Fashion Interview

Photography Jamie Hawkesworth All images Research for JW Anderson's next collection, courtesy the designer 4 years ago

No sleep? Yeah! Takeaway every night? Yeah! You know it makes sense. When you’re Jonathan Anderson, who needs sleep anyway? When you’ve got fifty thousand things on the go, interns popping out of every crevice and the heavy weight of expectation glaring into your soul, the luxury of any kind of relaxation seems a bit of an indulgence.

JW Anderson is exploding in a kind of haphazard yet totally directional way. The label’s not new, they’ve been around for a few years, but it seems to all be coming together right about now, with a surge in stockists and press interest, an ever-increasing profile and countless sideways collaborations – they seem determined to lay solid foundations for a multi-faceted, online embracing, multi-drop planning (you’ll see) digital and tactile revolution.

Are you crapping yourself yet?

It’s kind of like that quiet before the storm. You’ve so much to do but you feel like you’re forgetting something.

Because there’s stuff you can’t physically do yet?

It’s just one of those things that when you go through the design process and then you’ve got production which is horrible going at the same time, and then you get to the stage where it’s like SHIT we’ve got to get this other collection started and fit that in, then you’ve got factories calling saying they can’t get things done in time. We’ve now got women’s as well so it’s actually double the amount of work. Because I think people are expecting a lot more from women’s.

Last time you did it [Womenswear AW10] quite quickly didn’t you, like in five weeks or something?

No a week!

A week! Five weeks was to make it sound like you’d really thought about it!

[laughs] We’ve done this one in six days.

Who do you think has these big expectations?

Women just want more. It’s gonna be more feminine this season which I’ll probably get caned for.

Is there as much of a link with the menswear as there was last time?

There’s a complete overlap. Except there’s a lot more skirts!

So you’ve got four or five days left before the show. Is there anything major left to do in terms of designing things or are you pretty much there?

The menswear collection [laughs]. We need a menswear collection. We’re getting there. It’s just a case of trying to beg from stuff out of the factories now. Me and Robbie [Spencer] have been working on it so long, but it will all change at the last minute. We always like to make things look more worn in, so it’s just a case of wearing it all.

This and the following images: inspiration for the JWA SS11 collection

So when do you actually finalise everything?

The night before. Looks start on Sunday. We do ten, re-edit the ten to fit the other ten. And then edit in the five show looks to get all 25. Then drop everything that doesn’t fit. So we’ll have made, in terms of jewellery alone for this show, 280 pieces.

Is that all Swarovski stuff?

Some is, some isn’t. But what that means is you’ll actually drop so much.

So when you say ten and ten looks, why’s that?

Well you’ll do ten core looks. Robbie works in a certain way where he puts the looks together and then we have to go back through it. This time we’re trying to make it look a more repetitive and a bit tighter. Last season it was a bit like IDEA IDEA IDEA so we’re trying to homogenise all the ideas together so it feels a bit stronger. And we might be dropping women into the show.

So with casting then – you seem to have a very specific vision. Does that change from show to show?

I think we hang on to people that always work, like Matt Hitt.

And how do you decide who to use?

I think you need to have those certain boys that are like selling boys. Any looks that crop up a lot in terms of press, so you need those guys, and then you mix the others in. This season is going to be a lot younger. We’re working with Shelley [Durkan] again.

So when is casting confirmed?

Boys you confirm right up to the day.

Are you going to have the same tight casting aesthetic with the women?

If we drop women’s into the show we won’t have the luxury of the big girls because they won’t be here. I mean big girls like Dorothea, not like supermodels. Current girls. But we have a couple of options on good, strong new faces that are being used on projects as exclusives. So they can do the show but we can’t use them in Milan or Paris. So we’ve got three girls – three girls six looks.

So if you end up showing a separate womenswear show in the future would you have the same approach to casting as you do with guys?

Women’s is a lot harder to do that, it’s a completely different ball game.

