Keeping Loewe In Top Form

Loewe’s autumn/winter 2021 collection proves that Jonathan Anderson is one of the best designers of his generation

It has been one season’s high after another. Jonathan Anderson’s output at Loewe continuously grips us with “what will he think of next?” And thought he has. This season Loewe proudly declares—as a Daily Bugle-worthy headline—that their seasonal “show has been cancelled”, not of course, unceremoniously, but necessarily. Without the alternative of a video offering (or a phygital show), the Spanish brand puts out, instead, a series of photos, in the vein of a print editorial (but more like an advertorial), modelled entirely by Freja Beha. Are photographs less evocative than a catwalk show, even one without an audience? Not in the case of Loewe. No audience does not mean no reach. In case you do not follow them on social media, the collection is presented, “as a newspaper supplement distributed around the world (with broadsheets such as French dailies Le Monde, and Le Figaro and the American paper The New York Times) on the day the show was due to take place, accompanied by an exclusive preview of bestselling author Danielle Steel’s newest novel, The Affair,” according to the brand.

Yes, that’s the “uncritically acclaimed” American romance novelist whose many characters of wealth could be inspiration behind the styling of Ms Beha, photographed in the 1900 Parisian restaurant Le Train Bleu (The Blue Train, so named also because it’s located inside the train station Gare du Lyon), as well as Mr Anderson’s office, and an unknown members’ club on Champs-Élysées. Allusion to women of means and club privé access aside (or, “a legendary editor-in-chief at one of New York’s top fashion magazines” in The Affair?), the clothes do not share the literary styling of Ms Steel that critiques have generally and summarily called “fluff”. In fact, this could be Mr Anderson’s strongest collection yet, weighted in such exactitude of design and detail that some pieces seemed destined for private collections or museums’, to be kept for future display and admiration.

Mr Anderson appears to have moved aside from his love of craft, but not entirely. There are little touches here and there: presumably-made-by-hand tassels, larger than those on curtain tie-backs, fringe hems of jackets, skirts, and pants with a touch of whimsy that is missing in a season still ensnared in the practical and the mundane; diagonal squares of raffia-like fabric that forms a bib on dresses; and droll, oversized fabric ‘buckles’ (some embroidered) that work like brooches on draped bodices are some of the details that won’t disconnect Mr Anderson from the craft that he has introduced to Loewe. On a “walkthough” video, pointing out the finer points of the collection, he said that he and his team, “looked a lot at draping.” These were seen in the graceful but playful folds that fall across the body, held in place by the said buckles, and arranged graphically, as if they are Matisse squares and swirls. The same could be said of the appliqué stripes, running across the front and backs of coats, with an effect nearly akin to a kindergartener given free reign with a paint brush.

The coats are outstanding this season. We are entranced by one style that has colour-blocked sleeves and are shaped like water skins. These half-moons could have been bags! They contrast beautifully with the quilted body and handkerchief-point hems. It could be hackneyed to join the designs with couture shapes, but big and bold are the order of the day. These coats were photographed in Le Train Bleu, which seems to suggest that they are the statement outwear that women will be lured to when going out and a full-blown social calendar can resume. However, not every look in the collection is about wine and dine, fun and play. Those, whose life tends to be circumscribed by corporate walls, too, could have a piece of Loewe. The office-setting message can’t be clearer, and the sharp tailored pieces too. Whatever one’s social situation or how one’s near future will turn out, one can’t negate that Loewe has presented clothes to covet.

Photos: Loewe

Art Bag

Loewe’s collaboration with the artist Kenneth Price yields some rather drool-worthy unisex satchels

Loewe, under the watch of Jonathan Anderson, has been the champion of craft and craft-like work to rather alluring results. The latest is Mr Anderson’s interpretation of the cheerful work of American sculptor and painter Kenneth Price (1935—2012). The (above) illustration first appeared in a specially commissioned work for the Newport Beach (California) restaurant La Palme in the ’80s. Mr Price created vivid and optimistic landscapes on glazed plates and bowls, and these images are now reimagined as leather marquetry (so fine, it’s veritable art in itself) on the flap of this crossbody bag.

We like the simplicity of the bag and how the flap is made special by such simple but striking illustrative form. The positive vibe is so right for such dismal times. Mr Price, who, aside from art, studied the trumpet with Chet Baker, was known for the optimism he projected through his work, including often bulbous sculptures, and, in particular, Happy’s Curios (some of the works also appear in the Loewe collection), a six-year project, inspired by New Mexico, that was dedicated to his wife Happy Ward.

