The Spanish house’s second collab with Japan’s Studio Ghibli is another happy romance of craft and anime
Loewe’s bus-stop ad for the launch of their collab with Studio Ghibli
In Hayao Miyazaki’ 2001 animated feature, Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し), the spider-like spirit Kamaji (釜爺), also the boilerman at the ghostly bathhouse, answered the servant Lin (リン) when she wanted to know what was going on, “Something you wouldn’t recognize. It’s called love.“ Those who come face-to-face with Loewe’s latest collaborative merchandise would recognise the vivid illustrations on the clothes and accessories, and they would call it love, too. A collaboration that is born of “a mutual passion for craftsmanship”, according to Loewe, and is lovingly conceived and created. If Loewe’s first pairing with Studio Ghibli last year, featuring characters from My Neighbour Totoro, was “inspired“, their sophomore outing with possibly Japan’s most famous animation studio is total homage.
Spirited Away, as the title suggests is set in the world of spirits—many not particularly appealing, even if they aren’t really scary. Yet, Jonathan Anderson is able to find muses in the characters, such as the not-quite-likeable Yubaba (湯婆婆), proprietor of the strange Aburaya (油屋 or bathhouse) in which much of the action of the film is centred; Kaonashi (顔無し), the lonely spirit, also known as No-Face in the English version of the film; and, of course, the ten-year-old protagonist Ogino Chihiro (荻野 千尋). Images of these characters appear on garments, as well as accessories, trotting out Loewe’s particular skills in crafting cloth and leather. Likely to be the most popular would be the Susuwataris (すすワタリ) or soot spirits, also seen in My Neighbour Totoro and in that debut collaboration with the animation studio. Apart from the obvious appeal, Loewe also made them into little pouch bags, something celebrity mothers are likely to buy for their kids.
A window hinting at what lies beyond it
Some of our fave products from the Loewe X Spirited Away collab. Product photos: Loewe. Collage: Just So
Unlike in the home of Spirited Away the hotly-anticipated collab is not launched here in a purpose-designed pop-up that is imbued with the magical mood of the film. In Tokyo, it is staged (and we use the theatrical term deliberately) in “a traditional Japanese-style home” in Harajuku that sits on a back alley, just off the famed Takeshita Dori. The 10-day retail site truly allows one to be lost in the world of Spirited Away “from the minute you walk past the vermillion gate post”, our Tokyo source told us. These days, we call such experiences “immersive” and, at the Loewe pop-up, it was so to the point that visitors are offered a yokikana tea, co-created by Sanzaemon Kasuya (a 600-year-old manufacturer of koji, a type of mold used in food production) and the Daikanyama cafe PELLS. The cups come with sleeves featuring characters from the film. A free collectible!
Conversely, inside the flagship store at ION Orchard, Chinese New Year blossoms have been chosen in place of any tableau that might give fashionistas, who are also Spirited Away fans, a foretaste of Ghibli Park, scheduled to open in Nagakute City, near Nagoya, Japan later this year. Only a single window, with a red bridge to denote the one outside the bathhouse of the film, hints at the filmic reference of the merchandise on display. In fact, if you are able to just walk into the store (you need to book a time and even then, you’d have to join a queue outside the store), you would not be greeted by a semblance of the bathhouse that is core to the film, or any part of the alternate world that Chichoro stumbled into and tried hard to get out of. No, but a staff would direct you to those products you would have already decided to buy. Anything cute, as you read this, is likely sold out.
The two-decade-plus-old, hand-drawn Spirited Away is considered by most film critics to be the best animated film of all time. It won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2002. Most of us saw the version dubbed in English. The deftly-done translation did not in anyway Westernise the narrative for a non-Japanese audience. The Japanese-ness is not diminished, not even with the unspeaking No-Face. Nor, was there a weakening of the folklorish charisma. And that, to us, is the lure of the film. In that regard, Loewe, too, has not made the products on which the characters appear more—or even less—Spanish, or, worse, Disney-fied. The Puzzle bag with the Soot Spirits, for example, isn’t overrun by the puff-ball creatures—they are judiciously placed, retaining the house aesthetics, as well as a distinctly Japanese way with cuteness. Charmed.
Loewe X Spirited Away is available at Loewe, ION Orchard. Photos (except indicated): Zhao Xiangji