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It’s not about loyalty, it’s about continuity. That’s what people demand, according to JW Anderson, with whom we chat via Zoom on the occasion of his new collaboration with Uniqlo. A long-term relationship following his vision of fashion, in which democratisation, identity and the simplicity of the message stand as fundamental values. Since their first collaboration together four years ago, Loewe's creative director and designer of his self-titled brand has found in the Japanese house a perfect synergy, which allows him to connect with his audience and expand horizons. The new chapter of this consolidated alliance, the Spring/Summer 2021 collection, comes out next Thursday, April 22. "I think it's very clean, it's a new beginning," he says about this new proposal.

Making a T-shirt with small flowers on the star garment, being the result of an idea he initially had, JW Anderson explains to us the concept of his new collection together with Uniqlo. "It represents this idea of taking something nostalgic and turning it into something free." An idea that bets on the enhancement of craftsmanship in the form of natural colours, linen fabrics and the importance given to details. And accessories, which are essential in the fashion vision of the acclaimed designer. "I think they really finish the look," he adds.

The launch of the collection also coincides with the opening of the new Uniqlo store in La Maquinista shopping centre in Barcelona. A space that keeps the minimalist and functional aesthetics promoted by the Japanese retailer, which agrees with the forecast that Anderson shares with us in our call regarding the future of physical trading. "I think stores are going to have to do more to keep going." We speak with him about the importance of tactility in a world that is increasingly inclined towards digital experiences, the return (or not) of face-to-face shows and the benefits of betting on collaborative formats between brands from different segments.

First of all, I’d like to know how you have experienced these last months in lockdown. Where have you been?
I have been in London, we just got out of lockdown. I think we all are getting used to it… It’s spring, so I feel good.
You have continued to work on your different projects, demanding greater audience participation in such a turbulent time. Why interacting with the audience was so important during this pandemic?
I guess over the last while it’s been nice to build a kind of personal relationship with people and get to know your audience. I think everyone has gone through a very difficult time, and we must share.
It is clear is that hope and optimism have been more necessary than ever. And this is precisely the leitmotif of your new collection with Uniqlo. A new episode of a relationship that emerged in 2017, which now goes one step further with the Spring/Summer 2021 collection. How would you define this new proposal in only one sentence?
I think it’s very clean. It’s a fresh start, a transition between spring and summer. It’s timeless, universal, and something with a lot of ease.
You have just mentioned a fresh start, but this is not your first collection in hand with Uniqlo. What’s the main difference between the previous collaborations?
It’s something quite fresh with very subtle finishes, like the stitching on the pockets or embroidery, which is something we had not really explored. And I wanted to do something very simplistic.
Which garments would you highlight from this collection? Is there any of them that best represents the idea you had in mind?
Well, I really like the T-shirt with the little flowers on it because it was the initial image I had in my head. It represents this idea of taking something nostalgic and turning it into something free, and I think it’s something that as you wear it will age pretty well.

In addition to linen shirts and dresses, or these t-shirts with embroidered flowers you are talking about, we also find accessories such as caps and tote bags. How important are accessories to you? Do they help to give complete meaning to the collection?
I enjoy working on accessories because I think they really finish the look. A hat, a scarf... Sometimes people might just want an accessory.
Together with Uniqlo, you have explored the fusion of British heritage and the comfort encouraged by the Japanese brand. You have also reflected together on timelessness, technical perfection and the quality of fabrics. And now you come together to launch a collection inspired by new beginnings. How do you complement each other throughout the creative process?
We both have design teams, and we have lots of fittings and meetings. Obviously, through this period this has all become via Zoom but we collaborate through the whole process. It’s about getting both brands and meeting in the middle.
"Working with Uniqlo is probably the most incredible template for democracy in fashion," you commented in 2017 when you unveiled your first collection with the brand. Looking at it in perspective and now that you have been working together for several seasons, what has this collaboration meant to you? Has it made you look at fashion differently?
I really love this huge operation. I always think what’s interesting about Uniqlo is that it's a brand on the high street that creates its own design, it’s not a copy. And I think that’s very important.
In addition to listening to end consumers, it seems essential to be in contact with colleagues with whom values are shared. Whether they are designers, brands or professionals from other areas of the industry. Are collaborations the future of fashion?
I don’t know if they’re important or not but I really enjoy them. I've learned a lot from it. I enjoy being able to talk to different audiences. Taking a brand as a platform and being able to apply it to different types. Uniqlo has a broader demographic, it is incredibly exciting because ultimately it allows younger people to engage.
This democratisation is one of the great claims of a generation increasingly committed to sustainability, which does not want to renounce therefore to wear unique pieces. What is the next step for the fashion system to take?
I think of the environment, this is going to be one of the big challenges not only in fashion but for every single industry. When you look at Spain, the food industry is going to go through some change. When you look at Britain, the culture has changed, transport… If we want to stay in this world, we’re going to have to change it. But I think it really depends on where you are in the world.
In terms of fashion, we’re seeing Asia having a huge resurgence, and Europe is in a very different situation. America is in a very different situation, too. The connection with local consumers has become very important. I think people want real honest art and design. They want something which has an identity.

