Even if this is your first time hearing his name, chances are J.W. Anderson (full name: Jonathan William) has affected your wardrobe. In the few seasons since the Northern Ireland–born designer, 28, launched his women’s collection, his ideas have been pervasive. First it was his novelty insignia jumpers, strict seminary collars and undulating glossy leathers. For spring, he embraced more explicit feminine ideals—bedskirt frills, pert bias ruffles and even flippy mini-skirts. This sweetness is tempered with full pinstripe trousers, his signature quilted moto jackets and wingtip boots. What’s driving these aesthetic twists and turns? “It’s about reinterpreting pieces to work for both men and women,” writes Anderson over email (too swamped by new collaborations with Versus and Topshop, not to mention his own fall collection, to sit down for a face-to-face). After becoming smitten with costume while in theatre school, he studied menswear at the London College of Fashion. Today, he routinely shocks fashion’s capital of experimentalism— that would be London—by screwing with typifified male dress codes. Taffeta tailoring, bubblegum pink coats and lace shirtdressing—all for men!—are as perplexing as they are important. After all, we need risk-takers to offer a rebuttal to this whole “borrowed from the boys” style adage that dominates womenswear (and implies that we’re taking from men and they don’t care to take in return).
“What inspires me is the idea of a shared wardrobe for both men and women,” says Anderson. “I think you have to go through menswear to get to women’s”—an approach that also worked for Alexander McQueen and Raf Simons. The secret? To never veer into cross-dressing territory. “It’s about a twist on basics… with a slight element of kink,” Anderson says. Yes, this whole schtick could be a thesis on gender norms, but it doesn’t stand in the way of the clothes being covetable and cool as hell.
Even in an industry known for its clip pace, Anderson’s rapid rise is notable. His shows are reviewed by key critics. Celebs galore, from Michelle Dockery to Carly Rae Jepsen, wear his designs. He’s Versus’s guest designer for Fall 2013, and after a Fall 2012 collaboration with Topshop (the brand’s most successful to date), he returns for an encore. Available in April, the new collection is rife with his offbeat trademarks—hello witty knits, PVC pleats and penny loafer creepers. “It was about the girl becoming stricter, while keeping the DNA.” The end result makes Anderson one boy that we should all be borrowing from.