This crossbody is not a big bag. It reminds us of an oversized coin purse (and opens like one!). But, with a wider bottom, it is capacious enough for bag essentials such as portable phone charger, a wallet, as well as EarPods and their attendant case. Most people would say this a woman’s shoulder bag, and women will surely find it attractive (if money is no objection, also go for the totally loveable Easter Island bucket bag with bamboo handle). But as men are using smaller bags these days, they should not shut themselves out of this particular one. In fact, it was heartening to see this appearing in the Loewe store window, hung around the neck of a shirt, clearly pitched at guys. Man bags really do not need to be man-sized.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Loewe X Ken Price La Palme Heel bag, SGD 1,900, is available at Loewe stores. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Walk Like A Skeleton

To be transparent, wear your X-Ray results

 

Skeletal AW 2010

By Ray Zhang

Halloween is over, but that does not mean we can’t wear a stark reminder of our mortality as if it’s a Rick Owens leather jacket. I know I can. But would I? The thing is, I have an irrational fear of the macabre and I am not sure wearing an outfit that reveals my skeletal whole is particularly appealing when I am already known among my friends as a broomstick. As they say, state not the obvious. Or, embrace not bad fengshui.

Yet, despite its place in Halloween celebrations and in the proverbial closet, skeletons are a bit of a fashion fave right now. First, it was Nike that dropped an Air Force 1 sporting the side view of a skeletal foot complete with tarsals, metatarsals, and phalanges that will make sense to (or even delight) an orthopedist, not the many of us. But unless its worn in a dark space illuminated by UV lights, the fright that it might inspire would be a mere boo from behind Teddy, Mr Bean’s BFF-bear.

Not to be outdone, Loewe, too, has up their sleeves, rather than one body part, a full skeleton, split into a sweater and a pair of shorts. It is as if designer Jonathan Anderson knew there would be Nike kicks to match. But as the house explains it, this is homage to the British tile designer (also potter and novelist) William de Morgan, whose works, including stained glass and furniture, featured fantastical birds—among them the Dodo, and were sold through Morris and Co, the design firm of his friend, the textile designer (and similar multi-hyphenate), William Morris, leader of the British arts and crafts movement of the Victorian era, who was just as known for his poetry and novels.

Mr Anderson is similarly into arts and crafts, especially for the house of his Spanish employers. The skeleton, while an unusual subject for needlework and much that is made by hand, is given an unmistakable craft twist—yarn emerging randomly throughout the sweater that Loewe calls “loose fringes”. The skeleton is interestingly anatomically correct in the front and back. Only thing missing is a skull. Loewe would need a balaclava for that.

The skull was once a hot motif, but that’s now so last decade. Or Meghan McCain (she told The New York Times in 2011, “I have 10 of them”. And why have just the head when you can have the rest of the body? Regardless of what I said earlier, I know I like the look of Shaggy Rogers electrified! If the late Alexander McQueen is thought to be the trend-setter when it comes to the skull (even as far back as his 1992 graduate collection), perhaps Jonathon Anderson could be the leader of the skeletal pack.

Loewe Skeleton sweater and shorts are not in store yet. Call for release date and price. Nike Air Force 1 Skeleton Black, SGD209, is available at select Nike stores or online. Product photos: respective brands. Collage: Just So

The Perks Of Being A Bag Flower

Loewe Heel Pouch SS 2019

By Ashley Han

Jonathon Anderson’s embrace of stylish craft is paying off for Loewe, setting the Spanish house apart from those that bank on brash sexiness or tired retro-vibes to get ahead of the industry and social media crush. Not to be confused with those home-based products of dressmakers that appear in fairs around town, Mr Anderson’s approach is always within sight of his sharp fashion eye. To be certain, not many women are swayed by the aesthetic that does not seem to immediately exhale the deliberately cool. But there’s something deeply alluring about clothes that have both visual and tactile qualities that seem to hark back to olden days.

Last Friday afternoon, while browsing at the trim shop set up by Metro on the main atrium of the Paragon, the Loewe store caught my attention more than tinsel did. I wanted to have a look at the knitted ‘Botanical’ bag that is a symmetrical tapestry jacquard inspired by English architect Charles Voysey’s textiles. But what drew me close almost as soon as I stepped into the soothingly-lit store is a sling bag. This is based on an earlier (and “sold out”, as the sales assistant told me) version known as Heel Pouch.

