“Being described as the ‘next big thing’ is weird,” says Jonathan William Anderson, settling behind a desk at the London public relations firm that represents his fashion label. He’s using their office as a temporary base while a former “crack den” is transformed into his new studio. “To some people it may seem like I’ve suddenly appeared out of nowhere, but others know I’ve been dragging my hooves all over the place for a long time,” he says. The 26-year-old Anderson, known for his folk-punk take on menswear—chunky knitwear, tie-dye T-shirts, and crystal-encrusted boots—is going to have to get used to the hype machine: Anna Wintour recently met with him at the Vogue Talents Corner in Milan. “That was the oddest, most surreal moment,” Anderson remembers. “I hadn’t slept. I went straight from my menswear show in London to the airport, and suddenly I’m in a room talking to Giorgio Armani and Donatella Versace.”
As a boy in Magherafelt, Northern Ireland, Anderson’s first passion was acting. He trod the boards as a fairy with the National Youth Music Theatre in London before decamping in 2001 to “run around pretending to be a squirrel” at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. But Anderson soon realized he preferred the costumes to the drama and enrolled in the menswear program at the London College of Fashion. During his studies, he worked as musician Rufus Wainwright’s stylist and as a window-dresser for Prada, where he worked with Manuela Pavesi, Prada’s fashion coordinator, who opened his eyes to the work of Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini and nurtured the nascent designer inside of him.
In September 2007, Anderson graduated and unveiled an audacious debut menswear collection featuring insects in transparent jewelry at London Fashion Week. After two seasons, his subtle gender-bending designs, with their arsenal of references from Rasputin to ravers, established J.W. Anderson as a must-see show. But it was last year’s foray into womenswear that suddenly propelled the designer onto the international stage. Anderson’s Autumn/Winter 2011 collection revealed a more refined aesthetic with soft knits and Harris tweeds. Fans of his deviant edge needn’t panic, though. “There will always be something a bit wrong, like a really nice paisley shirt but with a rubber collar,” he smirks. “It’s not quite fetish, it’s just a little bit sick . . . I’m really into abattoir shoes at the moment.”
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