Jonathan Anderson and Hans Ulrich Obrist

In early April, we sent the following request to a broad range of fashion designers.

Given the current situation, we would like System’s next issue to focus on long-form interviews led by designers – conversations recorded via video conferencing.

Now feels like a particularly relevant moment to focus on designers, as the industry looks to you to lead fashion towards the future, to capture the moment, and, perhaps above all, to enable us to dream.

What would you talk about? It’s not for us to dictate this, because we feel the project could have an inherent Warholian quality – anything that you say becomes valid when placed in the time-capsule context of this document of the moment.

Many wrote back, saying they’d like to use the opportunity to connect with a friend, a colleague, a confidant, a hero, or another designer.

We’re extremely grateful that they did. And the least we could do to return the gesture is give each their own System cover.

Photographs by Juergen Teller
Creative partner, Dovile Drizyte

What do we talk about? Jonathan Anderson and Hans Ulrich Obrist - © System Magazine

In early April, we sent the following request to a broad range of fashion designers.

Given the current situation, we would like System’s next issue to focus on long-form interviews led by designers – conversations recorded via video conferencing.

Now feels like a particularly relevant moment to focus on designers, as the industry looks to you to lead fashion towards the future, to capture the moment, and, perhaps above all, to enable us to dream.

What would you talk about? It’s not for us to dictate this, because we feel the project could have an inherent Warholian quality – anything that you say becomes valid when placed in the time-capsule context of this document
of the moment.

Many wrote back, saying they’d like to use the opportunity to connect with a friend, a colleague, a confidant, a hero, or another designer.

We’re extremely grateful that they did. And the least we could do to return the gesture is give each their own System cover.

‘I work in a job to do with touch,
and right now I can’t touch anything.’

Jonathan Anderson and
Hans Ulrich Obrist in conversation,
22 April 2020.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: Hi, Jonathan. To begin with the beginning: we are living in a challenging time and this is perhaps a moment to reflect on the state of the planet. It is a moment to think about its future, and also a moment of slowing down. How have the past couple of weeks been for you? What’s been your experience of lockdown?

Jonathan Anderson: Actually, we started off feeling slightly confused. Like, is this actually happening? That was the beginning. Weirdly, because I work in Paris and obviously in fashion, I could see this was starting in January, that it was starting to become a problem. When China started to go into lockdown, I didn’t think it would get to this extent, but I could see that there was starting to be anxiety. When I was doing my show in Paris [on February 28], I wasn’t even sure it was going to happen. By March I had succumbed to the idea that this was going in one direction. At home, my initial reaction was to spring clean. I have cleaned every cupboard, every window. A cleaning out is a way to get away from the reality of the situation, and it means that you are working. And then as time goes on you start to think of the bigger picture. I have watched the news every day. I haven’t avoided it; sometimes I feel I would rather know the reality of what’s happening in real time. But it’s a weird one. I work in a job to do with touch and I can’t touch anything. I work with something that is all about teamwork, which we can try and do via the computer, but… I think that through this process you start to realize the fundamentals. There are a lot of people speculating about what the future of fashion is
going to be, what the future of art will be or what the car industry will be. I don’t think it is going to be an immediate revolution or radical change; it is going to be a slow revolution. I think people have a lot of time on their hands. I think it will be progressive. Nature is telling us that it cannot go on like this. So it might actually create long-term solutions, instead of short-term ones. In a weird way, it would be good if it doesn’t flip too quickly because it would be good to come up with constructive things, rather than things that won’t last. I have been Googling a lot about the Great Depression in America and other parts of the world, and how, leading up to the crash, there was a high on consumerism before it really hit in. I’m wondering if the same is going to happen. We could see a high, but then reality is going to hit. I think it’s going to be like hitting a glass wall.

Hans Ulrich: It is also a moment, of course, where we think about supporting people. Helen Levitt told me about the New Deal. During the Roosevelt years, the government in America launched this big operation to employ 10,000 artists, who were actually paid salaries, and to open community centres. The most difficult thing now is for the young people who are emerging. So many young artists can no longer pay the rent in London, so I think it is important to think about larger-scale support, like a new New Deal, with larger-scale governmental initiatives. That is something I have been thinking about a lot recently. Public art projects, for
example. Of course, another reaction to the crisis is my friend Daniel Humm, who has Eleven Madison Park, and in just a few days turned this Michelin-starred restaurant into a kitchen for people in need. Of course, some fashion brands are making masks. What are your thoughts on how we can help in this current moment?

