With creativity and respect for traditional crafts, Jonathan Anderson is pushing Loewe to what the future of fashion should be.
If you are lucky enough to receive an invite to the highly coveted Loewe show during Paris fashion week, usually at the beginning of the day and held at the Maison de l’UNESCO, you will quickly realize that fashion starts on the streets. Sure, all the shows have their dose of fashionistas “casually” running around trying to get their photos taken, but not many events garner the hype and buzz of Loewe. It girls from across the globe ignore the early call time and rush to the streets dressed in the unmissable statement Loewe silhouettes, embellished with the must-have leather accessories so beautifully designed by Jonathan Anderson and crafted by his team. But if this is the scenario now, it was not always the case.
Founded in 1846 by Enrique Loewe Roessberg, a German craftsman who settled in Spain, the label has been known since its inception for its high level of attention to detail and unmatched expertise in leather luxury goods. Over the years, it became a matter of national pride for Spain, and gained a loyal but rather classic clientele, becoming the sort of brand that you would expect your father and mother to wear – if they were truly chic.
After Loewe was fully acquired by LVMH in 1996, the transformation slowly started to happen; more visibly, with the 2008 takeover of British designer Stuart Vevers, who worked towards dusting off Loewe and refocusing the house around its core values, while making them relevant for our time. Vevers signed wonderful projects, such as the celebration of the 35th anniversary of the iconic Amazona bag, but ended up leaving the label in 2013, saying “adios” to a Loewe that had gained a much cooler edge. In fashion’s endless game of musical chairs, Anderson was appointed the new artistic director that same year, with the aim to further push the label to success and high desirability.
Born in Northern Ireland, Anderson is the son of an English teacher and a professional rugby coach, who, very early in his life, developed a passion for beautiful raw materials – something that is now at the center of his work at Loewe. “My grandfather was a textile designer and when I was a boy, he took me to the factory where he worked in Northern Ireland,” remembers Anderson on a Zoom call, his blond hair charmingly untamed. “I was fascinated by the act of making, the use of technique, and the way it boils down to the relationship with materials. Maybe that’s where my interest in fashion and textures first started.”
Forgoing a pursuit of acting and continuing his education at London College of Fashion, the designer founded his eponymous label, JW Anderson, in 2008. That same year it became part of the official calendar of London fashion week. His secret weapon? “A modern interpretation of masculinity and femininity through a conscious cross- pollination between menswear and womenswear,” which is something he later imported to Loewe. His unique talent and vision have garnered numerous awards, including a double victory as menswear and womenswear designer of the year for JW Anderson at the 2015 British Fashion Awards; the first time any brand has ever won both prizes.
Anderson continues to divide his time between his namesake label and Loewe. When asked about his first visit to the factory of the Spanish brand, he is not shy to show his excitement. “It just made me fall in love,” he says. “I liked that Loewe was not so popular at that moment; it was like a hidden gem that just needed to be cleaned up. When you get there, there’s nothing more exciting than to see people make something in front of you. You have to feel astonished when you witness the craftsman taking a sheet of black leather and transforming it into a three-dimensional object. I think that the ultimate luxury is craft and a human being able to make something. I just thought, this company has been going since 1846 and it has all this knowledge, so imagine if we put more energy in, what the outcome could be…”
It was exactly this transfusion of freshness, quirkiness, and capacity to produce “wow” moments on the runway while being faithful to craftsmanship that has become the signature style of Anderson during his tenure at Loewe. For his most recent winter collection, currently in stores, Anderson has designed showstopping pieces that cause fashion directors around the world to marvel, as well as a new clientele now encouraged by his fresh aesthetics. “I think that in the beginning, our very historical customers were confused with what I was doing, and it took a little bit of time for us to reassure them. After we changed the logo and restructured the factory, once people saw the end product, the opinions started to change quite quickly,” he comments.
“This season was all about exploring volume and the idea of clothing as jewelry. There’s lots of beading with a dégradé effect. Some of the looks are styled with sneakers. I like grounding something like a frock coat with utilitarian accessories. We have also designed a leather bag based on Japanese basketry. My favorite looks are the ones where we have collaborated with Takuro Kuwata, as I collect his work. The pieces he has made for Loewe look like leather but in fact they are porcelain.”
The good news for the Middle East clientele is that Loewe has just revamped one boutique and opened another one at The Dubai Mall, with an extended offering for men and women. It is planning to further expand its presence in the region with a new store in Kuwait.
But these are much more than regular flagships, as the retail floor appears like a mix of a place where you can naturally buy clothes and some home accessories, but also enjoy a beautiful space curated with one-of-a-kind art that reflects this idea that Loewe is a full lifestyle.
“I think that today, consumers shop differently because we want more from brands. There has to be authenticity. And for me, the store is the most personal thing,” justifies the designer. “I want to find things that you don’t see in other stores. I want to see a beautiful painting with a shoe and a bag. It’s a fun exercise to compile all these pieces and it is something I work pretty hard on. Just choosing the ceramics for the store is a big process, and I wouldn’t pick anything I would not have in my own home.”
On the topic of authenticity, it is quite remarkable to witness how an Irish designer has the capacity to successfully reshape the most Spanish of Spanish brands, without falling into bullfighting or flamenco dancer clichés. For Anderson, who just spent his last holiday in the country, this is a reflection of a healthy use of the rich archive of Loewe, without allowing it to fully dictate his design, and the discovery at his own pace of the Iberian country.
“I grew up a lot in Ibiza, and I began to know more about the country when we started to shoot the look books in different parts of Spain,” explains the artistic director, who now collects 18th century Spanish ceramics. “For me, it’s an evolution, to take it bit by bit, and being slowly inspired without forcing anything in my creative process.” For a brand that is so keen on made-by-hand, it is fair to say that Loewe couldn’t be in better ones.
Originally Published in the November 2020 Issue of Vogue Arabia