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Wandering backstage at JW Anderson's latest show

Crazy outfits, Rembrandt paintings and smoking

Wandering backstage at JW Anderson's latest show Crazy outfits, Rembrandt paintings and smoking
Jeremy French

Jonathan Anderson is an imposing man, I think he is close to six feet, yet he moved between backstage and the catwalk of his fashion show with levity, handing out smiles and directions in a gentle, firm voice to the staffers around him. Some of them were in charge of PR and were reviewing the chairs that ran along the serpentine catwalk, verifying the accuracy of the placement of the place cards. Others were incessantly going back and forth, communicating in with sheets and slips of paper in their hands: lists of looks, of names, of samples. It makes some impression to think how much importance fly sheets still retain in many backstage runway shows, where memory and organization of looks all rely on reams of printed paper and lists of names. The first thing you notice about a backstage show are the mundane details: rubber bands, hairpins, water bottles, magazine wires, hair dryers. A series of mundane objects that seem entirely opposed to the spectacle of fashion and luxury - but instead form its essential building blocks. The location of the fashion show is a dilapidated-looking former factory, which emptied of its machinery and dominated by the brisk silence of technicians, workers, design teams and so on, looks almost like a church. It is not a mass, however, that is being celebrated here - just one of the most anticipated events of Milan Fashion Week.

Behind the catwalk huge black tubes enter through a window and fall like tentacles to the ground, blowing cold air inside from their vents. A blond woman in a pair of stunning JW Anderson shorts directs their pose, telling the technicians that «Jonathan wants them like that» - and indeed their shape is reminiscent of the rounded edges of the shoes and handbags that a couple of hours later will be paraded before the eyes of Europe's high fashion dignitaries. Meanwhile, behind the curtain that hides the backstage, a room whose walls are made only of a black curtain, which inside, like a Chinese box, contains a second area bordered by equally black screens in which the models change, the make-up team finishes their make-up and gathers their tools in transparent pouches that they will shortly serve during the first look. The models, lean, tall and straight as ears of what, with silver hairpins in their artfully waved hair, wander between the buffet table and outside smoking scrounged cigarettes out of the sun.

With the preliminary preparations over, the time for rehearsal arrives. Jonathan and his inner circle sit in the front row, legs crossed, eyes fixed like eagles on the catwalk. After Pascal, an Ibiza DJ in charge of the soundtrack, gives his green light for the music the rehearsal begins. The models, still in their outfits, with hairpins in their hair and wearing the shoes they will wear for the show begin walking down the runway. Jonathan watches them one by one, airing himself with a portable fan, turning every so often to communicate his notes to one of his co-workers who is completely barded in black, almost like a tunic, complete with multiple mask and baseball cap, who does not seem to feel the heat that makes everyone else sweat. «More fast», he whispers about a girl wearing an asymmetrical shirt, while the lieutenant writes something next to the model's name. «Be careful with that shoe», he says again referring to the crystal-covered slides worn by another model, and the woman's pencil runs back to the paper.

His demeanor is posed, his gaze sharp and composed, and he smiles slightly as he talks to his team - the only hint of a quick concert that occurs when he bites his thumbnail observing a distant detail. When the rehearsal ends the small group gathers to talk and discuss. «We’re about 80% there», Jonathan then concludes. Meanwhile, in the clearing in front of the factory, large blue cubes are placed on which, soon after, a number of models sit in poses reminiscent now of Edvard Eriksen's The Little Mermaid, now of the Berberini Faun. Jonathan comes out to take pictures, evidently pleased with the result, while from inside, songs from the soundtrack begin thundering out, of which I immediately recognize Grieg's Peer Gynt remixed with bass that rattles the glass of the old building. That's when I notice one of my favorite details: Jonathan is wearing a pair of Middle English by Aurora Shoe - perhaps the laceless shoe I like best and least expected to see in the middle of Milan Fashion Week. After all, however, great minds think alike. After the final preparations, the doors open. While backstage, the models line up against the black curtain ready for the first look, surrounded by swarms of photographers and with make-up artists guarding their skin like sentries, touching up this or that spot with a flick of their brushes, the boys play with their clothes - one of them, dressed in a stiff yellow cape that I immediately associate with Spongebob Squarepants, jumps making the whole outfit jerk. Another, who is the one to open the show, pretends to clutch the BMX handlebar attached to his surrealist sweater. The woman in black conducts backstage as if it were an orchestra and, having lined up the models, begins to go around showing a sign that says Silence, guests are inside. The chatter of models and photographers is soon reduced to a buzz.

Given the heat and confusion, I decide to wander around the still-empty catwalk some more, browsing through the placeholders: I read the names of Anna dello Russo, Marc Forne, Bryan Boy, Emily Ratajkowski, Hanan Besovič of @ideservecouture and also of Pamela Anderson - and that, honestly, is the name I am most impressed by. It is still not clear to me whether it was that Pamela Anderson or a lady with the same name, the fact is that even having looked for her with my eyes later I could not see her. In the meantime the guests begin to arrive: familiar and unknown faces, more or less distinguished strangers, famous and buyers. One of the few faces I recognize is that of Guglielmo, who last year worked with Jonathan and Moncler on Luca Guadagnino's short film Veronica. We go outside to smoke a cigarette together with Stephanie Glitter, who is sporting pink hair and a Moschino micro-tailleur for the occasion. Eventually, from the silent gestures of the staff, I sense that the show is about to begin-everyone re-enters and sits in their seats.

Given my love of privileged and somewhat hidden vantage points, I ask Pascal Moscheni to watch the show from the top of his console. In front of us is a wall of photographers, and the models parading through the show seem almost small and distant. The rest of the staff in the console was fanning themselves from the heat until all the models come out together and Jonathan gives his brief salute. After that all the guests leave, lingering to chat in small groups while the press runs to the backstage entrance to collect Jonathan's statements, which, as chance would have it, I arrive too late to hear. Backstage Jebi Labemika, wearing fabulous sunglasses and a pair of cowboy boots, takes photos of the evidently amused backstage. Just outside backstage, Jonathan takes photos with Emily Ratajkowski and Anna dello Russo, who then walk away from the small crowd of photographers to talk to each other. Outside, an expanse of influencers, editors and models continues to circulate-slowly overflowing onto the street, where black cars drive by to pick them up to take them to the next show. The most repeated phrase of the evening remains, in a dozen different languages: «I'll see you tonight at the party?» The answer is unfailing: «Of course, if I survive dinner».