Jonathan: Talking about the art initiatives, I looked back to World War Two and what happened then, when you had a British government initiative to send people like Henry Moore to do pictures on the Underground and document the situation. Now, when we look back we are happy that that was funded, because it created memorable images that were not just some throwaway; they were more like a reinterpretation. One image that always comes to mind is Paul Nash’s pictures of the trees at the end of World War One, where there’s this landscape that looks kind of futuristic but is ultimately a viewpoint of the world falling apart. With Loewe, we have worked on building and extending our platform on craft with a series called En Casa, which is about helping people by using our larger audience to
promote them. In the coming months we will extend that, so our consumers can buy directly from them. And then we have the Loewe Craft Prize, and a lot of initiatives with art that we will keep in place and extend. With Loewe, we have obviously used manufacturing capabilities to make masks, and at the same time Loewe is working with an NGO working with children in Spain. With JW Anderson, we are helping out a charity for homeless LGBTQ youth. For me, this is just the beginning, in terms of corporate responsibility. I’ve always believed that when I joined Loewe, I was put in a privileged position, which meant we had to work out ways of giving back, such as funding artists through the exhibitions we stage in Miami. Loewe is a platform as well, in a weird way. Artists can gain other customers through us, because – and I think this is one thing art and fashion have in common at the moment, and that we’ll see more of in the next 24 months – ultimately, art and fashion are both luxury goods. A lot of it can only be consumed by the one percent. It’s about what that trickle-down effect can do to help. I have been amazed by the different things that have come up, from the most unlikely companies. This big gallery launched this thing called Platform that is helping younger galleries to sell work; I think that was really smart. It’s about getting money, sure, but it is also about building initiatives that could be long-standing after this moment. I thought that was quite humble – the big guy helping out the small guy. After this, we cannot revert back to where we were. My own work was getting incredibly fast, and you could not process at that rate. Now, when I look back on the past four or five weeks, I feel like now I would organize my day completely differently; I wouldn’t work in the same way. I don’t want to go back and work within the same construct. I think that needs to change, and a lot of my staff will realize that through this
process, too. That a lot more can done without this continual pressure in terms of timelines.

‘If I can keep 1,000 people employed at Loewe and 80 at JW, there is an ecosystem around those people’s jobs. That is what gets me through this.’

Hans Ulrich: That’s a really great point, because obviously it is important not to go back to where we were before because the environmental crisis will need us to work in different ways, by limiting growth and being sustainable. Talking about the economy, I wanted to ask about your beginnings. I began in the late 1980s, early 1990s, and the stock-exchange crash of 1989 happened while I was at university. My beginning as a curator coincided with a recession. I did my first show in a kitchen. I had a budget of €200 and it was very intimate. All my early shows had that DIY spirit. I find it very interesting that you launched your label in 2008, which was also a recession. Tell us a bit about your beginnings, and the beginning of your label within a recession.

Jonathan: What is interesting is that when you start something, you have blinkers on. You don’t really see what is happening in the rest of the world, because all you believe in is what you’re starting. When I look back at that moment, even selling one T-shirt was a huge deal; I wasn’t really looking at what was happening globally, because all I cared about was making. The situation now is much harder because my business is much bigger; in the beginning, it didn’t matter. Whatever was going to be the outcome was going to be the outcome anyway. I didn’t have 50 staff; it was like me and three other people, trying to make something. In a weird way, it is quite nice to start at rock bottom, especially when everything else is at rock bottom, because you can only go up. Plus, in that moment it was never just about selling, it was more about the idea, and I do miss that sometimes. That fascinating moment of discovery. Actually, I think creativity is at its best when you don’t have anything.

Hans Ulrich: How did you come to fashion or how did fashion come to you? I was wondering if you had an epiphany. For me, it was seeing Giacometti’s sculptures at the age of 10 or 11, and then meeting Fischli and Weiss when I was 17 in Switzerland – that sort of made me a curator.

