J.W. ANDERSON: cruising fashion at zero feet away
When Jonathan Anderson took his curtain call earlier today following his Fall/Winter 2016 menswear show, he remained understatedly clad in his uniform: a non-descript navy blue sweater, washed denim, and trainers. His head hung low as he emerged from backstage to take his bow in a manner that was half taciturn, half anxious. Anderson is never one to peacock in front of the camera but his marked reticence today belied the radical statement he had just pulled off. Last week, J.W. Anderson dominated news outlets when he announced over Instagram that his brand would be streaming its show live on the Gay hook-up app, Grindr. In a comment to the New York Times on Wednesday, the designer drew parallels between fashion and online cruising: “I think fashion is a sexy platform as well, and ultimately we are all humans, so we all have to be somewhat sexually attractive to someone. That’s the name of the game, with clothing.”
The partnership with Grindr says as much about the app as it does about J.W. Anderson. The World’s Largest Gay Social Network's recent decision to appoint PR Consulting (a high profile public relations firm that also represents Acne Studios, Christian Dior, and Louis Vuitton) could explain this segue into fashion. But as convenient as the arrangement could seem, partnering Grindr appeared to carry more artistic merit than one would initially suppose. It expanded Anderson’s showspace beyond the exploration of private or public, exclusive or inclusive, elitist or democratic. Through the use of the app, Anderson succeeded in tapping into a rather insular dimension that is also far reaching – like showing in an intimate club space in multiple countries simultaneously. The show had a specific setting that is not entirely accessible, like the landscapes Leigh Bowery created at the Blitz in the 70s, except the criteria for getting through the door this time is psychographic and the club sphere referred to is all digital. The ingenuity of this conceit elevates the show to something resembling performance art, and quite honestly, makes Vetements' presentation in an empty sex club in Paris last season feel like foreplay.
“You know we were very lucky to be able to tie up with Grindr,” said the 31-year old. “For me it was how could we reach 196 countries in one moment. I feel today is about exploring media. We are in this moment where the media has changed. You know, it’s quite amazing to be able to access 7 million people at once. There is something in the kinetics, in the way it works. You can be on [Grindr] and the landscape is different [elsewhere] from the landscape here.” He added, “It's about telling an urban tale that may or may not exist: the idea that you could fall into a room and fall out of it to go somewhere else. Falling into a club, and into a Japanese garden or falling into a bank. It’s how we go about our lives. It’s how we go from one place to another. It’s about travelling, it’s about journey, it’s about speed.”
The setting aside, investigations into subcultural themes remained central to Anderson’s DNA. Models fashioned Dalstonian cropped tops with relaxed trousers while long-line coats and cardigans were worn over metal studded shirts, all pointing to a spirit of DIY that you would expect of an alternative club scene. Music designed by Michael Gaubert was equally fast and dangerous. The track blasting “The Techno wave is back, back, back” transported the audience to a heady basement club, reeking of "chem sex" even. The thirst for speed and ideas of gamification strengthened Anderson's premise. He fleshed out these themes by employing nostalgic images of Bonzo the dog, cartoons originally drawn by George E. Studdy on playing cards found in cigarette packs in the twenties. But Bonzo's face was distorted as though bent by the pressures of time in a gesture to reflect speed. Juvenile renderings of snails also heightened the commentary on time scale while ermine coats dotted in blue and red brought to mind cartoon characters from a bygone children’s fantasy. The result is an ode to modern day psyche and the confluence of its many composite elements: innocence and sex, child's play and adult entertainment, digital and analog. “I like the idea of children and innocence and the fact that they are on Grindr," Tim Blanks quipped.
The considered layers of symbolism notwithstanding, the designer cautioned journalists backstage not to read too much into his signifiers, saying, “The idea is that symbols don’t need to make sense. Some cultural symbols do, but when you go to another country they don’t. It’s this idea that it’s part of a tale.”
Like this massive club metaphor Anderson has built around his brand and arguably his own reclusive persona, accessing his intent can sometimes be difficult. Although, it has never been a problem for his like-minded collaborators like Benjamin Bruno and Anthony Turner. Perhaps the mistake with understanding Anderson’s shows historically is the need to decipher his symbolism down to every pocket detail, when in fact they are brush strokes that make up a bigger picture. It is easier to see Anderson as an Abstract Expressionist, like Rothko. He appears more concerned with the overall mood in order depict an image of our collective thoughts. Despite the huge undertaking this season, the absurdity of Grindr fashion is not lost on Anderson: “Ultimately, men walking around in a room is strange enough as it is.”
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