Loewe stays with British actor Josh O’Connor through spring/summer 2019. Is O’Connor to Loewe what Eddie Redmayne was to Prada?
Inclusive has been a buzz word in fashion for quite a while, but it is men’s wear, more than women’s wear, that is likely to cast an unlikely face to front a brand. Loewe’s signing up of Josh O’Connor, again, for their spring/summer 2019 season (above) is a case in point. That designer Jonathan Anderson will pick a fellow Brit is unsurprising, but that a relatively unknown, un-megastar, and un-hunky individual is selected is fascinating.
Mr O’Connor is not what you would call handsome, not as you would Daniel Craig or Michael Fassbender or Henry Cavill (perhaps wrong choice, given the controversy now plaguing him). Among the younger actors, he’s not as swag as Freddie Stroma (Pitch Perfect) or Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service). In fact, you would likely place Mr O’Connor in the class of recent leading men who do not negate their man-childness, and are not defined by their musculature, such as Timothée Chalamet of Call Me by Your Name fame or Ben Whishaw in the 2008 film version of Brideshead Revisited.
In fact, Josh O’Connor has something more: youthful courage and insouciance. Without, let us add, the intellectual inconveniences of Mr Chalamet’s Elio Perlman.
Fashion folk started taking notice of him when he appeared in last year’s Francis Lee-written-and-directed indie charmer God’s Own Country, for which Mr O’Connor was awarded Best Actor at the British Independent Film Awards (BIFA). Screened last week at The Projector as part of Pink Screen (one of the many activities of Pink Fest that leads to Pink Dot this Saturday), God’s Own Country has been inaccurately described as the “new Brokeback Mountain”. It’s stretching it to connect the two: little similarities except that in both films, love was forged in remote parts of the world.
Mr O’Connor plays Johnny Saxby, a tortured soul caught in the humdrum of cattle and sheep husbandry, who falls in love with hired Romanian help Gheorghe Ionescu (Alec Secareanu). Johnny Saxby’s internal turmoil palpitates with anguish—life is hard and boring in the Yorkshire moors. As if toil and turd aren’t enough, his love, when he finds it, “wears forbidden colours,” as David Sylvian sang thirty-four years earlier. Mr O’Connor’s feel-for-him performance is compelling to watch: his troubles are those of a conflicted soul, and there is a realness to his performance that brings to the fore the tenderness and insecurities of men in love.
And somewhere in there, cup noodles have a cameo role and the seasoning packets not only add flavour to the instant meal, but also relish to the romantic tension of a love that, in the rough, wind-whipped countryside, dares not speak its name.
Mr O’Connor’s appearance in the Loewe campaign for spring/summer 2018 seemed to continue with the compelling indifference he projected as Johnny Saxby. You wouldn’t guess if it’s not said that this is fashion communication. It was so under-styled it could have been a Gunze ad. In many ways, it recalls Eddie Redmayne’s (The Danish Girl) appearance for Prada in 2016: a film character in an advertising shot, only Mr Redmayne, also traditional-handsome-defying, was styled to look more like a fashion model. Loewe’s, lensed by Steven Meisel, showed a somewhat country lad unusually into books (and we thought people don’t read anymore). Mr O’Connor doesn’t just read any book; he’s perusing classics such as Gustave Flaubert’s tragic Madame Bovary and, perhaps, just as tragic, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
If you look closely, these book covers are nothing you have seen in the stores. Not yet, anyway. According to media reports, these are old—read “archival”—fashion photographs of Mr Meisel, and reimagined by Loewe, now into book publishing, as cover jackets. Amber Valletta as Madam Bovary!
If classic literature can win new fans, maybe the genre needs a seemingly conflicted character selling its appeal through a luxury brand’s marcom, designed to look anything but high-brow. Jean Genet, we suspect, will approve.
Photos: Steven Meisel/Loewe