Jonathan: I had gone to a university in Washington DC to study acting, and I wanted to be an actor in musical theatre, but in the second year I stopped enjoy-
ing it. My dad was coaching a rugby team in Dublin and said that I was going to have to pay back the tuition money, so I decided to apply for a job at Brown Thomas, which is a department store in Dublin and I got it. It was a time when Tom Ford was designing for Gucci and YSL; Hedi Slimane had started doing Dior’s menswear. It was a moment when menswear had broken out into something else, and there was an actual interest in men’s fashion. I was working in the store and this unassuming, but very stylish woman came in. It was Manuela Pavesi, who was the visual communications director for Prada windows, and a best friend of Miuccia Prada. I didn’t know this at the time, but because I was working in the store and wearing the product, she was like, ‘Do a rack for me. How would you do
it?’ At the time, the store wasn’t very big, so I mixed Prada Sport and mainline together on one rack and she really liked the idea. It wasn’t just separated. And she said that if I ever came to London, she would give me a job. In my head, though, I had to go back to university, so I applied to every school and ended up being offered a course at London College of Fashion for menswear. One day I went into Prada Bond Street to pick up this magazine that they used to do and she was there, saying, ‘You never contacted me, but you can start today.’ So that was when I started working with her. She was the catalyst; the person who made me. I grew up in Ireland, and you would never meet a character like her. In a weird way, I was more obsessed by the character and the wildness of this person, more than the fashion. It was fascinating to watch someone wearing pyjamas, crocodile loafers, a men’s anorak, a crocodile bag and a Tesco bag doing a store window and
having a tantrum. I wasn’t used to any of that, so I fell in love with her character and the more I learned the more I became obsessed by the business. I started off by loving the idea of the visual communication of the window.

‘Lots of people are speculating about the future of fashion. I don’t think it’s going to be an immediate or radical change; it’s going to be a slow revolution.’

Hans Ulrich: In a previous interview you said that at that time you learned to have an emotional connection to the brand. I think that is very interesting…

Jonathan: When I worked for Prada, there was only Prada in my head. You were under the spell of it. It was incredibly emotional because you would be waiting to see the next collection; you wanted to know what it was about. You might hate it in the beginning, but then you would love it mid-season. And it was part of working with that clothing on a daily basis, trying to reinterpret it over the season, trying to sell it. You just became part of that cult of Prada. There was a moment when Miuccia had done a show with feathered hats, peacock dresses; it was an amazing moment, like a meeting of Courrèges and Portobello Road. It was very eclectic. Together, we were all part of the team; it was like Prada against the world in terms of competing against other fashion. You became part of that family, and you would have done anything to protect it.

Hans Ulrich: And were there any other inspirations? The future is always invented with fragments of the past. Who else inspired you from history or from the past?

Jonathan: When I was at drama school, I was obsessed with James Dean. I know that sounds completely naff, but I think I read every book on him I could find. And at that time in Washington DC, you could see old films in cinemas where you could still smoke. Smoking was a really bad habit that I had in DC, which probably began just because I was able to smoke in a cinema and it was so novel! In those films, there was something about that 1950s stylistic moment that I found so sexually appealing. When I worked with Manuela Pavesi and I was still at school, I became obsessed with an Irish designer. I’m from Ireland and I didn’t think there were many people from Ireland in fashion, but there was one designer during the war called Digby Morton.

Hans Ulrich: I don’t know him. What is his name?

Jonathan: Digby Morton, and you will probably know this image; it’s a very powerful image, actually quite in keeping with today. I can’t remember if it was for Bazaar or for Vogue. It’s a woman with her back turned, in front of a building that is falling down and it was a kind of turning point during the war, and the model is wearing a Digby Morton suit. It was, in a weird way, very close in time to the New Look. A lot of people refer to that image as being a Dior suit, but it is actually Digby Morton, and it was this idea of looking at the utilitarianism of a men’s suit, repurposing fabrics during the war. He did uniforms for the Red Cross and things like that, as well. So I have always been into heavyweight fabric in terms of clothing. It’s very industrial.

Hans Ulrich: That’s interesting that he would design for the Red Cross. Super timely for now, very interesting. How are you seeing the future?

