Jonathan Anderson, together with Matthieu Blazy of Bottega Veneta, are probably the only two designers creating compelling clothes circumscribed by what Mr Anderson called “couture classicism”, all in a seemingly normal manner. Perhaps this is the newness because the pieces do not shriek fashion. Now, we wait for Phoebe Philo to join them.

Screen shot (top) and photos: Loewe

Jonathon Anderson Looked Back At JW Anderson

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