Jonathan Anderson is a busy man. He runs his eponymous brand, J W Anderson, from a studio in east London three days a week, commuting to Paris to spend the other two as creative director at Loewe, plus paying a visit to the Spanish’s brand Madrid HQ once a month. Each brand shows both womenswear and menswear at their respective fashion weeks twice a year – so four catwalk shows in all. This year, he added a collaboration with high street giant Uniqlo for good measure – its sell-out success will be followed by a second, due in 2018.
The upward shift in pace – and in Anderson’s career trajectory – began when the world’s largest luxury goods conglomerate LVMH acquired a minor stake in J W Anderson in 2013, simultaneously announcing his ascension to the top at Loewe. It makes for a mammoth workload, though if Anderson is overwhelmed, he hides it very well indeed. “I just work quite fast,” he says in a Northern Irish accent softened somewhat by years spent in London. He carves out half an hour from work to catch up over the phone, just three days before he will win dual prizes at the Fashion Awards – though he doesn’t know it yet. “I like to keep things moving. I can’t do meetings that lag on and I can’t deal with bulls—. People have to come very prepared, to already have worked it out. They need to make sure what they’re asking is important, not not important. It’s about efficiency, really.”
It appears to be working. At the Fashion Awards, held in London’s Royal Albert Hall on Monday night, Anderson received two awards – for J W Anderson, British womenswear designer of the year, for Loewe, accessories designer of the year. Having both brands honoured suggests that he is yet to let either ball drop, though Anderson is used to juggling – in 2015, J W Anderson won both the womenswear and menswear categories. The accessories category is newer to Anderson, and perhaps the sweeter for being so hard-fought. “When I first joined Loewe, I put this massive wager on my own head that I had to come up with a bag. Because I had never designed one, I felt like I had to own it. I remember seeing different components from different menswear bags, and clipping them all together, changing the access point to the top, from the side, to the top of it adding a strap. And I knew the minute it was sitting on my table.” Anderson’s Puzzle bag has become a bestseller for Loewe – one of its pillars, as he calls them. “I think it was unique – I’ve never seen a bag that looks like that. It’s an incredibly difficult bag to copy: time-consuming to make, made up of multiple pieces.”
Not, of course, that that will stop the high street trying. Fast fashion labels like Zara and Mango are quick to take “inspiration” from the catwalks, and with their speeded-up production, often have their versions (with the required points of difference to avoid lawsuits) on sale months before the designer originals. Loewe’s accessories, which so often become cult buys of the season, have become favourites for these copycat brands.
“It’s kind of flattering. I don’t think it really matters – you’re going to be able to tell the difference. Ultimately, these things happen; we live in a post-modern world, and it doesn’t really get me riled up,” he laughs. “Because it’s sort of part of the process – it means that it’s working!”
At 33, Anderson is the youngest in a generation of young British designers that includes Erdem Moralioğlu, Christopher Kane, Jonathan Saunders and Roksanda Ilinčić. But while the others are often photographed arm in arm at fashion parties, Anderson has always stood slightly apart from that set.
“I don’t know if I see myself as an outsider; I just feel like I’m an individual. It’s not about holding them at arm’s length. I love when people do good collections – I don’t need to know that person. I just want to understand the clothing, the work. Because then I can use it to say, I need to push myself more, or am I being lazy, am I doing enough?
“When you work in a business, it’s like sport somehow,” he says – a mentality no doubt inherited from his father, Ireland international rugby player turned coach Willie Anderson. But it’s an attitude echoed in fashion, too. “I remember Karl Lagerfeld once telling me ‘look, competition is good’. And I believe that, because it makes you think. It makes you push yourself to become better.” Lagerfeld may have distanced himself from his contemporaries – he famously feuded with the late designer Yves Saint Laurent (though that centred around a man) and, like Anderson, has chosen to take on more than most, designing across Chanel, Fendi, and his eponymous label, but his career speaks for itself.
“In America, arrogance is treated in a completely different context than how we deal with arrogance in Britain. Ambition is sometimes mistaken as arrogance. Or responsibility. I have a responsibility. When you employ people – every single one of my collections, I am nervous about. Because I need it to work. I need it to sell so that I have an office to go to.
“People might read me being my own self as arrogance. I don’t really care. But what I do care about is that people see that I love the work. And that I’m doing the work.”
At the pace Anderson’s setting, I don’t think anyone could argue with that.