Jonathan: I have spoken to Pascale [Lepoivre], the CEO of Loewe, and to Jenny [Galimberti], the CEO of JW Anderson every evening for the past six weeks. It’s not been about trying to work out what the future is, but where the touch points could be. And one thing that I think is sad, but interesting at the same time, is that 10% of people who are dying are of an older generation, so there will be huge parts of a generation that will quickly vanish without saying goodbye. And I think there will be a discovery of the notion of nostalgia, through the loss of loved ones. If society is smart, we might, through that process, be able to hold onto memories through tactility instead of only through a digital focus. The first two weeks of quarantine, I couldn’t look at social media. I found it really upsetting and disturbing, because it was just recreational outrage. Parts of the world were at different moments. People’s realities were different in London to in Italy. It became very confusing and I didn’t want to look at fashion or see fashion imagery. I felt like it was completely unimportant.

‘When I was at drama school, I was obsessed with James Dean. I know that sounds completely naff, but I think I read every book on him I could find.’

Hans Ulrich: That’s a great idea about this discovery and the loved ones. We live in an age where we have more and more information but that does not necessarily mean we have more memories. Maybe amnesia is at the core of the digital age. I wanted to ask you one more question about the beginnings. I think it is very rare that a person will cry in an art exhibition and in fashion shows – people cry more in cinemas – but I was talking to Raf Simons the other day, who told me about this early Margiela show he saw, it was the famous White show, with a lot of kids in north-east Paris [Spring/Summer 1990]. It was a legendary show. And Raf was saying that not only did he cry at the time, but each time he tells the story he starts to cry, and then he started to cry when he was talking to me. He said that when
he saw that show, that was the moment when he knew he would become a fashion designer. So I was wondering if you had seen any fashion shows where you cried.

Jonathan: I have never cried at a fashion show, but when I have done Loewe there have been a few shows that have been so exhausting, and to see it being
realized and to see everyone’s momentum, you do get quite upset, somehow. You know you have done all this work and then where does it all go? But I am more likely to cry in the cinema than at a fashion show. Maybe it is harder for me. It is such a personal thing. I find it very difficult to be attached to someone else’s work. It’s harder emotionally for me.

Hans Ulrich: That brings us to the next chapter of the interview, which is to talk about some of your landmark shows. From all of the many, many shows you
have done, what are the ones that are dearest to you?

Jonathan: I remember the key ones that really changed things for me, whether or not they were full collections, because there were many collections that were more like look books, not fully formed collections. The first one, I did something with paisley, with latex collars. It was a very strange collection, very boyish. And that was the first one when I did men’s and women’s. It was this idea of a shared wardrobe. But when I look back at the collections, I think the one that was a real turning point was made out of military felt, and there was a look that was ruffled shorts with knee-high boots and a bustier crop top on men. I remember it was in an old warehouse and it was done to music with Angel Haze. I was so excited about the show, and then the next morning the Daily Mail said that I had destroyed
masculinity. It was really seething, like ‘Why would the British Fashion Council sponsor things like this?’ It was a weird awakening, but whenever I get requests to borrow from the archives, it’s always for that look. It was a very simplistic idea, a very basic fabric, and it was a turning point for me in terms of, ‘OK, it may not make sense in the moment, but you stuck your neck out and really became part of it.’

Hans Ulrich: I loved that collection. When I saw images of it first, it made me think of Joseph Beuys.

Jonathan: Maybe two years before that, I did a very small collection that was made out of the same felt that Beuys used for the room with the piano; I was really obsessed by that. It was one of the most gross fabrics, because it falls apart in your hands and is very itchy, but I have always been into felt because you don’t have to finish the edge. It doesn’t fray when you cut it, so you can do very basic silhouettes. And I have always been drawn to people like Beuys; this idea of simple cutting, but through the action you get volume. It’s a painter’s canvas, and it is so interesting how you gain volume through mistakes. You know, when you cut things too big, the shape is more exciting than the piece itself. And the action of performance too. It is so difficult looking back at collections because you start to hate some of them. With the first collection with Loewe, there was the excitement of having been given a job for a bigger brand. I did it at UNESCO [in Paris], which
we still use. I think there was something in that collection; we’d basically spent a year trying to work out how to put the DNA back into that brand, which had been going for nearly 200 years. Then there was a collection we did in plastic, which we would never do again. We used all this heat-sealed technology, where all the seams were heat treated. It was super fascinating to do that collection, but now it would be completely unethical. When I look at the last three womenswear shows that we have done at Loewe, I think I have got into a bit of a pace with it. The last show I really loved, and, in a weird way, with this whole situation, I’m kind of glad
that every show is like your last show, because there won’t be any shows this year. I worked with Takuro Kuwata, a ceramicist who I have known for many, many years, which was my first clothing collaboration with a living artist, and it was a really nice moment to do it. In a weird way, it feels like an end. When I look at those collections, it feels like they were done five years ago. It’s only been six weeks!

