Irish designer Jonathan Anderson is changing the way men dress

Where's your wardrobe heading to next? Meet the creative force behind the latest menswear trends 
Irish designer Jonathan Anderson is changing the way men dress
Jonathan Anderson is the creative director of JW Anderson, which is based in London, and the creative director of Loewe, a 174-year-old Spanish leather goods brand based in Paris. He splits his time between the two cities. 

Rush hour: the fleeting hum of morning traffic, the shrill cry of an ambulance, and the aggressive rumbling of a motorbike. Jonathan Anderson is calling from his Parisian apartment and the world outside is restarting. 

It’s the end of May, the designer is back to work to figure out where your wardrobe is heading next.

Backstage at Loewe's autumn/winter 2020 show at Paris Fashion Week 
Backstage at Loewe's autumn/winter 2020 show at Paris Fashion Week 

Make do and mend. There’s a post-war attitude to create with what you have.

He said, in light of the ongoing pandemic, “as a society, we tend to be defiant in the face of things: it’s a survival mechanism.” 

Anderson, 35, is the creative director of JW Anderson, which is based in London, and the creative director of Loewe, a 174-year-old Spanish leather goods brand based in Paris. He splits his time between the two cities. 

Backstage at the Loewe autumn/winter 2020 show.
Backstage at the Loewe autumn/winter 2020 show.

In the past two months, Anderson and his colleagues have returned to work as normal with social distancing measures in place.

Anderson is smart. His prophetic ability to predict what customers will want is only second to the searing thrill of his creativity.

He is the reason men will increasingly look more polished and opulent this decade and why they will exhibit a little less strictness towards traditional gender norms this decade.

After months indoors spent in comfortable sweatpants, as autumn/winter 2020 collections land in store, a JW Anderson blanket-like double-breasted overcoat with a handkerchief hem in a check pattern and a gold chain belt seems like a viable, approachable option for outdoor pursuits.

Ditto an army green Loewe coat that doubles as a cape with a shawl creating a drape over the back of the garment—protective layers from turbulent times. Their timeliness is a testament to Anderson’s forward-thinking mindset.

A look from the recent JW Anderson spring/summer 2021 menswear collection, shown online
A look from the recent JW Anderson spring/summer 2021 menswear collection, shown online

“Fashion is a mirror - either of the future or of the present moment,” he said.

The designer delivers clothing presciently. In 2013, he showed men in bandeau tops and frilly skirts. It shocked some. 

It delighted others who said menswear had become boring. Seven years later, men’s clothing is becoming more comfortable in its own skin. 

At both JW Anderson and Loewe, on the runways, he experiments with shapes and volume, silhouettes and lines that borrow from traditional womenswear.

As far as gender is concerned, Anderson is steadfast about change. “I assume an aggressive standpoint where I recognise the undercurrents of things changing like the different forms of gender. Society has to accept it, it has no choice. In order to move forward, we have to progress as a society.” 

Anderson was born in Magherafelt, Co. Derry in 1984. He is the son of former Irish rugby star and coach Willie Anderson. 

His mother, Heather, is a primary school teacher. He has two siblings, a brother and a sister. His childhood was set against the backdrop of civil unrest with a vocally secular father from Northern Ireland playing for the Irish international rugby team.

“I grew up in Northern Ireland which is all about contrast. Life is about contrast, it’s how you find beauty and abstraction. You need good and evil for things to exist. It’s that zone where you find ambiguity,” he said.

Anderson is a skilled conversationalist: he oscillates between society, art, fashion, literature, and the past, the present and the future in our interview, with cool collectedness, accented by a posh register with occasional flecks of his Northern Irish twang. 

JW Anderson inside-out sleeve hoodie, €295 at jwanderson.com
JW Anderson inside-out sleeve hoodie, €295 at jwanderson.com

Anderson arrived in London where he completed a menswear design degree at the London College of Fashion in 2005, following a short stint studying acting in America. In 2010, he broke onto the scene at London Fashion Week.

In 2012, Topshop enlisted him for a collaboration which allowed him to connect with mainstream shoppers. 

