The Cult of Jonathan Anderson

In his role as creative director at Loewe, the Irish designer is winning over a new set of fans for the Spanish label. Here's why you should pay attention.

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In the winter of 2013, when Loewe presented its collection for the upcoming fall season, the clothing was mostly black and brown. There were leather jackets that looked expensive and suits that probably cost a full paycheck, but the collection wasn’t made for standing out. It was minimal and subtle. Loewe’s current collection, for Spring 2016, incorporates those classic touchstones, too, but it also includes rocket ships, Manga prints, race cars on T-shirts, and at least one sweatshirt featuring Goofy—all while still looking luxe. One man is responsible for this sea change: Jonathan Anderson.

On the surface, Jonathan Anderson, the baby-faced, 30-year-old London-based designer known for his avant-garde approach to clothing, may not seem like a fit for the 170-year-old Spanish luxury house favored by the country’s royal family. But scratch beneath that exterior, and you’ll find a nuanced approach to luxury that has attracted a cult-like following for both Loewe and Anderson since he took over the creative director role in 2013.

Anderson didn’t always aspire to be a designer. Born in Northern Ireland, he initially pursued a career in acting, but ultimately his interest in costume design led him to the London College of Fashion, to study menswear design. He graduated in 2005 and took a job in visual merchandising at Prada. In 2008, he launched J.W. Anderson with a menswear collection, and two years later, added women’s. That same year he was named creative director of menswear label Sunspel and, in 2013, designed a one-off capsule collection for Versace’s Versus line.

In a relatively short time, he’s become one of the most exciting fashion designers in the industry, creating strong silhouettes and playing with gender ambiguity long before it became a trend again. He’s won British Fashion Awards for Emerging Talent and New Establishment in 2012 and 2013. “Jonathan Anderson is a true provocateur, while challenging the status quo with all good intentions of creating something better,” says Tom Kalenderian, Barneys’ executive vice president and general manager for men’s and Chelsea passage. “His unique approach to fashion has redefined conventional assumptions of what we consider masculine and feminine.”

Since his appointment, he’s breathed new life into Loewe by looking to the brand’s legacy for inspiration, always filtering his designs through a forward-facing lens. “I think we live in a moment where things have to be immediate and things have to be personal,” Anderson tells me. “I feel as though everything that we do has this very personal approach to it.”

That perspective resonated with fashion press and retailers. SSENSE, a Montreal-based shop and e-commerce site, added Loewe to its brand list following Anderson’s appointment. “When we found out Jonathan was appointed creative director for Loewe, it was easy. We knew he would revitalize the house with his unorthodox vision,” says Federico Barassi, SSENSE menswear buying manager. “He has a very distinct, forward-thinking, and sometimes challenging point of view that’s refreshing. Despite his impressive accomplishments, he’s still a young guy who’s culturally engaged. He’s relatable in a way that the new generation of consumers connect with.”

“He’s not just trying to follow a specific trend or trying to completely follow an archive,” explains Véronique Hyland, fashion news editor at The Cut. “He’s one of those people where it’s really unexpected what well he’s going to dip into each time.”

Sarah Owen, senior editor at trend forecaster WGSN, agrees. “He rejects the status quo and convincingly showcases eras and references that are just on the cusp of becoming relevant,” she says. “He’s a risk taker, and in a world that is becoming a little too safe, that’s refreshing for most of the fashion industry.” Anderson’s gambles for Spring 2016 include the Manga prints, presented alongside Loewe’s signature leather goods airbrushed with rayguns. “I wanted something quite immediate, something that is very pop-cultural, something that sort of resonated with the idea of this comic-strip—the make believe,” Anderson says.

As the praise from influential boutiques and fashion editors continues to roll in, you can expect to see more shoppers jump on the Loewe bandwagon. Just don’t wait for Anderson to ever go fully mainstream; even with his post at a large LVMH fashion house at such a young age, Anderson has shown no signs of conforming—something his fans demand. Notes Kalenderian, “Jonathan’s followers wait with baited breath for the surprise and discovery each new collection reveals.”

Styled by Matthew Henson

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