Is the casting still as instinctive for you?

I’m not very good with the women, because I’m so used to doing the men. So trying to know all the big girls – all good designers have a really good casting director working for them. You need like a Russell [Marsh] or a Michelle Lee to be able to actually pull it off. Because with women you have to have the really good girls mixed in with the new faces and the really new faces are all going to be known anyway because there are so few. With the boys we can do something quirky.

So things have expanded quite quickly for the label.

Is that through you pushing for it, or through opportunities that have come up that you have leapt into?

I think we’ve taken on way too much this season in general.

But that can only be a good thing can’t it?

The thing is this season has cost us like triple what it usually costs. Because people think we’re making so much money when we’re not [laughs]. The film was a huge monumental thing, and then all the online stuff, which is actually a huge undertaking. We’re selling books on our website, then the oki-ni direct selling, live streaming the show.

At the moment direct selling’s got that buzz of direct straight from the show, but do you think that will get less exciting?

Yeah of course, everything loses its novelty.

So what do you think will happen next?

My idea of some of the online stores is that they see it as more of a press opportunity for trafficking, not necessarily about selling product. So they buy a tit-top from another brand for £19.

It must be good as well for you for press.

Yeah but it sometimes gets a little bit frustrating, we actually did the legwork last season for it. And Burberry was a completely different thing it wasn’t direct selling immediately it was pre-ordering. Which is silly because you can go to the shop and get in three months anyway. So you’re going to get it in three months and have paid for it?

I suppose it’s all part of the hype. So do you have a master plan?

The master plan would be to move the menswear to Paris. Keep the womenswear in London. Do a show for womens and do a very big video that’s more about projecting on buildings, and then keep these as separate identities and womens always stays as a digital format. In terms of direct selling I would do the collection in two parts. So you have your immediate selling which needs to be for the moment – heavier weight pieces for the winter, lighter pieces for the summer immediately. Then you have the rest of the stuff which is your other drops. So you have a continuous drop.

It sounds quite strategic. Would you keep your studio in London and just show in Paris, you wouldn’t start splitting things up?

If it was like Paris or New York and I had the support to go there, I would move the whole lot there. I don’t think you can be a London designer and show there it doesn’t work, you’ll always be a foreigner. Like Jonathan Saunders is back here, Giles Deacon’s been back here for two seasons. The only people it works for are big multinationals like Burberry. Big money. Milan works with big money, Paris works with big money if there is any, you know what I mean? The only way it works with direct selling is for people like Topman or things where it’s not so trend based. So you can turn things around quite quickly and get it onto the shop floor.

And on top of all that you’ve got Sunspel.

And I’ve got Sunspel [laughs].

So how did that come about in the beginning?

I wanted to do a collaboration with them and then it just transpired that I really got on with them… they were just amazing like, amazing guys, like real men. Then we kind of – it just worked out that they had lost a creative director.

And there you were.

There I was. We design everything, all the packaging too.

And does it conflict with everything else?

Not really, it does get tight. It’s not light Marios [Schwab] where you’ve got to do Halson then fly back three days later and do your own.

With Sunspel and your own line, you seem to take a very top level creative director role over everything – photographers, stylists…

I think the difference is if you don’t have a good enough stylist, photographer or casting director, those three major people, you can forget about it.

When did you start working with Robbie?

A year ago now.

Has it changed the way you think about designing?

I think I know how to work with Robbie, whereas I didn’t know how to work with the stylist before. It didn’t work.

So Robbie comes in right at the very end?

Well this time he’s come in throughout the whole process. Just so we don’t have a major change. You’re working on it so intensely that you need fresh eyes on it. He knows what direction you’re going in, and makes sure you keep it within that. it’s not like Galliano who does the whole thing himself.

So it’s not like with Rick Owens and Panos, where he just comes in on the last day and goes ‘that, that, that and that,’?

Sometimes that’s the best way – that depends. Plus Panos is like, £30,000 a day [laughs].

