J.W. Anderson Fall/Winter 2016 London

The entire fashion world is trying to figure out how to deal with speed—multiple concurrent collections demanding a multitude of garments. Some designers are desperately trying to put on the brakes. Others—like Jonathan Anderson—are thriving. “We operate in a world of speed,” he panted backstage after his show. That was just one idea uttered by the designer among a cacophony of conceits delivered at such a rapid-fire clip he was left breathless. The others included stuff like faux narratives, telling urban tales, “fantasy in clothing,” and “morphing reality.”

Whatever. It was that idea of speed that stuck. “You must keep the pace,” he exhaled. Fast fashion isn’t unique: Our entire culture has cranked up the momentum. Example: Anderson opted to partner with Grindr to live-stream this show. “I don’t see any difference between a dating app and Instagram,” he said. But the aforementioned is a gay social-networking app boasting a user base of 7 million and best known for no-frills one-off hookups—speed-dating so fast, you actually jettison the “date.” Meanwhile, his show was so rapid that audience members were still being shoved into their seats while the first model began to sprint the runway.

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How to articulate speed in clothing? With a few clichés, like elongated zips, Velcro-tabbed boxing boot–style sneakers, track pants, a sense of sport. But only the vaguest whiff, because the rest was a mashed-up mélange of references and ideas. Some of them worked—the rabbit fur that seemed to have been colored in by Stephen Sprouse as sickly, infected ermine (scarlet on black, blue against white) was a highlight. The sickness generally felt great: the unhealthy glimmer of pale skin, bare beneath a perforated black leather coat; the indecent expanse of a bare leg dangling provocatively under a camel coat, staid bar an S&M studded collar. Was Anderson thinking of Grindr’s darker denizens when he cooked those up? “A camel coat over a bare leg is something I’m always drawn to,” cooed Anderson, extolling how easy it is to make an everyday item look subversive simply via its context.

Context, at Anderson’s shows, is everything. He’s a clever curator who relies on contrast for effect, pulling in multiple aesthetic notions, mixing them up, and pumping them out in unexpected scenarios. Pull the look apart and there’s a sweater, a cardigan, those camel coats that survive the transition into humdrum daily life. “Each season we push something,” he said. “You have to allow yourself to get some things wrong.”

He did. The snails, for instance—glow-in-the-dark stickers based on the labels pasted onto luggage—proliferated. You hoped you could peel them off; they struck you as silly, and they appeared far too often. Anderson insisted they were red herrings—“when symbolism doesn’t need to make sense,” he said—parroting a notion Miuccia Prada explored last menswear season with her racing cars and bunny rabbits. One could read into Prada’s supposedly meaningless symbols, too, and today Anderson’s escargots had an interpretation, whether he intended it or not. They symbolize the snail’s pace—the slowness of other designers, maybe, contrasted against Anderson’s breakneck pace? He presents his Loewe menswear collection in less than two weeks, but the whole thing was finished months ago, along with a campaign shot to plaster across Paris. Incidentally, he’s finished, and photographed, his Fall womenswear already, too. That’s one way to cope with fashion’s relentless pace: Beat the clock before it beats you down.

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