JW Anderson On Fashion Shows and Family Values - The Gloss Magazine

JW Anderson On Fashion Shows and Family Values

In this exclusive interview, fashion designer Jonathan Anderson and his father, Ulster and Ireland rugby great Willie Anderson, discuss relative values, Christmas plans and searching for Jean Paul Gaultier …


Growing up, I was never very good at rugby – I didn’t really enjoy it. I did a bit of swimming. I never felt a pressure to be sporty or anything like that; our household was never that kind of system. 

Looking back, I think I was probably a very demanding child; probably quite selfish or always wanting something. I probably was too ambitious or maybe it was that I was constantly changing my mind. I did theatre and arts, and I would put on plays with my brother and sister. My mum was an English teacher in the high school I attended for five years. 

I am the eldest of my siblings, so I was the ringleader of the pack. I think sometimes when you are the eldest you have an overriding sense of responsibility. Even today, I still carry that: I want to make sure my sister and my brother are okay. My sister, Chloe, is getting married next year, and I am making her wedding dress. We are currently engaged in a debate over necklines. And my brother, Thomas, works for me at JW Anderson doing legal and operations.

I check in as much as I can but – as my dad would say – I’m not the best at communication. I work two very large jobs [running JW Anderson and as creative director of Spanish luxury house Loewe] which are very much a 24-hours-a-day kind of commitment. 

I was always intrigued by the process of making things but the idea of becoming a fashion designer was very abstract to me. I remember at school the list of careers was a doctor, a dentist or a lawyer. Becoming an actor or a designer felt like you would be going into a line of poverty. 

It took studying drama to realise it wasn’t for me. I became involved in the National Youth Theatre, I was very into that, and I went to a drama school in Washington for a while. Then I came back and got a job at Brown Thomas in Dublin as a merchandiser for Prada. 

My grandfather (on my mother’s side) was a textile designer. In the factory where he worked, they’d make camouflage for the British army. I have memories of watching him print textiles; not digital printing but proper, old school screen printing, which isn’t really done in Ireland anymore. At the time, I didn’t consciously think that this was the job for me, but I was always very obsessed with fashion, and the artistic process in general. 

As a kid, I would go shopping at TK Maxx with mum and dad. In the 90s in Ireland, there wasn’t the appetite for luxury fashion that there is now. There weren’t any major designers bar people like Philip Treacy; it was more a foreign kind of identity. I became kind of obsessed with Jean Paul Gaultier. I remember when mum and dad took me to Ibiza on holidays, I was completely preoccupied with finding out where his home on the island was. We found it eventually, in the old town. 

In spite of “never being very good at rugby”, Jonathan says he felt no pressure to be a sports buff, choosing to go to acting school in Washington before moving into the world of fashion. 

In a weird way I compare myself to a captain of a team because you’re trying to influence people to do something.

There is common ground between what dad does in sports and what I do in fashion. It’s this idea of teamwork, of coaching people. In a weird way I compare myself to a captain of a team because you’re trying to influence people to do something. Another thing I get from dad – and from sports – is that I do think there is an element of winning in the fashion world. 

When I do a collection, I want it to win somehow – whether it’s winning the affection of your peer group or the press. There are times when you feel like you’ve lost the game, too. When that happens you have to get back in the saddle and try again. What’s remarkable about sports is there is always another match, always another sprint: it’s the same in fashion. There’s always another show, another season. If you don’t do well in that one you can always do well in the next. I like this idea of self-improvement. 

Dad is very good to talk to about a problem. When you are on the go, working 24 hours a day you can become a bit unrealistic when it comes to your time – Dad’s very good at realistic advice. He doesn’t tough-love you but he’s good at giving advice in a like-it-or-leave-it way. 

The most challenging thing in mine and dad’s relationship is communication. I live in London, mum and dad live in Magherafelt. The difficult thing is actually spending time together and not having the guilt: you want to carve out time but I have to keep my business going and I work for a very large conglomerate in Paris. 

As a family though, we are good at satelliting. When there’s a problem we all come together, when things are fine we all do our own thing. We’re not micro-managers. 

Former Ulster and Ireland captain Willie Anderson says both his and his son Jonathan’s industries share a lot of common ground.


Jonathan is way, way more famous than I’ll ever be – and I’m delighted about that. In spite of his success, he’s kept his feet on the ground and that is his most endearing quality. 

When Jonathan was born, it was six weeks before I played my first match for Ireland. At that time, I was the only person on the team who had children. It was a bit of a rocky road for the first while, as he didn’t sleep much for the first year of his life. 

As a child, Jonathan had a menagerie of animals; birds, cats, dogs, guinea pigs, hamsters – we even had a chinchilla. One day, we came home and there were two chinchillas because, it turns out, it was actually pregnant. Jonathan would disappear on his bike and the next thing he’d come back with a rooster or a hen, then we’d have eggs. 

Jonathan did a bit of rugby but he wasn’t really into it. His brother Thomas enjoyed it and so did Chloe, his sister. Jonathan might disagree, but we were conscious of not impressing our wishes too much on the kids. We never said, ‘you have to be a lawyer, you have to be a doctor’: we knew that they would find their own route. 

Because both Jonathan and Chloe had dyslexia, they had to learn how to learn. For Jonathan, that meant making massive spider diagrams – some were 5ft by 4ft – that was his way of learning. We were lucky in that we never had to tell our kids to go upstairs and study. They were all very driven to achieve. They get that from us, I think. Both myself and Jonathan’s mum, Heather, being teachers, we were always very driven people – but never to the point of obsession.

I always say to Jonathan that fashion, just like sports, is about resilience. We’ve been to shows at both London and Paris Fashion Week and the tension beforehand is the exact same as a big game. As a coach, you’re just hoping they go onto the pitch – or down the runway – exactly the way you want them to. 

There’s also a similar ‘coming down’ from the elation of the big performance, just like in sports. In the 80s, I’d buy the paper the next morning to see how I did. Nowadays, you get the verdict ten minutes later via someone’s phone. 

We could see Jonathan’s artistic side from an early age – he was always drawing. It comes from my wife and her father, who was a textile designer. Jonathan’s acting was fantastic, too. He did Fagan in Oliver, which was outstanding. I’m trying to get a copy of it at the moment.

When all our friends would come around with their kids who were a similar age, Jonathan would get them all dressed up to put on a performance for the adults. Even then, his creativity and his ability to organise people was fantastic. Our friends still talk about his plays; we had great craic. 

When Jonathan started working at Brown Thomas, I was also in Dublin – at the time I was coaching Leinster with Matt Williams. Even then, Heather and I had a feeling that fashion was where he would end up. It’s so ironic because we were in town to watch the All Blacks a while back and we went into Brown Thomas. There was Jonathan – his Loewe and JW Anderson bags and clothes were in the store: what a circle of life. We’re so proud. Mind you, you’d need a mortgage to buy some of the stuff but there’s plenty of people in the world who want to buy it, which is fantastic. 

As a family we’re very close, that’s why we love Christmas. Last year, the kids didn’t get home from London because of Covid-19, which was a bummer. Hopefully, this year, everyone will be here for turkey, ham and all the trimmings. Thomas got married a few years ago and next year my daughter Chloe is getting married. Jonathan will design her wedding dress – how special is that. 

Crossing The Line: The Flag, the Haka and Facing My Life by Willie Anderson with Brendan Fanning, €14, published by Reach Sport, is available now.



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