When we first looked at your stuff ages ago, I think the shoot was on a disused railway, it was quite a few seasons back.

Oh yeah! That’s really old.

I remember chunky knitwear and stuff, it seemed quite homely – everything seems more radical now.

I think there’s still homely elements and craft elements, it will be interesting to see what people think of the next season, I think people automatically thing we’re going to do something punchy? Whereas this one is like psychedelic but it’s quite future? Like it has elements of future like nylon and like psychedelic Oakleys, so that juxtaposition is going to be interesting.

Do you think people have expectations that you need to fill, they want to start seeing things they think are your signature?

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s like death. It’s inevitable. They’re either going to hate it or love it. You’ll either get it right or wrong. But there’s no point in doing something you don’t want to do, if it means I’m out of business tomorrow at least I did it. It’s really boring to do things that people want. Prada are a good example of being un-boring. Because each season could be a different designer, and everyone loves or hates it. We’re so used to this generic churn out, but what Prada does it one season will be studs, the next season will be a whole different thing. There’s still a taste level. I would say our shows are more about a style. It’s not like a Marios collection where it’s about the cut, it’s a stylistic thing. There are designers who design clothing technically, and then designers that design stylistically. Muccia Prada I think designs aesthetically and stylistically. Whereas other designers make clothing; garments. Maybe that’s wrong, I don’t know but that’s what I think.

So you have the financial support of various sponsors. I’ve heard other designers moaning that once you get to a certain level as a designer the support drops away – but isn’t that the way it should be?

Yes but I don’t think it’s as cut and dry as that. The thing is everything goes up in price and it ends up being equivalent. So if you’re doing a show you’re paying £500 a boy whereas at the beginning it was like £100. So your show costs just as much as it did when you started out.

So what happens after NEWGEN?

I don’t know what happens, it’s quite a difficult one. We’re allowed one more season after this, then you have the next level.

So there is a bit of a structure?

There is a slight structure but I think sometimes people fall into major holes in it.

It seems like there’s a skill to making the most of all the advantages.

I think you have to be aware of what’s going on. You’ve got to be nice, but you’ve got to want it. The master plan is to get out. I don’t want to be here. It’s great but I think sometimes if you look at American designers, look at Wang for example. He has a £40 million turnover. Anna Wintour will literally select three or four people and she will take them through a process. And then she’ll move on to the next. She won’t do that until she’s found someone else. Where as here we go ‘truffle truffle truffle put them through a system’. And I think that’s the problem with London.

It seems to me there’s a lot of spin and hype – there’s always this need for NEW FASHION

We’ve been around for ages, for like five years now. You’ve always got to remember we were already here, if you didn’t find us it’s your fault. We’re not new. People fall into this hype with that. It’s important that we don’t go down that route. Each season you have to be doing other things. We’re have to push online. It’s quite interesting what Tom Ford did this season which was to say you can’t take any pictures – nothing. That’s press in itself but you can only do that at a certain stage. It has the polar affect to what direct selling does. You keep it so far out of press that then you sell it and it’s immediate.

As things grow and you sell in mainstream places like Harrods and an expanding list of new stockists, how do you keep control over how your expanding brand is perceived?

It’s all financial. So if you write orders for £30 million, you’re gonna need £15 million to back that up. So I could turn round after this fashion week and have £15 million with of orders but I wouldn’t be able to produce any of it. Because I’d have to go to my bank and say ‘Can I have £15 million to make it?’

But in terms of the pieces – the stores will always select the pieces they think will sell. But how does that process work, do they just arrive and say THAT THAT THAT?

They want that that that and then you’ll go through it and work out what’s going to go actually get made. This next season there’s no point in making six jackets unless they’re for the editor of Vogue. No point. I need to hit minimums and I need to make a certain amount of money out of it or there’s no point in me doing it.

So do you sell smaller run, limited edition things in certain places?

