LOEWE: A HANDMADE TALE
There is a design language and codification within the work of Jonathan Anderson for Loewe that speaks of, and to, an abundant and travelling life. Why do his main collections feel run through with cruise or have the look of pre? Where is she going? “Take me to Clignancourt!” Loewe is upscale and downtown. A “moneyed hippie-ness” worn by a global art crowd. There’s a touch of Wilde in those balloon-sleeved blouses, too. It’s all very beautiful and very rich.
Is She Rich?
“Yes,” says Anderson, sitting behind a table in his Paris office, here for one of his “Loewe days”. The 34-year-old designer splits a long working week between his hometown London, and here, 76 Rue Bonaparte, the brand’s studio. He flits between both cities, and to and from Madrid, Loewe’s HQ proper. “But,” he adds, wagging a finger, “she’s not necessarily rich in just her money, but in her references, too. She likes to layer things, reference things.”
There’s something roaming and migratory in everything he does. The clothes can look decorated with gathered bits from a grand tour or faraway time. Spring, in parts, spoke of an 18th- century pantomime, with ostrich feathers and beautifully printed diamonds of fabric, like the costumes of Harlequin. A nipped-in waist had a fin-de-siècle look. Anderson is a beachcomber, working his way through imagined and real destinations, finding treasures and fusing them. He references and layers and then drills through with textbook modernity.
It has a feel of Workers for Freedom, mid-1980s Ozbek and an ounce of barstool glitz, in that very early Anthony Symonds way. “She’s” city-living, sure, but she’s like the city, too. She can be aloof and cold. Even the lines of the leather in jackets and tunics and dresses speak of postmodern architecture, something we last saw done as effectively at Helmut Lang and under Lang.
But Loewe’s spring ostrich feathers, worn as trims and earrings, feel more Biba than the feathers ever did at Lang. Loewe is more old Gigli than new Chanel and more long cotton shirtdress than cropped jacket. And it’s a rope fastening, not a zip. It’s iced tea and straight gin. It’s Rioja. It’s Bruxelles and St Petersburg and Edinburgh, but the New Town bit. It’s shopping in Aram for Eileen Gray. But most of all, it is Madrid.
How does Anderson describe “her” – Ms Loewe and “it”, the house? “I had this idea of a woman. She was living in a glass apartment in Switzerland. She’s an art collector, she has a purpose. She’s excited by the idea of creativity.” And when he thinks about anything, but especially “her”, that distilled Loewe-ness, that woman he sees in galleries and travelling and doing the things she does, he stares. He’s starting now and then trails off, but then he’s back when the thought of her colours his face. And so is “she”.
Is “She” Him?
“I went to see the Grayson Perry exhibition, and watched a video interview with him,” says Anderson. “It talked about how Grayson sees himself as two different characters, and I thought, ‘Is that what Loewe and JW Anderson are – two characters of myself? I am obviously not a woman. I cannot relate emotionally to what a woman is, and when she’s wearing clothing, but it is, sort of, an odd fantasy to believe that I would wear those clothes if I were a woman.” He’s looking up. “I think the Loewe woman is a domestic character. She’s very kind of… There is something very sensual in her approach to material and materialistic things. They always have a tactility to them. I think she is probably more feminine than I see in my own brand.” She’s not overtly sexual in her dress? “I feel like, when you look at these Loewe characters I create, there is a power play, rather than an overtly sexual play to them. I think she can be quite twisted, too. I think she can go quite far – she can go psychologically quite far… But there’s certainly something a little bit more elevated in her character.”
Loewe is elevated, certainly, but also “retro fit”, and it’s framed to appear more analogue than most. It’s always been there, but is now revised and re-coded and part of a new age. It’s certainly “plugged in”. “I think Loewe is about modern thinking but ultimately it relies on the idea of longevity,” he says. “I think what’s nice about Loewe is that the brand is not bigger than you. And that’s probably the most interesting angle about Loewe at the moment – it’s a large brand but it has acted like a start-up for the past five years. It has an incredible history, but ultimately it doesn’t feel forced, it doesn’t feel like it went ‘Bang!’ and then suddenly, ‘Bye.’”
Take Your Time, Be Steady
“Loewe is about a slow burn,” says Anderson. “And as much as it can frustrate anyone, I’m glad the brand hasn’t gone like this [He gestures up.] and then like this [He gestures down.]. I feel like it’s on quite a steady trajectory.” We’re all on fashion’s fairground waltzer: spinning and shopping. You know you should feel sick but… More bags! More new! Faster-fashion gluttons, all of us.