‘We live in an age where we have more information but that does not mean we have more memories. Maybe amnesia is at the core of the digital age.’

Hans Ulrich: Can you tell me a bit more about those recent collections?

Jonathan: I feel that, for the first time, one collection was not stronger than the other. Sometimes I have moments where I am more engaged with my own
brand and less engaged with Loewe. It depends on the season. But there was something where they were both about volumes, but with two different messages. At JW, I think the pattern cutting, the technology, the craftsmanship that we were able to achieve without couture-house backing, was fantastic. The volumes were very new and exciting. We had that large coat with a big collar; it is very simple but the actual construction was incredibly complicated. There was an ease to it. We had been looking at moments in the 1920s and the 1940s, after the boom period and before the collapse; now it’s weird how it has all collapsed. Sometimes I feel that when we do come back – and we will – it was nice to end on a high and that we can start building from there again. As much as it is fashion and it’s not art, it is
quite nice that it was a show that probably won’t be sold very much. And it will go down as the last show before the world imploded. I am glad that everyone put their full effort into that last one, without actually knowing things were going to end. That is probably the beauty of it.

Hans Ulrich: When you took over Loewe – and again this has a lot to do with the current moment – there was a pause; there was a silence. I mean, you worked a lot, but you didn’t do any shows for 18 months, and it is great that LVMH let you do that, because usually the fashion industry has these relentless rhythms, and designers often complain about how fast those rhythms are. You talk about the slowness right now, but you did that already at that moment with Loewe.

Jonathan: The biggest thing about that slowness is that it gives you time to make mistakes in private. The problem with fashion is that we are obsessed by –
and this might change now – but we are obsessed by failure. It is very heightened and addictive in terms of competition and profit. This has changed the job of a fashion designer. In those 18 months I was able to go through every single department and see every single employee and work out what was working and what was not. If you are working for a big brand you cannot just be a designer; you have to be the HR person; you have to understand a bit about finance. I would never do any project in the future unless I had a period of at least a year to understand it. These brands are so old and have such a fine balance and a language that is all built over that period. You cannot just do a collection the following season. I wouldn’t have been able to put my mind into it.

Hans Ulrich: I also know that you needed to think about the brand and to think about the logo, and you worked with my very dear friends Mathias and Michael
at M/M (Paris), friends we have in common, and who were very important for me. In the 1990s, curators were invisible and I was shy about putting my name on
stuff, and they basically created a brand for me. I want to know how you worked with them, and how they redesigned the logo and reinvented the brand in those
18 months.

Jonathan: I remember saying to M/M that I wanted a blank page with Loewe at the top, like a standardised A4 piece of paper, but that the font needs to change. I felt that I wanted to be able to draw or do a sketch on a white page and that that could be the advertisement. So they looked at the history of Germany and Spain and they took all of the baroque layers off Loewe. In a weird way, it became more German, in terms of the lines of it. They also made this research book, this kind of
fantasy book that we put together for Delphine Arnault. That is where the one of the nicest ideas came up, I had this Meisel image from a story he did in 1997 called ‘Interpretation’. It was all images inspired by American painter, Alex Katz and there was this amazing image of kids on a beach. And we decided there was no point reshooting this image because it had already had the art reference and the fashion reference, so instead of reshooting it, we just put it out as the campaign. Something like that is why it took a long time to start. If you get off on the wrong foot, it is very difficult to backtrack. I’ve seen it with other brands where people rush in and they get it wrong, and then it is very difficult to backtrack because the thought process of the media is so short and there are so many brands.

‘For the first two weeks of quarantine, I didn’t want to look at fashion or see fashion imagery. I felt like it was completely unimportant.’