How can we get an identity in fashion?
Well, you can get different forms of identity. Nike has an identity, lots of things have identities. It’s more about authenticity, the idea of something that’s not fake which hold morals. Brands have to speak more than ever, we are being thrown into a position where we have to be close to our consumer. So it’s a very odd moment because there’s a lot more expected from brands.
I totally agree. Authenticity may be a very important issue for new generations. Craftsmanship, the blurring of gender boundaries and respect for the environment are other axes of post-pandemic fashion. Is there greater awareness on the part of end consumers, in terms of sustainability and social responsibility? Is this change real?
If it’s not, there’s not going to be anything left... It’s not only brands, the government has to be able to step in as well. Not everyone can afford luxury products, so there is a need for brands like Uniqlo because they are more democratic. The idea of the environment is a must, and it’s not going to happen overnight. The problem I find sometimes with media is that we sensationalise these things, but then we don’t actually look at the long term solutions. We want it all done today, but unfortunately, it’s going to take ten or fifteen years. We have to realise it is not just one action.
Apart from luxury and fashion, many other industries have huge repercussions on the environment. So I think it’s a balancing act, and we have to consider how wealth is spread. We have to think long term and be realistic. But yes, I think it’s not something brands do just for some PR thing.
Instead of betting on the retransmission of traditional recorded shows, you have decided to explore new communication channels. From maximalism to minimalism and from reality to fantasy. Which feedback have you received? Have you drawn any clear conclusions?
I think people want things to have a very simple message. People are bored of complex messages, they want them to be straight to the point, and I feel what I have been doing creatively is very straight to the point. More straight forward. 
As we anticipated just now, your relationship with Uniqlo goes back four years. And since then you have not stopped creating, being one of the most consolidated collaborations in a panorama marked by transience and continuous change. Is loyalty something fundamental nowadays?
I think brand loyalty has become a thing of the past. I think we fluctuate from brands a lot more. When I started working at Uniqlo, I realised we needed to build a collaboration. It is a long term relationship. I invest in it, we believe in it, and I think people want continuity.
Some people say we will opt for timeless, functional and comfortable garments after the pandemic. And many others foresee we will prefer extravagant, colourful and bright clothes to symbolically combat the difficult period we have experienced. How do you think fashion will be in the new twenties?
I think it’s related to what country you’re talking about. When I look at Europe, I think it’s going to go through a complex moment, there are going to be many issues outside of our control.
Inequality is going to become huge, and the idea of dressing up is going to be an element. As the year progresses, September, October… I can see a lot more colour and people taking more risks. And maybe they might have changed their aesthetic. It’s very difficult to know because we are still in a pandemic, so whatever the new reality is, it is a process of time. Let’s see.

As you said, we still are amid a pandemic, but do you think physical fashion shows make sense nowadays? Should we be ton new formats?
Fashions shows will be back.
Will they change in some aspect?
There will probably be a lot more shows in Asia. Fashion weeks will still exist, some will become stronger than others, but they’re quite an efficient way of information.
Maybe we should take advantage of digital tools to improve the physical experience…
The problem with digital, ultimately, is that you lack tactility. I do think more tactility is going to be needed in the digital experience. So I think stores are going to have to do more, moving forward.
You have pursued this tactility by trying new different solutions, sending over images, books and even posters to your audience. Will you go back to face-to-face shows?
I’m thinking about doing a show in September, but not everyone is going to be travelling at that stage. America is going to take a long time, Asians are going to take a long time until they come back to Europe because there are travel restrictions. We do have social problems which we as a society need to deal with, such as racism. We want people to come back and I do think it is important that a show does support other creative fields: hairstyling, set design... These people involved are another part of the industry.
Have you had emotional ups and downs during the pandemic, or have you kept an upbeat attitude?
I think like everyone I’ve had ups and downs. I’ve had good days and bad days, but I do feel optimistic at the moment. We can change things, change is in the air, but we have to naturally let it fall into place. I think we can’t just be like: oh, the future is going to be this, or the future’s going to be that. We all have way too many opinions, but no solutions.

David Alarcón

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