Can the little red dot stand shoulder to shoulder with the little black dress? A native islander and friends look at fashion (and such) in Singapore, and, occasionally, among her neighbours, and a little further afield
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.
One is in Spain and the other in Japan, but that has not stopped them from being next-door chums
Japanese anime—and manga—are on a happy roll in fashionland. And Loewe is on top, collaborating with one of the most recognisable and cutest cartoon characters to emerge from Japan: Studio Ghibli’s Totoro, the egg-shaped mori no nushi (master of the forest) in the 1988 Hayao Miyazaki-directed film My Neighbour Totoro. That designer JW Anderson should be inspired by this animated character and the other adorable creatures in the film is not surprising. Mr Anderson said in a media release, “There is a natural longing for heartwarming feelings right now. When I think of a movie that affords me that kind of solace, speaking just as directly to a child as it does to an adult, that movie is My Neighbor Totoro.”
And he isn’t the only one thinking. So many shoppers have Totoro and company on their minds that well-aware Loewe had to conduct an online raffle for an opportunity to attend the pre-launch at Casa Loewe in ION Orchard yesterday in order to purchase the limited pieces available. This was announced on 27 December, last year, via Instagram: “Enter the draw for the chance to access the collection in store or on loewe.com 24h before the global launch on 8 January.” Or—the message was clear—there would be no “access”, just, perhaps, a peek from the store window.
One Studio Ghibli fan who spoke to SOTD said that he had to try twice before he succeeded in securing a place. An e-mail with the subject “Congratulations!” was sent to him at 1:04:19am (!) on the morning of the 6th, a day before the preview, to announce that he had “won a place on the guest list to attend the exclusive LOEWE x My Neighbor Totoro pre-launch, giving (him) first access to the collection.” The time allotted was 6.30pm. Entry could be gained with a provided QR code, and only a “plus one” was allowed. He was also told that all registrants, whether a winner or not, would be allowed to collect a single gift, companion excluded.
It is understandable why this particular luxury collaboration is appealing and so in demand. Anyone who’ve been to the Mamma Aiuto shop at the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, in the west of Tokyo, or the Donguri Kyowakoku chain stores (exclusive Studio Ghibli merchandise retailer) throughout the city would have witness the horde inside, and they’re mostly foreigners. Among fashionistas, too, there are rabid fans. Loewe is in the know of this, but rather than pick any character from the Studio Ghibli films (surely not No-Face from Spirited Away!), Mr Anderson has chosen My Neighbor Totoro, and populated the clothes, bags, and accessories with not only Totoro itself, but other cute creatures such as Chu-Totoro, Chibi-Totoro and the clearly irresistible pom-pom-looking dust bunnies (or soot spirits) known as Makkuro-Kurosuke. It’s a quartet assembled to get fans with deep pockets to go quite wild.
Japanese cartoon characters have had a long and fruitful relationship with fashion. Think Hello Kitty. Even Balenciaga couldn’t resist (in 2019, there were also man-bags in the shape of HK’s head!). But characters from anime aligned with designer names are a fairly recent occurrence. One of the earliest to collaborate with an anime series that we can remember was Yohji Yamamoto’s streetwear imprint Ground Y’s pairing with Ghost in the Shell, in early 2018. So successful that was for the sub-label that there was a second collab a year later, followed by one with One Piece in August, 2019. The Ground Y collections were available only in Japan and enjoyed very limited world-wide exposure. Then came Longchamp X Pokémon last October and Coach X Michael B Jordan adapting Naruto for the American brand. Shortly after Loewe’s announcement of their teaming up with My Neighbour Totoro, Gucci disclosed that they would produced a capsule with Doraemon.
Anime, as with cartoons in general, don’t age. Even if they have faded in popularity, they will find new legions of fans. My Neighbour Totoro is 33 years old, yet there is life in its characters for a fashion iteration. In a 2019 annual report by The Associations of Japanese Animations, the global market size for anime and attendant merchandise was estimated to “exceeded 2 trillion yen (or S$25.5 billion)”. Anime’s extraordinary lure is attributed to the films’ ability to evoke emotions with their well-crafted storylines, provide shared experiences, and bring about a sense of nostalgia among mature fans. Mr Anderson not only picked one of the most beloved anime films of all time, his application of the characters and scenes both tug at heartstrings and appeal to those with a deep sense of what is artistic application.
The design team at Loewe did not plonk the titular Totoro on the front of T-shirts. Rather, there was considerable thought on the placement of the drawings and scenes so that the tees, for example, look elevated. Much appreciated are the subtle details, such as embroidery on the green patch on top of Totoro’s head, a flat pom-pom of the soot spirit in place of the ‘O’, and the characters appearing on the leather goods using the house marquetry technique intarsia. We were especially drawn to one oversized unisex mohair and wool sweater that sports a tree design in the front. There’s a three-dimensionality to the knit work of tactile jacquard in contrasting yarns that brought the enchanted forest to anime liveliness, and all the while keeping to Loewe’s predilection for craft, as steered by Mr Anderson.
