When J.W. Anderson showed his A/W 12-3 collection at London Fashion Week back in February, I came out feeling a little perturbed, slightly confused as to whether I liked it or not. It's a similar feeling to how I've felt about certain Prada shows. It's not an instant broad smile reaction but a furrowed brows and quizzical tilted head gesture. It is only when I saw the recent resort 2013 collection that something finally clicked for me.
Let me go back a bit though. When J.W. Anderson first started doing womenswear (it's funny that people now primarily know him as a womenswear designer when way back when, I remember his Rasputin-inspired obtuse menswear presentation at Two See) a few seasons ago, many had him pegged as a youth-focused brand – a brand that could turn out interesting clothes that are desirable to the dreamer teens of today, rooted in sub-culture and heavily influenced by the notion of rebellion, rid of all cliches. I think the tag "an English Rag & Bone" even came up at one point.
From pre-fall 2012 onwards though, J.W. Anderson's remit has shifted somewhat. It certainly isn't "English Rag & Bone". In fact, the collections tread a far more ambitious and dangerous line. Anderson's recent pre-occupation with the deranged house wife locked inside her own home, running riot with all the surfaces that cover this domestic prison, immediately tells us that the brand's fan base isn't going to be just the little lost girls of gen Y. Actually, they're the eternally lost women/girls of gen XYZ, hence why I've fallen pretty hard for most of his designs ever since he began womenswear. The wardrobe count doesn't lie – twelve pieces and counting and there's definitely an intention to add more considering the fresh pre-fall product drop on LN-CC.
The resort collection in contrast to the autumn winter collection is expectedly lighter, edging closer to summer and gave Anderson an opportunity to eke out that domesticity theme. He explores notions of Sunday Best and tries to play with feminine codes – the pleated skirt, the flounce and a frill reminiscent of 70s YSL and even mid-century couture inspired by the likes of Patou and Worth. Still, it's uneasy Sunday Best. Especially when it comes to a pinstripe bustier. Despite the amount of flesh on show, there's nothing sexual about it and that's precisely what's so appealing about it. The fabrics are unexpected and make an instant impression upon touch – the vinyl layered upon the taffeta, the boiled nylon, the smooth neoprene in Pepto Bismol pink and the puckered ostrich-esque silk. A paint dabbed print pops up unexpectedly even though Anderson was reluctant to do a print. Anderson is strengthening his argument for the return of pinstripe with his loose Comme-like tailoring. In particular, a structured dress where two box pleats are created as outward-pointing, jutting geometric entities makes an impression when rendered in City-boy stripes. The progressive extra baggage on the hips may seem like a hard sell, but seems to me a refinement and finessing on Comme's infamous bump collection that will emerge as being surprisingly wearable. Open-sided shirts and polonecks as well as the simple kilts form the accessible base of the collection, which is a J.W. Anderson knack that reassures us he's a designer that definitely wants women wearing his clothes. Anderson's resort accessories equally push and pull between being feminine and awkward – with decorative enamel chains and floral brooches battling it out with flat white 90s space boots.
Going back to the A/W 12-3 collection, I'm not sure why it is that the show initially stumped me so much because right now, all of it is suddenly making complete and utter sense. Maybe it was the dramatic shift from the S/S 12 collection. Maybe it was the initial shock of these bleak figures clad in puffa, thick PVC and shrouded in button-up fisherman hats. If protection is going to be a prevailing theme for A/W 12-3 then I'd rather take it on face value and wrap myself up in these heavy layers. The more difficult and head-scratching the better really. The easier sells would be Anderson's oversized waffle knits and A-line skirts rendered in beaded houndstooth but the stuff that really gets the fashion adrenaline going is wondering how feasible is the full-on squeaky PVC pyjama set, the padded layers of tie-up vests and wrap-around skirts. Tinsel knit fabric in a red and black check is one of the fabric innovations that marks out Anderson as not only a designer who attempts to make the awkward seem desirable but also someone who makes careful consideration for fabrication as well as provenance and make. The British-made aspect of J.W. Anderson's clothes hasn't been well emphasised but for instance, he uses shirt making factories in Ireland and age-old silk printing factories. When it's the design and aesthetics that catches your eye rather than the provenance or origin of the cloth, then that's a sign of a job well done.
J.W. Anderson could have rested on his laurels and continued turning out twisted preppy pieces and school uniforms gone wrong that would have made him a pretty penny. However, with these resort and autumn winter collections, he is almost challenging his customers to get behind him fully – even if that does involve squeaking about in a PVC pyjama set. It certainly makes the journey of being a J.W. Anderson devotee a lot more interesting. Still, I can argue and argue the case and it may still fall upon deaf ears. If puffa tie-up dresses and jutting out pinstripe shapes aren't your thing then, hear me now. His collaboration for Topshop will be expansive, instantly covetable and get your hearts racing. You've been warned. I'll say no more.