JW Anderson: Homages to Wojnarowicz and Rimbaud
A score of mannequins sat in the front row at J W Anderson at Wednesday lunchtime, stockmen with heads covered by cardboard cut outs of the face of Arthur Rimbaud. An homage not just to the French poet but also to David Wojnarowicz, the photographer, artist, AIDS activist and cult Lower East Side figure.
And the inspiration for an inspired show by Anderson, the latest emphatic fashion statement by Britain’s single most influential designer. Staged inside Lafayette Anticipations, the art foundation of France’s biggest department store chain, the show was also a poignant tribute to a dark moment in the creative world of New York, when AIDS decimated the community.
Rimbaud was a huge inspiration to Wojnarowicz who built a whole art show around photos of himself wearing the same mask of the poet, shooting the images in daffy diners, disused parking lots and burnt out factories.
Much of the collection was made up of humongous coats in a wide variety of textiles – padded silk, bold herring bone, crinkly jacquard or Scottish checks – often finished with JW signature oversized golden buckles that looked like magnified women’s brooches. Many coat shapes echoing the celebrated cover of Wojnarowiczʼs book Weight of the Earth, where he appears wrapped in a huge blanket in bed.
Similar enormous buckles finished colonial Indian white shorts or about town leather slippers. Though Anderson’s boldest idea were white singlets, finished with accordion silk waistlines. Or a natty series sweaters with necklines and shoulders trimmed in oversized faux pearls.
˝Davis’s life was a dialogue of what was happening in America and the world at that moment. I find his was a very JW idea about blowing up things or using triangular cutting. Looking at how you do product that is substantial, and instead of having 15 coats have maybe one coat in multiple materials and develop it, to the point where it feels like it has always been there. Just like Rimbaud’s face. It is always there, almost like Marilyn Monroe, but a poetic underground version,˝ explained Anderson, surrounded by some 30 editors all straining to record his words on their mobile phones.
Even Wojnarowiczʼs work with stencil was incorporated into a series of great sets of chunky pullovers or wool-covered totes, finished with cut-out images of burning houses.
˝David was such an advanced artist he was creating art with stencils years before Banksy. David was America when it felt it was the end of the world, but it wasn’t. Just like Rimbaud, where there is optimism even if it is incredibly heavy,˝ argued Anderson.
The death of his partner, Peter Hujar, from AIDS in 1987 led Wojnarowicz into far more activist politics in his life and work – and an important series of memoirs and voice journals. Rimbaud died of bone cancer at the raw age of 35 in 1891. His tombstone in Charleville reads 'Priez pour lui' (pray for him). Wojnarowicz made it 37, dying of AIDS in his Manhattan home in 1992.
Their influence, however, very brilliantly lives on.
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