Yeah of course, like the jewellery is always good for that, accessories are good for doing things like that. But clothing, you just can’t do it – it’s not worth it. First of all when you go buying fabric you’ve got to buy 100 metres. So if you’re just making one jacket… that’s why things like Givenchy, when you go into the rack there might be only like five styles from the show, they’ve dropped everything else. When you go into Prada they might have six coats which are the six press samples because they need them in the store.

The Prada showroom in Milan has an amazing amount of the regular stuff from the stores then a few pieces from the new collections.

To get to that stage takes 20 years. You’ll always have to have your t-shirt, and you’ll always have to have this and that, because they’re always going to want that shit.

So you’ve got lots happening, but do you have any new plans for capsule collections or other projects?

I think next season we’ll run into A/W and then after that will be a re-structural thing where we introduce pre-collection and cruise – we’d have to do that as the department stores demand that. You’d have to do it.

What’s the design process for that?

It’s pretty much the best sellers, in different colour ways. In a weird way it’s really hard to know where you’re going sometimes. It’s easier to write down what you want in terms of financial because it’s just numbers. But creatively where you’re going is impossible. The whole thing boils down to how long you can do it – it’s a stamina thing. Or how long your health will let you do it. It’s actually really really difficult, when you’re living to the breadline on it. You might bring in half a million pounds but you’ve got to spend £800,000.

With so many different capsule collections and things at different times of the year it will diffuse. What’s the highlight anymore? Every month there’s something.

That’s the thing. Everyone’s doing everything so quick, so people like Christopher Kane burn out. Stefano Pillati went through seasons with everyone loving him, and it was brilliant but it wasn’t selling. And then people weren’t using it in editorial, the only people who were using it were Oliver Rizzo and Panos. They don’t sell to people, they’re used by big, big brands to make them look good. Prada sits all on its own because its a completely different kettle of fish, and it doesn’t make money. They finally floated on the market after destroying Jil Sander, destroying Helmut Lang, used to own Azzedine Alaïa, used to own Fendi. Raf had his time and now he’s been burnt out. You have to expect it, unless you’re in a situation like Marc Jacobs, where you’ve got a house that is making billions of pounds, which then means if you’re making them another billion then they will literally do whatever you want. Or if you’re having trouble they’ll be like ‘we’ll pay for all the girls, we don’t want it to detract from us by giving you an extra half a million pounds to sort that out.’

Would you like that kind of setup where you’re designing for a pre-existing house?

I’d actually prefer to do Gap in the end. You go through your creative phase and then pan out into something like that, you mature into it.

Would you still have your own collection?

Yeah I would if it was still making money.

But you wouldn’t be interested in keeping it on as a creative outlet, and then you can do Gap differently.

Of course, but if you wanted to give it your all, for instance if you wanted to do something like Gap and you wanted to change it, you could’t do both. Fine example, Raf Simons, you can’t do both. Marc Jacobs can do both because he’s got Katie Grand doing the show, she has a very clear vision of what she wants, it’s very her. So sometimes you balance it that way. But Katie doesn’t do the show for Marc. Those people are getting older now so there will be changes.

Who do you think are those new people? The new generation?

I know it’s because I work with him, but I think Robbie is going to be a massive massive stylist. It all depends on how much magazines are worth. You start to realise that you get one article in Vogue and it changes everything. Robbie is with Anya so he’ll be on the ilk of Panos. In terms of designers in London. I liked Katie Eary’s last collection, that was interesting.

You’ve got to make this connection with the financial and business side too I guess?

But then some designers use that as their ‘thing’. They’re like ‘oh my god I’m totally like running a company now’, and you’re like ‘well what stockists do you have?’. Whereas I think someone like Christoper Shannon is more interesting as he’s actually got stockists.

When we spoke to you at the beginning of the year you said you wanted to become a better business man, what did you mean?

