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Irish designer JW Anderson is working in another gear right now. As the creative director of the LVMH-owned leather house Loewe, he has just launched two debut scents (one for men, the other for women) and is overseeing an inaugural Loewe craft prize alongside his collections. At his own eponymous brand, which showed in London this weekend, he is nurturing a workshop a la Bloomsbury at his east London base that showcases the work of a different artist or craftsman each month. He recently announced a first foray into exhibition design — he will open a show at the Hepworth Wakefield gallery next spring. And what did he do with his two weeks staycation this summer? He “dug up and replanted his garden, and then repainted the house”, of course.
If he’s a little stretched, it doesn’t show. His SS17 collection for JW Anderson was a wellspring of ideas inspired by — erm, that unlikely totem of femininity Henry VIII, replete with leg-o-mutton sleeves, burlap day dresses and quilted corsetry that all recalled the Tudor monarch. While the archetypal alpha male might not be an obvious choice of muse for a womenswear designer, Anderson had been excited by the challenge of presenting “relics of aggressive masculinity” in a softer and more feminine way. And the show was emphatically girly. The bold-chested and wide shouldered silhouette had been softened with gentler fabrics. Neutral, natural fabrics were balanced by sherbet-coloured skirts and bold prints. Hems fell in asymmetric lengths from a dropped waist, while the Renaissance ruff collar and cuff were reimagined in rolls of jersey wool.
Anderson had used traditional materials and retooled them. Quilted linen details drew attention to strange and abstract parts of the body: a pair of jeans with knee patches gave them a sense of “urban armour” he explained: a top fluttered with tissue thin linen handkerchiefs. And there were ongoing experiments with volume: shirting was cut into strips to create a voluminous ripple down the sleeve, while a knitted skirt with gathered waist fell below the knee like a deflating balloon.
For all the context, however, much of this was very pretty. If last season was about exploring modern cocktail wear, this collection was essentially day. There were cute details too: an ice blue sweater with dragon eyes and a long slip dress decorated with a leaping fish.
Despite their aesthetic complications, Anderson’s clothes are surprisingly wearable in real life, and many of these simple separates were an elegant no brainer. Kudos also on the accessories. He had found more primitive inspirations had influenced the large single earrings worn throughout: one, a swallow, spliced like an arrow, was especially arresting. And there were good bags, too. Divorced, beheaded… Divine.