“If you don’t take your time and just go at an incredibly fast pace, your initial reaction is one of panic and then to pump more and more into the brand,” he says. “And then what happens? It [the brand] doesn’t feel real, and then, two years later, it doesn’t even exist any more, because we’re bored of it. We’ve already consumed it.”
And then there’s the Puzzle bag. What does this bag have? Shape? For sure: it’s a complex, folded system of leather that gives yet keeps its shape. It works – it gives! And it’s spare. It’s a status-tell that says “chic” and “I’m not emboldened by branding”. And it’s crossable – and that’s a telling gesture.
A cross bag says city wear; safety, protection; casual-modern, new way and “gets it”. It’s certainly more weekend and more youthful than wearing yours in the crook of your arm. That’s for different bags and a different woman. Wearing a bag crossed is gestural and modern. The Puzzle bag is the hugely popular, not-so-it It-bag that’s “it” in a different way. It’s a good bag that happens to be by Loewe, not a bag by Loewe that cost a lot. In the main, anyway. The Puzzle bag shows an astute consideration of women.
And, in theory, a bag like a Puzzle shouldn’t be so popular. It doesn’t telegraph glitz and the “glitzy lifestyle”. Past in-demand bags with as much swing have pulsated with money and hype, a) because of their expense – a mix of exotic furs and skins – and b) they buzzed with who wore them. And where. “Kate Moss spotted at nightclub launch carrying the… ” “The Olsen Twins hug a venti skim latte and tote their… ” A bag had to be seen.
The Puzzle was never part of any in-house “comms matrix” – that’s a lazy high-wire act invented by a New York marketing office sometime in the Noughties, and which awkwardly balances hype with fizz and faces. “As much as everyone is like, ‘Oh well, you know, it’s about fashion, it’s not about the bag,’ it is about the bag,” says Ander- son. “I feel like the woman has to be articulated around the bag. The question is, ‘Where is she going?’”
She gets dressed from the bag up? “We’ve always said that,” he says. “It always starts from the bag and then we work out what the agenda of the bag is, asking, ‘What does the bag force the character to do? Does she hold the bag down? Does she hold it to the side? Is it cross-body? Is it small?’”
He finds designing bags “easier” than ready-to-wear. Something clicks in that brain with singular shapes and forms. “I’m nearly more drawn to doing bags than I am to doing clothing,” he says. “I feel like there is a three-dimensional aspect to bag design because it ultimately will sit on a surface. I can process objects more quickly, whereas clothing is about a look. And you’ve got to get dressed, yes, but clothing needs a body to exist, whereas a bag doesn’t need anything.”
Imagine if It-fashion, the grabby seasonal one, became old- fashioned. If overnight, trends became “bleurgh” and being fashionable was “like, totally old-fashioned and eugh”. If that happened, what would they do, those It-fashion people? The other set, our set, the Loewe set, those who love fashion, but a slower, less-“entertainment-based” fashion, and buy for design and practicality and not through the hype, they would most certainly carry on buying Loewe, because Loewe isn’t that or it and nor is it them. It’s different. It’s elevated and so is the customer.
Sadie Coles is an art dealer based in London. She shops at Loewe. Loewe and the art world are interlinked. “What’s great about Jonathan’s work for Loewe is that there is a sense of the familiar somehow,” she says from her Mayfair-gallery HQ. “So there’s always a reference to something in the world that is known to you, whether it’s a texture, in terms of a fabric texture that refers to a tablecloth or a tea cosy, or whatever it is, or something to do with a holiday or something like that. Or whether it’s to do with an oblique reference to history, in terms of clothing through time, or if it’s a reference to a structural form. I always think of art when I see his work, sculpture in particular.”
An Intercultural Dialogue
Anderson showed his spring collection in Paris’s Maison de l’Unesco, home to architecture by Bernard Zehrfuss, Marcel Breuer and Pier Luigi Nervi, and exterior sculptures by Alexander Calder and Henry Moore. It’s a place of huge importance, a centre of “intercultural dialogue”, which pitches art and history, architecture and culture, against each other in the name of peace and education. The line-out of 52 models walked through the building’s rooms filled with works by artists invited by Anderson. An art show within a show. “I had the idea about people walking through a gallery space,” he says.
In his efforts to “impale” (his word) Loewe with craft and cement his vision of 21st-century fashion to something of the past, the designer recreated a gallery exhibition from the mid-1960s, and guests sat on rows of chairs in three rooms, each room showcasing work from different guest artists. Giant spinning carwash brushes by Lara Favaretto, rescued record players, some of which span records, others ceramics by Ryoji Koie, plus large woven baskets by the 2018 Loewe Craft Prize finalist Joe Hogan.