The following year, he joined Loewe, catapulting a veritably sleepy but respected leather goods house into an important player on the global fashion scene. Revenues increased, so too did interest in the brand.

To understand Anderson and what his work means for men’s wardrobes is to take each brand at a time, as he does.

JW Anderson was founded in 2008. It originally launched with menswear but branched into womenswear.

It has one store in London and one in Seoul; it wholesales to more than 270 retailers worldwide. 

The rapper A$AP Rocky is a fan. Anderson describes the label as a “cultural agitator.” He attributes its rakish sensibility to his Irish upbringing. 

“It comes from growing up on an island and wanting to get out of my comfort zone. It loosens the rules and challenges taboos in menswear and gender.” 

JW Anderson handkerchief double-breasted coat, €1690 at jwanderson.com
JW Anderson handkerchief double-breasted coat, €1690 at jwanderson.com

Loewe was founded in Madrid in 1846 by German entrepreneur Enrique Loewe Roessberg. It has 31 stores and retails in over 160 department stores worldwide. 

The Crown star Josh O’Connor has been the face of the brand. He considers his job there to distil culture.

“It’s about craft and making. We have many generations of artisans in the studios. It’s about the preservation and modernisation of the hand and doing the best with what you have,” said Anderson. It’s a patchwork of fabrics and inspirations.

Expect belted cashmere coats, graphic print turtlenecks and matching trousers in mohair, long-line striped t-shirts with traditional shirt sleeves from the autumn/winter 2020 collection. There is an almost juvenile exploration of luxury that still emphasises craft as its grounding principle.

Anderson doesn’t rely heavily on branding at either house - though there is some of that if it’s to your fancy - yet his clothes bear his unmistakable signature, full of idiosyncrasies but timeless.

“The way in which men consume in Ireland - it’s loud and it’s soft, it’s risk without taking risks,” said Anderson.

At JW Anderson, the mix is haphazard, but clean lines, geometric prints and a nautical mood prevail. At Loewe, there is something more childlike, cobbling together warm colours with fabrics rich in texture. 

In both cases, the visions are distilled to a commercial offering that is digestible but bears the distinctive mark of creativity and human touch.

“As a society, we forget clothing is made by people,” said Anderson, “it’s a balance between employment and environment.” 

Paula's Ibiza Check Tie Dye Shirt, €690 at Brown Thomas
Paula's Ibiza Check Tie Dye Shirt, €690 at Brown Thomas

Each year, Anderson presents two main womenswear and menswear collections for each brand, in addition to two women’s pre-season collections at JW Anderson. At Loewe, he is also responsible for capsule collections with artist partners, a men’s outdoor-inspired line and a line-within-a-line called Paula’s Ibiza which is named after a boutique on the Balearic Island. 

He delivers two collaborations with high street retailer Uniqlo. Recently, he designed a collaboration for Moncler Genius. In sum, he is one of the most prolific and indefatigable designers working today.

The conversations that surround each venture are a continuous dialogue. While distinctions between each project are necessary, Anderson asserted, “it’s important to have some overlaps, I don’t want one type of nuance and then show an entirely different one two weeks later. It’s about a state of mind and an aesthetical challenge - whether it’s volume or proportion or fabric.” 

As for what comes next, Anderson will continue to experiment but he remains resolute about some things. “If fashion becomes a commercial vehicle it loses experimentation,” he said.

His next collections are out in the world: spring/summer 2021, a new frontier. For JW Anderson, it arrived as a scrapbook of images, fabric swatches and posters, followed by a live-streamed video explanation available for all on his website. 

Paula's Ibiza T-shirt, €290 at Brown Thomas.
Paula's Ibiza T-shirt, €290 at Brown Thomas.

At Loewe, the brand did the same and had different activations on their digital and social media platforms exploring aspects of the collection and its inspirations on July 12 during Paris Fashion Week Digital.

Some of his ideas might be prickly but upon closer inspection everything starts to make sense and each peculiarity finds its own place in the world, a celebration of individuality and the individual. 

Ultimately, Anderson said, “we dress to make ourselves feel better.”

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