The Studio Ghibli fan who spoke to us appeared in front of Casa Loewe at 6.25 yesterday evening. At that time, there was a queue of six people (equal number of men and women). Two directly in front of him did not have a QR code to show, and was told that, while they could browse, they were unable to purchase the Loewe X My Neighbour Totoro pieces specifically. When it was time for our Studio Ghibli fan to enter the store, he was assigned a sales staff to accompany him. There was by then very few merchandise from the capsule, placed in the front portion of the Casa, to view. In fact, the first thing that struck him was how little there was to choose from. When asked about the low quantity, the crew explained that when the first batch of preview attendees came at about 5pm, most of the merchandise were snapped up. When interest was shown for a mini ‘Heel’ pouch (S$690), with one dust bunny on the flap cover, he was told that was the last one, so where the five or so T-shirts, S$550 a piece, the second cheapest item in the 58-piece, largely unisex collection.
It was hard for our Studio Ghibli fan to accept that there were so few items to see and to choose from. He was convinced that Loewe did not avail the entire collection here, to which the staff politely denied. When the staff was asked if at least 80 percent of the products were snapped up, she said yes. The impressive sell-through, even before the actual launch date, was not only due to compelling designs and the likely over-enthusiastic response of the VVIP customers (who probably enjoyed a preview before the preview), but also to one of the biggest marketing effort we’ve seen in a collaboration. Over at Wisma Atria, next door, an ad was flashing on the Orchard Road-facing video screen all of yesterday (and probably earlier) and on the extended lightbox that runs alongside the underground conduit between ION Orchard and the Wisma Atria side of the Orchard MRT station, Gary Sorrenti-lensed photos were drawing the attention of commuters and pedestrians. And there were the free sticker set—four pieces held in a neat little holder distributed to the raffle winners.
Concurrently, at Gucci, some 30 steps away from Casa Loewe, the buzz in the line at the entrance was the collaboration with Doraemon. Gucci, under Alessandro Michele, love things Japanese, so much so that its ‘Grip’ watch, released in that country last June, came with the brand’s name written on the face in big, bold katakana characters. Doraemon was really an unsurprising choice. This evening, the “already launched”—as one staffer said—Doraemon collab was only “taking orders with a deposit”. Were there pieces that could be seen? “No, we don’t have stocks,” she continued, whipping out a smartphone to show shoppers the range on the screen. “Once you pay the deposit, we will notify you when your order arrives and we’ll send to you (sic). Before Chinese New Year.” How much deposit was required per order? “Full payment.” That’s not a deposit; that’s a purchase! “Yes,” she smiled, satisfactorily.
Loewe X My Neighbour Totoro is available at Casa Loewe, ION Orchard. Good luck!Photos: Zhao Xiangji
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
At Loewe, boys play grown up by trying their mother’s clothes
You’d think that Jonathan Anderson may not have any more of the delightfully off-beat under his sleeves after last A/W’s whimsical and resistance-is-futile collection, in particular the William De Morgan capsule and the magical knits. But no, he’s gone on to tackle an even harder subject (and a conundrum that won’t go away): guys who have their eyes on dresses. In particular, iridescent ones, better still if they’re of high fashion stock. Swiftly, Mr Anderson has moved from craft to couture.
From the first look, you know this is going to shake your sense of what constitutes modern masculinity in an already a-lot-less binary world: men in a dress. But Mr Anderson isn’t inclined to offer something so obvious. It’s only a suggestion of a man in a dress (there are, in fact, three of them): the models don’t actually wear one. From the front and in a flash, it sure looks like a dress—chintzy and gaudy, something you’d likely see at a hostess club or a prom—but they are each worn, with straps at the neck and waist, as an apron! It sure is a gotcha moment. Empowering, too? Or just an illusion?
But that isn’t the end of it. These aren’t frocks worn for effect. A theme can soon be discerned. By the forth look—a Prada-worthy sweater with marabou collar and clam-diggers with marabou cuff—you know something is afoot. Then comes the tunics (that are actually worn like dresses), swing coats, and one with oversized shawl lapel, a couple with capes, pullovers with bejewelled shoulders and cuffs, blousy shirts, and more outerwear you’d see at a country club or what Bunny MacDougal might wear. It’s as if Mr Anderson has handed the entire pattern-making to the women’s wear team. We have not seen the clothes up-close, so we can’t say if the handling is like women’s wear too.
Sure, men in dresses are as new as them in skirts. And a dress held-up as a dress, and not actually worn is not novel either. Still, to see Mr Anderson send them down the runway for a house not his own—and once considered traditional—is a perhaps a little outré, although gender bending of even more extreme measure has happened elsewhere. A second viewing of the collection suggest to us that this isn’t merely allowing men to ape what women wear. These are not boys wanting to look like their sisters; they seem more enamoured with their mother’s wardrobe. Women’s old is men’s new.