Craft and The Hogan Baskets
Joe Hogan is a master basket maker and teacher. His hand- made baskets were displayed on plinths at the show and formed part of Anderson’s experiment in art and fashion immersion. On the phone from his studio by Galway’s Loch Na Fooey, in Ireland, Hogan speaks passionately about craft and its importance and relevance now more than ever. “I think people want craft in a world of technology,” he says. “Those six baskets at the Loewe show took up to 60 hours each to make. I’d never made any as big before – a metre wide.”
Hogan weaves in his workshop every day and listens to “classical music and traditional Irish. You’re in a moment, concentrating, weaving.” Are there parallels between his and Anderson’s work? The designer clearly recognises Hogan’s traditional skills and has visited Hogan’s workshops in Ireland. “There are parallels, insofar as we both work with traditional crafts, but also I’m always developing new ideas and techniques like Jonathan.”
The Show Clothes
In her review of the show for Vogue.com, the fashion critic Sarah Mower noted, “Looking down the long barrel of history, [the cultivated elegance from fashion’s new guard] is a movement that is stepping in to put the values of craft and individual choice back into that much-debated term, luxury. A psychological replacement for the role minimalism used to play.” As luxury fights to redefine itself for a faster-paced age, it’s looking back to craft.
Some of the traditionally un-luxury (new luxury) fabrics and clothes in the show looked like more romantic versions of imagined crafters’ clothes: the crinkled jacquards and lambskins; the gaberdines; the tunics and blouses and those sleeves again: bishop, bell and Juliet. A fisherman’s jumper, buckled baggy boots and a hobble skirt. Muslin, poplin, patchwork, smocking, inlays and broderie anglaise: this spring’s Loewe fan could be walking down 7th Avenue looking like the drawings from a school textbook illustrating the three-field farming system.
And some of it could have been worn by a fragrant 1970s divorcee – Chris MacNeil’s Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist – or Jane Fonda’s “attractor” archetype, Bree Daniels in Klute. Many of the models wore bags slung across their bodies, inspired by hand-woven beach bags Anderson had seen during trips to Spain. He imagines “her” to be living in an Erno Goldfinger-designed house and is “probably married to a doctor, but having multiple affairs”, he told press backstage.
But there is also something strictly rational in Anderson’s work. He’s schooled himself in modernism and draws with functionality in mind – he thinks and cuts in squares and rectangles. He works with asymmetric fabric combinations: fine wools sit next to poplin. He marries cubes with cylinders and described the spring show as “brutalist hedonism”. He’s a modernist! If he could cast a jacket in concrete, he would.
He’s Like His Father
“I’m more like my mother in my approach, but in terms of drive it comes from my father – completely,” he says. Anderson’s father is Willie Anderson, former captain of the Irish rugby team – a mountain of a man who famously stared down the New Zealand All Blacks at a 1989 match at Dublin’s Lansdowne Road. Arms linked with his team-mates, the moustachioed Anderson walked towards New Zealand as they performed their haka. A video of the moment has had more than 4 million views on YouTube.
Says the Belfast Telegraph of that day, “[Willie Anderson was] close enough to feel the breath of his opposing captain Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford by the time he stopped and stared down the All Blacks skipper.” Anderson senior challenged one haka with another. “It’s all about the end goal. You have to do it,” says a like-minded Anderson junior. “Even when you run out of energy, you have to keep going.”
“I’m very superstitious, but not in the way that I’ll change my life for it,” says Anderson. “I think that the closer I get to a show, the crazier I get, and I don’t think it’s to do with the show, I think it’s to do with Paris… and that anxiety to succeed. And that, to me, is like a talisman and that I have to succeed no matter what.” Anxiety is good? “You build off it!”
Anxiety and cigs? “Well, yeah, I wish it wasn’t the fags, but it’s that kind of thing that you have to win. Winning in what you set out to do at the beginning of the season. You have to complete it right to the very end. And then, after that, you feel destroyed and then you move on.”
And then you begin again? “And then you break it. Break the last thing you did. Every season, I have to break the entire thing and pretend that I never did it. Then I start again,” he laughs. “What would Freud say?”
by Richard Gray
See the story in the new issue of 10 Magazine Australia, on newsstands now.
Photographer CG Watkins
Fashion Editor Sophia Neophitou
Hair Martin Cullen at Streeters
Makeup Val Garland at Streeters using L’Oréal Paris
Model Léa Julian at Elite