Jonathan Anderson is definitely not in the “back to normal and forget” camp of fashion. He was on a mission to mark his comeback runway show at Loewe with a massive creative change. “We’ve had the pandemic, and now we have to come out of it different,” he said. “I think it’s a moment of experimentation. If you’re going to reset after this period, you need to allow a moment to birth a new aesthetic. Start again.”
It took place in a purpose-built “blank space.” No props, no artworks, no available rabbit holes of reference to divert attention: just clothes. Three long black column dresses to begin with. Minimal—except for the fact that each had a metal structure beneath, each one thrusting a different 3D geometric shape from stomach, shoulder, hip. Then three more ankle-length tube-dresses, one in a blurry pale blue and flesh-colored print; one pale gray, the next primrose yellow.
So, was Anderson about to offer up an elegantly calm, relatively straightforward palate-cleansing antidote to the complexities and confusions of stepping out into the world again? Not so fast. He has a restless mind, always fighting against the too-obvious response. “In a weird way, I wanted the collection to be hysterical,” he said. “So that there’s a tension. Because this is a strange moment.”
This conversation with Anderson had taken place a few days before, during a Loewe fitting. There were no mood boards around. Getting to the freeing point of structuring newness means flying mood-board-free, trusting in instinct, randomness, and what looks good—oddly good—as he and his team set about draping and editing. “It’s more… psychological, I’d say,” he offered.
But he provided one clue, on his phone, to the passages of pastel blues and pinks, the swags and wraps of chiffon—and the wing-like shoulder structure that suddenly threw the collection off the straight and narrow. It was a picture of The Deposition from the Cross, painted by the Italian Mannerist artist Jacopo Pontormo in Florence 1528. Anderson liked all the “ hysteria” of the figures in the painting; something resonated.
As it happens—if Wikipedia can be trusted—Pontormo was painting at the end of an outbreak of plague in Italy; one of many waves of contagion that decimated populations in Europe from the Middle Ages onwards. Anderson didn’t mention that. For what can it possibly have to do with the context of fashion as it re-emerges from the certainties of 2019?
But back to what he called the “chapters” of his show. His fresh-start innovation combined ribbed jersey T-shirt material with golden breastplates—an echo, perhaps, of Claude Lalanne’s work for Yves Saint Laurent in the 1960s. There was an elevation of everyday fabric—white tanks terrifically teamed with chiffon balloon pants—and conceptual reworking of athletic tracksuits in taffeta. “Elevating the normal” as Anderson put it.
On the feet were strappy shoes with heels surreally made from birthday candles, bottles of nail polish, a bar of soap. Bags in lavender or red were made from stiff teddy-bear fabric. Nothing made “sense”—but that was the daring and the fascination of this collection. We’re living in surreal times. Jonathan Anderson gets that, and is reflecting it back. Such experimentation with fashion is truly rare these days. Bravo to him for that.
This article was originally published on Vogue.com.