Jonathan Anderson: ‘Once I perfect something I hate it’ | Life and style


Jonathan Anderson wants to recreate the feeling of home. Albeit in a grand, palatial way on the corner of Bond Street. For the new Loewe flagship London store, Casa Loewe, which opens this month, he is determined to build an experience that will cosset his customers, rather than intimidate them. “It’s not a fashion store,” he says, running a hand through his hair. “I mean, yes, that’s the purpose, but I want people to be able to go in. It’s this idea of ‘casa’ and changing the way in which we see stores. I feel like they are public places so they have to be able to educate as well – they cannot just be about taking.”

It’s a striking ambition, but Anderson has made a career of them: following a flunked attempt at drama school in the US, he graduated from the London College of Fashion and had a stint working at Prada. In 2008, he launched his menswear label and quickly became one of the hottest properties in the industry. An acclaimed womenswear collection followed in 2010, and a Topshop collaboration took him to the high street in 2012. The following year, at just 29, he was announced as creative director of luxury Spanish fashion brand Loewe. In 2015, his own label, JW Anderson, made history by becoming the first to win both men’s and womenswear designer of the year at the British fashion awards.

Jonathan Anderson.

Jonathan Anderson. Photograph: Manuel Braun

“I saw luxury stores as a barrier when I was a child,” he explains from behind the oversize desk in his Paris office, overlooking the baroque parish of Saint-Sulpice. “But I want to be able to create a canvas I can put fashion into. I feel like a space has to be emotional – if it’s not emotional, you won’t go in – and instead of thinking about luxury spaces, we should think about cultural spaces.”

Anderson is dressed in a chunky Aran sweater, flecked with navy-grey. Unlike the waxed wood floors found throughout the building, his office is decked in thick white carpet and dotted with artefacts and ceramics. An imposing William Turnbull sculpture rests in one corner. “It’s been here waiting a long time, it’s going to flank the spiral staircase in the [London] store,” he says, with pride. The only other one can be found in Tate Britain.

Loewe has placed enormous faith in its precocious, charming creative director; Anderson has gutted and redesigned three Loewe stores so far, including the mother ship in Madrid and, having delivered double-digit growth since his arrival, he has successfully convinced the brand to think bigger than the handbags it is built on. “I put more excitement into the stores than I do into shows,” he insists, twirling knots in his hair. “Everything about the space in which those bags exist has to be at the same level.”

To that end, he has established the Loewe Foundation craft prize, now in its third year. The first two winners worked with carved wood and ceramics, and this year’s shortlist includes artists working in glass, lacquer, gold and concrete. Anderson has also been given free rein to indulge his obsessions with British ceramics, contemporary art and antique furniture with a seemingly blank cheque to buy museum-level pieces for Loewe.

Shop floor in Casa Loewe in Madrid, with a big coloured artwork on wall and lots of handbags

Casa Loewe in Madrid, which has been gutted and redesigned. Photograph: Plastiques Photography

“I just think it would be really nice, over the next five to 10 years, to build a sizeable collection [of art] for Loewe. In a brand that has such a big legacy, you have to keep fuelling it, and the best way for me to do it is at the highest level, so whoever comes in after you, it will be difficult to batter away.”

His idea to reconfigure Loewe’s luxury stores to allow them to feel more like public galleries, in the spirit of curator and collector Jim Ede’s Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, is a bold one. Balancing art, decor and fashion doesn’t seem to faze him, but Ede’s former home-cum-avant garde art museum has had a profound influence on the way Anderson sees and feels; his 2016 resort collection was shown there, to underline how fashion could contribute to the notion of “a beautiful life”.

Experiential stores that attempt to offer culture, community, Instagrammable features and the like have been dubbed the future of retail for some time now. But Anderson’s vision of curated spaces with programmes of talks, awe-inspiring sculpture, painting and craft is unique – for now. A collaboration with Frieze art fair is in the pipeline; panel events around London fashion week are also expected. What was the conversation like at the top when he pitched it?

“There’s never a conversation,” he says dramatically, with a laugh. “Well, there’s always a conversation which is: ‘We’re doing it. It’s happening.’ My whole thing is that you can spend a lot of money on very cheap furniture and probably buy the original for less, and as stores are very expensive to do, it’s better to build a shell and then decorate that shell.”

Wood sculptures by Ernst Gamperl, who won the first Loewe prize in 2017.

Wood sculptures by Ernst Gamperl, who won the first Loewe prize in 2017. Photograph: LOEWE

At the moment, he’s committed to the same process at both work and home; he has razed his Hackney townhouse and is overseeing every detail of its redesign.“The trouble is that once I perfect something, I hate it,” he groans. “I look back at pictures of my house and think, ‘Why did I demolish it? There was nothing wrong with it.’” He pauses. “But I feel it all influences my work, it becomes a movable feast and you don’t lock on to one aesthetic.”

Anderson’s confidence in his own signature taste is born, he thinks, of a childhood spent wandering flea markets with his grandfather, rummaging around for Georgian glass or Delft pottery. He grew up in the 80s in Northern Ireland, during the Troubles, with an older brother and younger sister. His father, Willie Anderson, was an international rugby player and his mother worked as an English teacher. He describes his personality as “obsessional”, explaining, “Once I see something and lock on to it, I want it. And if I can’t have it, I get incredibly disappointed.”

Three mannequins wearring Loewe outfits next to bags and a textile artwork on wall

The ‘experiential’ Casa Loewe in Madrid. Photograph: Plastiques Photography

In many ways, he is a solemn throwback to a different era. Anderson likes talking in abstracts about 18th-century design, about Charles Rennie Mackintosh, about his desire to be “an eco-warrior” and the rejection of social media with which he has a passionate on-off relationship. “I embrace it 100%, but I go through phases when I can’t go near it – it becomes a monster.” He’s going through an off phase at the moment. “When you are so into imagery and consuming so much, it gives you anxiety somehow.”

The real problem, he thinks, is the angry moment we’re living in. “We’ve regressed and ended up with this very disturbing moment where you have recreational outrage and no one wants a solution for it, they simply want a release. We’re angry about race, about gender, about everything – there’s so much of it without solutions and it sends me doolally.”

Anderson pauses for breath. He is hoping, he says, for a big bang “that throws everything out of the window – which is what should happen in art and society”. Is it a conversation he is comfortable having with his peers? After all, as designers, being at the cutting edge is part of the brief. “Sometimes it feels like I’m talking to a wall,” he deadpans. “Sometimes I feel like I know what I’m doing and I know what I’m contributing.” He twirls another knot in his hair, a tic for when he’s thinking. “And then sometimes I go through long periods of not knowing at all.”

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