Hans Ulrich: It is interesting that you have these two brands: your own with its flagship store that recently opened in London, just before the Covid-19 lockdown, and Loewe. I wanted to ask you about the difference. In old interviews, you said that JW Anderson is there to agitate and to get things wrong, and that
Loewe is more cultural and processes culture. Can you explain that to me? How do you differentiate between the two brands? And how does that happen with the brain during the day? When you wake up in the morning, are there days you devote to Loewe and days you devote to JW, or is it all just one holistic experience?

Jonathan: One is in London and the other is in Paris, and there’s the Eurostar, so I have this thing that when I go through the tunnel I am in a different landscape. London and Paris are so incredibly different culturally and there are two different teams. So when I am there, I am 100% there, and when I am at JW, I am 100% here. There might be threads between them. I can’t do one fashion show and then say two weeks later that everything that was done then is irrelevant. It is kind of about building two different languages. That idea of JW as a cultural agitator; I think there is a youthful friction in it that it is more naive, more crafty, less refined. This idea of the excitement of throwing it out there. And then at Loewe you’ve got the weight of a leather house and everything is bigger. It has one of the oldest bag ateliers in the world; you have the facilities to do more refinement. Whereas JW Anderson bags have more of an angst to them. With Loewe it is all about
the leather – the leather is the logo in itself somehow. I’m not saying it’s easy. Ultimately there is a thread, there is an ‘I’, but I think the biggest thing is having two very distinct teams that you have two dialogues with. I can’t do what I do without having some of the best people in the world to work with. I feel that sometimes I am a director or I conduct, and they are both showing very different forms of information because they are two different teams. I know how to push each team in different ways and some can be pushed harder than others.

Hans Ulrich: There is also this idea, in my field, I would call it guest curating, where we go into other institutions. In fashion, the guest curating thing is doing something for a brand that is not yours, at Moncler Genius, for example. And you did something for Topshop, which was going outside the luxury industry. I was wondering if you could talk about going into other brands.

Jonathan: The first one I did was Topshop, and that was, like, 10 years ago. It was the first time doing it, and I think you really learn something. I do one with Uniqlo; I do Moncler, and we have many other ones. And what I enjoy about it is being able to go into a brand that you like or respect and to kind of screw with it. When I worked with Converse, it was super exiting. And you can work with their technology. I have always believed in collaboration, as long as it is not one-sided. I think if both parties gain from it then it is good collaboration, but when it is done for financial gain, it never works. It should be about learning. I love working with Uniqlo because of Mr Yanai. I think he is such a fascinating businessperson. I really like his mindset and I learn from that. It is all about restraint. When you are a
designer, you want to do more and he is more restrained. It’s about focusing and it is good sometimes not to get too comfortable with your own aesthetic, either.

Hans Ulrich: I am also interested in the way that you collaborate with designers, with visual artists, and with charity organizations, such as Knot on my Plan-
et and Visual AIDS. Can you talk about these collaborations that also give the whole discussion a more political edge?

Jonathan: With Visual AIDS, I love what they do and it kind of fits in with artists who I really like. I love doing Knot on my Planet, too. It’s raised incredible amounts of money and has increased visibility for elephants. And it really helps. And the Eye Loewe Nature project, which is about upcycling clothing at Loewe. With an NGO, we have been able to develop taking plastic from the ocean and turning it into spheres to go onto reservoirs to stop the evaporation of water. Or working with knitwear companies to take plastic and turn it into knitwear. All of these things enrich my day because there is a guilt to working in fashion. Sometimes I think that if I were a painter, I would think the same. There is guilt when a painting is sold for €18 million. A bag that is incredibly expensive is absurd, but when I have these moments, especially now, I remember that my responsibility is to design something that is incredibly well made and that keeps these people in jobs. At the start of this particular period, I was not crying at the idea of fashion, but at my own reality in this job. I felt quite powerless that this virus was killing loads of people and what could I do? I started by panicking and judging myself, thinking that I have space and some people don’t, and beginning to go into a guilt complex. But through the days and weeks since then, I have accepted that I can’t cure the virus and we can only make non-medical grade masks, but we can donate money. And if I can keep 1,000 people employed at Loewe and a further 80 people employed at JW, there is an ecosystem around all of those people’s lives and jobs. That is what gets me through this. In the evening, when I speak to Pascale at Loewe, I’m, like, ‘If we can save every single job then we have done a good job, no matter what the bottom line is.’