I don’t know what a heel has to do with the bag. I could only assume that its shape is similar to the cross-section of a stacked heel. The store staff was not able to shed light either. In any case, the latest version—larger than the last—is alluring because of the floral motif on its front. The sales assistant was keen to point out that the flower is composed of “leather marquetry” and enthusiastically explained to me how it was achieved.

Loewe’s use of leather marquetry—essentially inlaid design made from small pieces of coloured hide—appeared in 2016 and was even exhibited as decoratived details on furniture at last year’s Salone de Mobile in Milan. This time, the floral design on the Heel Pouch is, I believe, more exquisite than what were shown before.

Despite the Oriental hints, what beckoned before me was Scottish in visual provenance. ‘Blackthorn’, as it is called is based on architect/water colourist Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s water colour and pencil study of the flowers of sloe. The inlay is so fine and fluid that there is a painterly quality about it. Every piece, every sliver of the composition looks like brush stroke. The spirit of Mackintosh was not lost. What was also irresistible to me was that this Heel Pouch costs nearly as much as what you’d have to pay for cerrain sneakers. I say, give me a hand-crafted calf leather bag any time.

Loewe Heel Pouch (L), SGD1,850, is available at Loewe stores. Photo: Jim Sim

Phoebe Philo Fans, Some Possible Alternatives

In one fell swoop, the new Celine was effectively telling former, less-attenuated fans and customers to eff off! But all is not lost. Until the return of Phoebe Philo (or not), some names to consider

 

Celine SS 2018 adSpring/summer 2018, Phoebe Philo’s last collection for Céline, shot by Juergen Teller. Photos: Céline

By Mao Shan Wang

Enough of harping on what Celine is today or, come January, when the new collection drops, what there is nothing to buy. Trends come and go, so do labels: Look at Lanvin. Besides, loyalty is not as valued as it was before. Only tech companies appreciate loyalty. Apple wouldn’t be where it is today if customers were fickle about why they like the brand. But if there’s something that can be gleaned from the world’s second largest smartphone maker (okay, third-largest since Huawei has overtaken them in August, according to media reports), consistent aesthetic identity is key. An iPhone will always look—and feel—like an iPhone.

Fashion is, of course, not the same as communication devices. It does not have to be user-friendly and it’s a lot more manic and far more mutable, having to update itself up to six times a year, and, now, with monthly drops. But, perhaps due to this need for constant renewal or, rather, refreshment in most cases, some kind of brand consistency is necessary. Unfortunately, for fashion—the luxury business, brand recognition alone is enough, not nearly substance and not nearly astonishment. And since egomaniacs are often installed as creators of the brand’s products, they would like to obliterate what came before. It’s a matter of how ruthless.

Sure, we’re all going to move on to something else. No one died a sartorial death after Michael Kors decamped Céline to continue his own label. I don’t remember anyone knowing at that time that they desired the unsexy but alluring shapes that Phoebe Philo introduced until she did. Fashion is variegated, and there will be others, while not entirely the same as the Céline that, as The Gentlewoman rightly noted, “cut through fashion’s tired fantasy… for sharp reality and hyper-luxurious clothes”, are surely just as genial, pleasing, and intelligent. These are my pick.

Dries Van Noten

Dries Van Noten SS 2019Photos: indigital.tv

I was resistant to adding Dries van Noten to this list, but in his spring/summer 2019 show, I saw quite a few pieces those willingly labelled Philophiles would find compatible with their wardrobe: the loose-hanging jackets, the easy-fit shirts, the modern-sporty outers. Mr Van Noten did not always design like this, but his designs have a certain romance that is increasingly missing in today’s clothes, and an artsiness similar in spirit to what Ms Philo introduced in her latter years at Céline, a welcome flourish at a time when minimalism was being redefined for the post-Helmut Lang era customer.

Haider Ackermann

Haider Ackermann SS 2019 G1Photos: indigital.tv

This may not seem like an obvious choice. The designs of Haider Ackermann is, however, on track to welcome former Céline fans. The non-body-defining shapes, a slouchiness that suggests I-don’t-care androgyny, and a palette that has more in common with the holy than holi are, to me, the sensibilities that Philo followers can relate to and would desire to buy. What I consider a plus, too, is that Mr Ackermann, who, in 2010 was tipped by Karl Lagerfeld as a possible Chanel designer should the latter bow out, constructs in such a way as to never let the clothes look too dressed-down.