We’re working on that! It’s going better. We’re at a stage where, if this show goes right [everyone is touching wooden objects] – if this show goes right and we up the level, and people look at it as a very viable thing… we’ve got every department store that you can think of booked an appointment with us. We’ve got Bergdorf Goodman, we’ve got Saks, we’ve got Opening Ceremony, we’ve got Le Bon Marché. All the people who will make it for you, and they want to make money. I think this season has to introduce the womenswear that is a seriously viable thing. It is going to have to have this aspect of commerciability to it but, but in a weird way like Prada does, it’s commercial, but it’s completely not, you but into elements of it that are. So that’s the biggest thing, this season for me is the lead up to the make or break which is the following season – the autumn winter as there’s more money in it. It’ll be interesting because we’re stuck in here and we don’t see where we’re at. So I’m getting interviews that I’ve never been offered, so obviously that’s a change, and everyone’s like ‘oh my god you’re doing so well, there’s so much press about you’ but you don’t realise that because you don’t look at the press book, you don’t deal with that, you see a couple of things that come in that we put on the blog which are the main things, but you don’t see the general fuzz, all the smaller things. There is a perception out there which this season I’m trying to research into… some people see as something we’re not, some people see us as really together [laughs] but we’re not. It’s such a crock of shit because then people are hounding you for money which we don’t have. But if you’re in Vogue everyone starts bill chasing, it all comes out of the woodwork – ‘oh you owe us for this you owe us for that…’. I really do think that in London of any city, it’s so easy, but it’s so easy to get it wrong when you get it. So they’ll give you it, like New York is a bit like that as well, but Paris, not a hope in hell, Milan, there’s not even a point unless you’re making suits.

Do you think London’s exciting?

No, not at all. I think that’s an amazing stigma that it has. I think Paris is exciting at the moment, London cannot compare to it. yes it’s British people, but they’re not here.

So what’s your endgame? In an ideal world would it be a Prada setup?

I couldn’t deal with that, it would be a nightmare. I don’t think the modern world can do that anymore. I don’t think there’s the amount of money there was in that period in the 90s. Does McQueen even work? It never did, and now it never will. There will be some weird licensing thing. I those days of the 90s where money was just thrown around will never happen again.

I bet it will.

I always do this thing leading up to fashion week where I watch style.com – the way people hold themselves and like, you know you get asked the same questions by Tim [Blanks], there are some seasons where you are zoned out and some seasons you get it, you know what you’re saying. It’s really interesting when watch every single one of the round-ups and it’s like ‘oh my god we’re so nearly out of the recession’ and this was in 2007, you know what I mean? ‘We’re nearly out, oh my god it’s amazing we can spend…’ and then you go into buying appointments and it’s ‘budget’s been cut’. Budgets have already been cut this season again.

A lot of the bigger brands seem to be doing ok?

But the thing is it’s all about projection. So to stimulate economy you have to project that it’s doing fine. So some massive brands are saying they’re making masses of money, the only reason they’re making masses of money is not from Europe, not from America, but from China. But China’s crumbling at the moment. So where’s it going to go? The economy that we have can’t cope with it. For a young designer it’s even worse. Why should people buy a top from me at £700 when they can get a Prada coat for that? I don’t think we’ll ever be in the situation we were in, with fickle buying. Banks aren’t completely owned by banks anymore. The American government is screwed and the American market is a huge market that’s suffering. If you look in the stores now you can see it.

A lot of it’s about fragrances and sunglasses.

I think my ultimate goal is probably to have a perfume. That’s more interesting.

You could be Marc Jacobs and pose naked?

I think Marc Jacobs is the 21st Century genius of fashion. Compared to anyone. But he went bankrupt many times to get there. Christopher Kane at the moment is an example of ‘it might work in the end’, but I don’t the system has let him. But anyone who has dabbed in New York… loads of them have tried to do it and the only ones that have ever worked are McQueen and Galliano. And Stella McCartney, but that’s it. So unless things change which hopefully it will, I don’t think it’s about shows anyway.