Spellbinding Simplicity

Loewe goes without ornamentation, not a blade of (real) grass, not a single stalk of flower, Oh, just those feathers

Spare is not, as Loewe illustrated in their autumn/winter 2023 collection, nothing. Clean lines are not trimmed of details. The calf-length A-line dresses, as simple as shifts, that opened the show are not quite that straightforward. On the dresses, cut from duchess satin (itself a tricky fabric to handle) and shaped with practically no darts, are over-prints that make you wonder if your eyes are playing tricks on you. The singular images are not sharp—the bane of anyone professionally involved in the business of printing. Some looked like faded ’50s house coat florals, a trio evoked the shape of a body sheathed in a dress, one a trench coat (complete with corresponding details printed at the back), and another that could be the result of a prenatal ultrasound scan! And on these, if you look closely, some had strategically placed (but designed to look random) creases on the upper bodice. Clearly a lot of thought had gone into such a simple (sorry, that word again) garment, the various sleeve lengths and shapes and the print placements.

If there is one thing that may work against such technical finesse is that few women will appreciate it. Jonathan Anderson has made these clothes rest on dressmaking of a certain exactness, not logos or any identifiable motifs attributed to brand DNA, and used to death, to stand out. Ironically, it is in the restraint and clearness that Mr Anderson has distinguished Loewe. The show, as before, was in a massive white space, only this time it’s in the 613-year-old Château de Vincennes, once a prison between the 16th to19th century, outside of Paris that predated Château de Versailles. The set, designed by the Italian artist Lara Favaretto, comprised of single-colour, waist-high cubes covered in confetti. They are similar to those in the 2016 installation The Man Who Fell On Earth, a composition that is the total opposite of the other artist-conceived runway at Dior. The clothes, therefore, became the true focus, and just as with Ms Favaretto’s cubes, you couldn’t ignore Mr Anderson’s sculptural purity

It is convenient to describe the collection as ‘normcore’, as some already have. But these are not quite the norm of the staples we see in a fashion consumer’s typical wardrobe. These clothes, we suspect, have far longer staying power. The leather pieces, for example, are not fashioned as leathers usually are. Here, they take on the form of a shirt-dress with a draped side, supple coats with a liquid quality about them, a ‘pullover’ with a fold-over neckline, a shell top with four triangular pieces as part of the bodice (in the rear too), and cropped tops with a sweet primness about them, and those molded dresses and skirts. When it came to knits, more over-printing on the cardigans, and oversized for those as long as dresses that intriguingly clung to the hips. The spareness was even evident in the separates composed of feathers (we assume, for now, that they are real): there was no decorative, frilly arrangement; they take the shape of the garments—blouses, skirts, and trousers. which could be those worn as limbs of beasts with plumage.

It is dispiriting to think that the Loewe collection is “buzz-worthy”, as has been pointed out. Distasteful it is that clothes so carefully considered and deftly designed would be selected by consumers because of the potential buzz they would generate. The Loewe pieces deserve far more than social media attention; they should be admired, bought, and worn. And again. Jonathan Anderson, together with Matthieu Blazy of Bottega Veneta, are probably the only two designers creating compelling clothes circumscribed by what Mr Anderson called “couture classicism”, all in a seemingly normal manner. Perhaps this is the newness because the pieces do not shriek fashion. Now, we wait for Phoebe Philo to join them.

Screen shot (top) and photos: Loewe