Jil Sander

Jil Sander SS 2019 G1Photos: indigital.tv

It’s hard not to be lured by Luke and Lucie Meier’s clean lines for Jil Sander, arguably the Phoebe Philo of her time. Amid all the noise that fashion now rides on, the Meiers’ quiet tones and gentle shapes are as refreshing as a palate cleanser. Some people think their aesthetic is minimal to a point that it’s almost suited to conventual life. But it is precisely the serenity that the clothes—with quirky details such as extra-wide, inside-out seam allowance and ungainly cuffs for sleeves—project that the more and less restrained Philophiles will adore.

Lemaire

Lemaire SS 2019 G1Photos: Lemaire

Christophe Lemaire and designing partner/wife Sarah-Linh Tran have a chemistry between them that fans and the media alike call poetry. Together, they have created a Lemaire that has more oomph than when Mr Lemaire soldiered on alone under his earlier eponymous label while simultaneously designing for Lacoste. Comparing the duo’s work with Ms Philo’s is probably not fair since Lemaire offers more intriguing details, such as odd pocket placements and alternatives to traditional fastening positions, which, in marketing speak, could be considered value-added. And what value!

Loewe

Loewe SS 2019 G1Photos: Loewe

While Cathy Horyn thought that Loewe “might be getting too relaxed”, I thought that Jonathon Anderson did it, if true, for the right reasons. As counter stroke to the onward march of street fashion, other designers are pushing for tailoring, sometimes extreme tailoring that encases the body too closely and with shoulders that look ready for war. Mr Anderson, on the other hand, has guided Loewe on a different path. There is dressiness and crafting to the clothes, but with ease in mind. I don’t mean “relaxed” though, I mean freedom from constriction, from efflorescence, even the zeitgeist. Individualism doesn’t mean one has to forgo discernment.

Fresh As Spring Air For Fall

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It’s just so refreshing to see the work of a designer not duty-bound to trends. Jonathan Anderson does not walk alongside the diffident; he does not need to hold what’s in vogue by the hand to steady his gait. He has a distinct way with tweaking the familiar for smile-inducing results. He has a flair for giving what are considered classics, such as a tea dress, and making them modern, without taking away the insouciance. He has the capacity to offer the unexpected without alienating. All these he does with great élan for Loewe.

Looking back at his brief tenure isn’t necessary; study his latest collection and one immediately sees not only freshness but clarity, not just potential, but a future. Mr Anderson does not depend on scarily extreme ornamentation or meaningless sexiness to forge an identity for Loewe. He looks at what women are inclined to buy (possibly splurge on) and refine those items judiciously, to the point that they there are different and unusual, yet identifiable as welcome wardrobe occupants.

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So, we were charmed: Peaked lapels can truly peak so that they are parenthesis for a beautifully patterned neckline of a sweater. A Bertha collar can have a scallop edge and be embroidered but totally escape looking Victorian or girlish. A tartan dress can appear a little-bit-country, a-little-bit-avant-garde and all-alluring. An bold-stripe dress can, with pleating, be skewed so that there’s nothing linear about the result. A classic sweater can go with a craft-like skirt that’s composed of circles like grandma’s old yo-yo quilts. A one-sleeve can be layered atop a capped-sleeved dress without making the wearer look like she’s marching to some deviant nightclub. This is only the beginning of a list—54, if it were to be numbered.

As Mr Anderson continues to push LVMH-owned Loewe to a new pinnacle, new fans were wondering why they had not known of the Madrid-based brand’s ready-to-wear line before. Until Mr Anderson’s arrival at the house, few people were aware that it had a very sizeable ready-to-wear business established in the ’70s. In Southeast Asia, Loewe is mostly associated with leather goods—the Amazona bag, launched in 1945, a perennial favourite. Despite its hitherto low-key fashion division, some of the rag trade’s most notable designers had contributed to the line. These include Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani, Narciso Rodriguez, and Stuart Vevers (now at Coach), Mr Anderson’s predecessor.

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But what was never attempted before Mr Anderson was to let the brand take a more directional course. Mr Anderson’s appointment is a typical LVMH masterstroke: bringing designers who can rock the boat, but only just, unlike John Galliano who rocked Dior’s so hard he fell off it and was never brought back aboard. Mr Anderson has created a vibration so pleasing that, in the process, spun clothes consistent with the adage, fashion makes me people dream.

Mr Anderson is a two-brand designer, deftly keeping the energy level up for both Loewe and his eponymous label, staying close to an almost otherworldly romanticism without the need for extreme aestheticism. Designers feeding social media frenzy tend not to get the balance right. Thankfully, Jonathan Anderson is not one of them.

Photos: indigital.tv