Backstage With Loewe Designer Jonathan Anderson, Who Won Fashion Week

Fashion
In Milan and Paris, Jonathan Anderson’s compellingly weird shows were love letters to menswear.

PARIS FRANCE JANUARY 21 A model walks the runway during the Loewe Menswear FallWinter 20232024 show as part of Paris...

PARIS, FRANCE – JANUARY 21: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY – For Non-Editorial use please seek approval from Fashion House) A model walks the runway during the Loewe Menswear Fall-Winter 2023-2024 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on January 21, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Peter White/Getty Images)Peter White/Getty Images

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That’s a wrap on the Fall-Winter 2023 menswear collections. (For now—New York Fashion Week kicks off on February 10.) Since stepping off the train in Florence for Pitti Uomo, I’ve attended—by my count—42 runway shows and presentations, viewed somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,300 styled looks, and gulped down as many espressos in between.

Menswear, as you may have heard, is having a cultural and creative moment, and several designers, especially in Paris, led the charge forward this season. Emily Adams Bode Aujla of Bode made a triumphant return to the city with delicately embellished, boyish formalwear. Dior Men’s Kim Jones unleashed a firehose of beige-hued luxury alongside an elegiac reading of The Waste Land by Robert Pattinson and Gwendoline Christie. Auralee set a vibrant new standard for the slow fashion set. John Galliano’s first co-ed runway show in three years for Maison Margiela was bitchy and brilliant. Kiko Kostadinov’s modern medievalism once again proved that he’s one of the most original thinkers on the calendar. And Grace Wales Bonner’s stunningly stylish ode to James Baldwin proved she can not only live up to but exceed the hype she’s generated in her still-young career.

Jonathan Anderson: “I love menswear.”

One designer got me particularly excited about the future of men’s fashion: Jonathan Anderson. For one, his enthusiasm for the medium is evident. “I love menswear,” he said after his compellingly weird JW Anderson show in Milan, which opened with a pair of models in wool underwear toting bolts of fabric down the runway. A guy obsessed with men’s clothing is…not exactly the impression you might have gotten from the collection, though. After the show, a few people sitting near me wondered: where were all the clothes? Most models wore only one or two garments, like a languid, ankle-grazing overcoat, or a feathery hoodie in a Big Bird hue, or ruffled shorts in leather that recalled a radical JWA collection from 2013. (Bare legs is the story of the FW23 season. Are you ready to be cold this fall?)

It was not, in other words, a presentation in search of a commercial smash, amphibian Wellipets galoshes notwithstanding. But unlike some of his peers, who toss as many SKUs as possible on the runway to see what hits with merchandising teams, Anderson views fashion shows not as commercial venues but as laboratories. And he’s making a strong case that right now he’s the maddest scientist of them all.

Anderson’s designs start with ideas that are always timely—but often prove to be ahead of their time, too. His ruffled shorts collection a decade ago predicted a gender-swapped shared wardrobe (bingo!). Here, Anderson was thinking about reduction—and not the refined, toothless minimalism that many designers hid behind this season. Harsh reduction, to counter the excess and overcomplicated styling that has permeated menswear in the last few years. “I thought it was like starting afresh,” he said backstage, about the opening undies. “I like this idea of a raw state of mind, ultimately. And I think that’s what I wanted from this collection.” Leather duffle coats and boots were belted shut, but not in a particularly kinky way. The clothes, which felt cozy and domestic despite their skimpiness, confounded deep interpretation. “The sweater is the sweater. The trouser is the trouser. The jacket is the jacket,” Anderson said after the show, adding in the official show notes: “Everything is what it is, and that’s it.” It was a hard reset after a few days of shows in the Italian fashion capital that seemed inspired, as one colleague put it, by the latest SSENSE sale.

The sculpted copper coat, which also comes in pewter.

Photo: Daniele Oberrauch / Gorun,Photo: Daniele Oberrauch / Gorunway.com

And it set the table for a whopper of a Loewe show, Anderson’s other major design role. You may recall that last year, Anderson took a hard left turn away from the Spanish leather house’s handmade roots into inflated surrealism. After JWA, this collection further tore menswear down to the studs. It was a literal exploration of the DNA of style, a study of silhouette, material, and attitude. The audience, among them Timothée Chalamet, stirred when a model emerged wearing a coat hammered out of a copper plate: a sculpture of a trench fluttering open just-so, the wearer smoothly on the move. The piece, the show-stoppingest runway look of the season, took some 40 days to complete. “I think menswear can be such an exciting platform, as a method of being able to trial things,” Anderson said in a post-show gaggle. There’s more aesthetic ground to capture in men’s, he noted, and it’s also a smaller business—and the lower commercial expectations allow for more room to get weird. “I feel like I’m in this moment where I want to push the envelope in different materialities, or in the actual silhouette itself,” he added.

Photo: Daniele Oberrauch / Gorun,Photo: Daniele Oberrauch / Gorunway.com
Photo: Daniele Oberrauch / Gorun,Photo: Daniele Oberrauch / Gorunway.com

Anderson kept pushing with a few rippling shirts and tees made of stiff vellum, or parchment, and huge overcoats molded into swooping shapes using traditional hatmaking techniques, ancient trades brought into modernity. “I like this idea that it’s frozen in time,” Anderson said of the vellum pieces. “It’s nearly as if you were to throw a t-shirt into -40 [degree weather].” More coats—there were a lot of coats, and even more boy shorts—were cut without buttons, held in place by the models’ cocked hands in a gesture reminiscent of classic portraiture. (Anderson is an art obsessive and collaborated with the painter Julien Nguyen on set design.) Other models wore long johns or simple jumpers with cherubic wings sprouting from their backs. Big roughed-out suede coats and suits, the only obvious link to Loewe’s artisanal identity, were the pieces you could most imagine walking into a Loewe store and actually buying, but remained on theme. “I’m obsessed by this idea of the total leather look, that it causes you to have an attitude—that the material is telling you what to do,” Anderson said.

PARIS, FRANCE – JANUARY 21: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY – For Non-Editorial use please seek approval from Fashion House) A model walks the runway during the Loewe Menswear Fall-Winter 2023-2024 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on January 21, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Anderson has clearly been thinking a lot about why he makes clothing, and men’s relationship to it, and whether his luxury projects ought to fit into the universal act of getting dressed every morning. Which raises the question: how does this show have anything to do with what clothes I should buy next season? Anderson has decided that he’s not all that interested in answering that one. “If I showed you t-shirts, you would hate it. Or you might love it,” he said. He wants you to ask something deeper about the stuff we’re looking at on the runways. “I hope that we are going into a period where it is about being uncomfortable in design, that we are trying to find something new,” he continued. “Because if we do that, then we might kind of enjoy clothing. Do you know what I mean? Not the brand, but the clothing.”

Anderson has a way of setting trends, and I hope one lesson from these two shows breaks through: that men’s fashion needs fewer trends, and more ideas.

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