Topshop, JW Anderson and fashion’s love affair with tartan

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The launch of JW Anderson’s collection for Topshop sees him join the ranks of designers whose prolific use of tartan has seen Scottish heritage become a modern fashion staple.

Anderson’s capsule collection includes two pairs of cropped tartan trousers, tartan tops and travelling rugs, as well as kilt-style skirts.

JW Anderson for Topshop. Photo: Topshop

JW Anderson for Topshop. Photo: Topshop

Its use by yet another young and upcoming designer only serves to highlight tartan’s lasting appeal, and its versatility as a visual statement, able to take on different guises in different contexts.

Thanks to its association with British aristocracy and the military, tartan’s first appearance in fashion garments in the Victorian era was intended to convey a sense of exclusivity and grandeur, and fashion houses like Ralph Lauren, Burberry Prorsum and Oscar De La Renta still use it in this way today, tapping into the fabric’s heritage associations by using it in collegiate-style staple pieces like mini-kilts and blazers, and ballgowns.

For others tartan is one element in a panoply of global influences. John Galliano and Jean Paul Gaultier (himself rarely seen out of a kilt, teamed with his signature Breton stripes) take their design cues from cultures around the world, and their use of tartan is part of a wider ode to international traditional dress.

Vivienne Westwood’s use of tartan in the context of punk fashion in the 1970s was seminal; an unorthodox reappropriation of a fabric more usually associated with gentility and authority, used irreverently to express disregard for the establishment and the ruling classes. Her work redefined the image of tartan in modern eyes, and in the fashion world it is now most commonly seen as shorthand for an irreverent, rock’n’roll attitude, as seen in the work of Henry Holland and the sequinned tartan pieces at Ashish.

Irish designer Jonathan William Anderson has very quickly established himself on the British fashion scene, with his lines currently stocked at Neiman Marcus, Browns, Colette, Dover Street Market, Harvey Nichols, Net-a-Porter and Opening Ceremony, despite having only shown womenswear since 2010.

After studying menswear design at the London College of Fashion, graduating in 2005, he launched his men’s line in 2008, introducing a women’s collection for the autumn/winter 2010 season at the bequest of stockists and fans. His much-lauded paisley print pajama dressing for SS12 put him firmly on the wish list of the fashion press, and Anderson was earlier this week nominated for a 2012 British Fashion Award in the Emerging Talent (Ready-To-Wear) category.

Of his collection with Topshop he said: “I am very excited to collaborate with Topshop. It gives me the opportunity to reach a much wider audience with my designs. It has always been very important to me that my collections are made accessible to anyone interested in fashion and design.”

Anderson’s lifestyle collection, which includes stationery, sweets and lollipops, posters, iPad cases, and a disposable camera alongside the clothes, is the first of its kind for Topshop, whose previous apparel collaborations have included collections by Scottish designers Jonathan Saunders, Christopher Kane and most recently Louise Gray, as well as Asish, Richard Nicoll, Opening Ceremony and Mary Katrantzou.

One of the high street store’s most accessible designer collaborations, prices start at 99p, for a pencil, and go up to a still-affordable £129.99, for the wool varsity jacket, and customers will be able to shop the collection from an in-store catalogue, Argos-style, as well as online.

The price range isn’t the only thing that gives this collection a wider reach than previous Topshop designer hook-ups. The collection is a capsule wardrobe of wearable must-have pieces: timeless preppy classics like berets, pinafore dresses, kilts, button-down shirts, printed tees, varsity jackets and a trench coat; the genius of the basic being of course, that much like tartan, you can wear it as you will.

JW Anderson for Topshop will be in store and online from 14 September, and a second collection will launch in early 2013.

Take a look at the slideshow above for a preview of the collection (all images courtesy of Topshop).