‘The problem with fashion is that we’re obsessed by failure. It’s heightened in terms of competition and profit. This has changed the job of a designer.’

Hans Ulrich: I know that you have ventured into curating. You did a show at the Hepworth in Wakefield. Can you tell us about this project?

Jonathan: The Hepworth approached me a long time ago. They actually approached me to a do a retrospective of my own clothing, but I said that was not possible. I have always wanted to explore this idea of art being fashion and fashion being art, and it was an amazing project. A week before opening I was panicking about the pressure of doing something in an art institution and being judged, but my idea was about looking at the way bodies are disobedient and how, during the 1940s, Dior and others were changing different parts of the body in different materials, while Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth were both working with textiles. At that period, there was no hierarchy between fashion, architecture, ceramics and design. The idea was that everything had to be on the same level, shown in the same way. Curating that exhibition was a really massive learning process. I could look at things that I was inspired by and start to understand them, as if a magpie had put them into one room. And at Miami every year we do Chance Encounters. I’m really obsessed by studio ceramics, so each year it’s creating dialogues between a living artist and a dead artist and how people can interpret different things. The first one we did was Paul Nash’s photographs of trees, and it was looking at light and surface. I don’t do it to be an art curator; I do it to show all the different things that inspire me in what I do. It is more like a physical mood board.

Hans Ulrich: Ceramics are important to you?

Jonathan: Yes, too important! I would eat nothing for the month if I could collect ceramics, I am a complete hoarder…

Hans Ulrich: You have a collection?

Jonathan: Yes, my grandfather was a collector of English delftware and through him I became obsessed with ceramics. I collect primarily British studios.

Hans Ulrich: I want to ask you my only recurring question in all the interviews, which is about unrealized projects. We know a lot about those of architects
because they publish them all the time, but we know less about those by fashion designers. I think it is interesting to think about why they haven’t been realized: are they too big, too small, too utopian, too expensive? Or have they been censored? As my friend Doris Lessing said, there are projects that are self-censored. Tell me about a bit about your favourite unrealized projects.

Jonathan: When I joined Loewe, I kept putting this idea on the table: I wanted to build a cube with the models appearing from a horizon line on the ground.
The audience would look at a flat horizon and they would come from the ground, from staircases; I’d been looking at Leonardo de Vinci’s staircases. Every time we go and try to do it, there isn’t the budget or there’s not enough space to be able to cope with it. The other one at Loewe was about to start and now it’s been cancelled again: the Loewe store in Barcelona is in one of the four architect buildings that were built with Gaudí on Passeig de Gràcia. We have the apartments above it and since I have joined I have been determined to open a foundation for Loewe to put all the art that we have collected over the last six years into this one place. Every moment that it is nearly about to start, we still can’t do it. They are probably very expensive projects. My big one this year for that space, which has
been nagging at me for six years and still hasn’t been realized, is that I have this weird vision of Zurbarán’s picture of a lamb and I was also looking at Magdalene Odundo, who did these Brancusi-esque head-like sculptures and vases. The building in Barcelona is very baroque, and I have this vision of having Zurbarán’s sheep in the opening room. It’s never going to happen, but you never know…

‘An expensive bag is absurd, but I know that my responsibility is to design something that is incredibly well made and that keeps people in jobs.’

Hans Ulrich: Do you have any advice for a young student of fashion or a young fashion designer?

Jonathan: I always say the same thing: never compromise within what you do. That doesn’t mean not making mistakes, I just think you should not compromise on your own agenda. I think you can be derailed by asking for too much advice. Sometimes it is better not to have that, but to stick to what you believe in. My dad always tells this story where two guys go to a forest to cut trees. They are cutting trees all day when one of the brothers turns to the other and says, ‘How did you cut down more trees than me when you had lunch and I didn’t have lunch?’ And he says, ‘Well, I had lunch and then I sharpened my saw. That is why I cut down more trees.’ I always feel that that is a good piece of advice. When you feel you’re not doing much, maybe you’re just sharpening your saw – it’s fine to take a break now and again.

Taken from System No. 15.