The clothing of women of a certain age and taste are tapped, not those who are enamoured with, say, Chanel or Jil Sander or, on the other end of the aesthetic spectrum, Comme des Garçons. That the frumpy femininity and potential bad drag need to be played down by putting the guys in boots (nary a pair of sneakers!) and belts of chunky chains (Louis Vuitton Men!) or fringing made with them suggests, perhaps, that for men to adopt female garb without appearing to really cross gender lines, some form of counterpoint is crucial, some cancelling out of camp cliches compulsory. Au courant is when you dress like a woman, but not as one.
Accessories, therefore, come to play: elephantine ones. The bags, quite literally! The proboscidea-shaped carry-alls (the elephant is already a ‘traditional’ animal shape at Loewe) are likely going to be a major hit (on IG, for sure), with iridescent/studded ones worthy of a maharajah’s wardrobe. Not since Thom Browne’s simple-by-comparison dog-bag—inspired by his dachshund Hector and still in production—has there been a bag shaped after mammals that is so unlike those kitty kits that tend to make it to handbag shelves, making it both conversation-starter and potential social-media star. What to make of all this? Are guys really going to wear dresses, and carry elephant bags henceforth? We really don’t know.
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
Colour-blocking had its day, so did mixed fabrics. The Japanese were (and still are) masters of the pairing of coloured shapes like they are Lego bricks. But in the past years, colour-blocking seemed to have waned in popularity. Until now. Jonathan Anderson has, to us, picked up where the Japanese tailed off.
In fact, when we saw this Loewe shirt, we felt rather nostalgic. We thought of some of those by Comme des Garçons and the T-shirts by the Tokyo-based brand Aloye. But there was something about the construction that has less to do with deconstruction than reconstruction that we found refreshing.
Sure, there is the asymmetry: we like the wing tips, but they’re not meant to shelter a bow tie; we like the bib-front, but they fly in the face of the dress shirt; and we like the extra long shirt tails of the uneven front and back that has more in common with the djellaba. But, there is also the the compositional strictness that respects classic shirt-making: it does not pretend to be something else, not even a blouse.
This is also not a shirt with an androgynous bent. It is clearly part of a woman’s wear collection, made more appealing by the almost sweet colour pairing of the cotton poplin sleeves, back and bib, and the use of folksy cotton broderie anglais for the front. Simple and practical fabrics employed in such an arresting way deserves both purchase and applause.
Loewe Long Asym Shirt Broderie Blue/Pink, SGD1,700, is available at Loewe stores. Photo: Loewe
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
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…
Spring/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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It is not quite certain if an envelope of a bag in the shape and size of a dessert plate such as Loewe’s ‘Saturn’ can be called a clutch, but we shall stick to a description we know. This saucer-like bag is, according to a Loewe sales staff, considered a pouch, which sounds a lot more capacious than it really is. Regardless, we are rather drawn to this clutch that Jane Jetson would probably love.
What’s fascinating is the reference to the Land of the Rising Sun by a brand that originated in Spain. We’re not only referring to the 19-cm in diameter red dot, but also the manga-style illustration of a space ship that seems to be drawn in Sixties Tokyo. It’s cute but possibly a little too Harajuku-kawaii for use in a meeting with the chief financial officer.
Loewe ‘Saturn’ round pouch, SGD800, is available at Loewe, Paragon. Photo: Loewe
Cathy Horyn at the Chanel autumn/winter 2016 show holding Hector Browne, a canine handbag. Photo: The Cut
Kawaii, in all shapes and sizes, is well and alive. And Kawaii knows no age limit. Two sixty-something women were seen at the Shu Uemura counter in Robinsons this afternoon, cooing with delight when they spotted a pair of white Bearbricks holding up the make-up brand’s latest update of its popular eye-liner caligraph:ink. With very little persuasion from the salesgirl, both bought two pens, one of the ladies visibly and audibly delighted that she will soon be able to enhance her already Cleopatra-esque eyes.
While we have no doubt the women had purchased a good and useful product, we’re also quite certain that the two plastic anthropomorphic figurines hastened the sale. Cuteness, as modern marketers know, is catalyst to confirming a transaction, from make-up to fashion to digital gadgets (that Nekohako power bank by Sanyo in the shape of a cat!). What’s certain, too, is that sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice adorability—so plainly exemplified by the Powerpuff Girls—is not circumscribed by age.
The recent multi-social platform posts and shares of Cathy Horyn holding a “wiener-dog” under her arm at the Chanel show proved that even a mature “fashion deity” (as Racked called her) cannot resist the charms of the cute. The animal of so many people’s amusement turned out to be a named beast-bag called Hector, first seen in the autumn/winter 2016 show of Thom Browne in New York two months ago. Ms Horyn wrote in The Cut: “Thom owns the real Hector, on whom a litter of wiener-dog bags (is that nice to say?) was modeled.” Nice to say? Boggling. Was she referring to a certain incident in which she called an American designer a “hot dog” and was, in return, referred to as “a stale 3-day old hamburger”?
Dandy dachshund aside, did Hector’s disarming adorability make Ms Horyn less threatening, less feared, less a deity. The effect of cuteness by her side has allowed the pet-purse’s owner to take pleasure in a “modest success during Paris Fashion Week as a street-style star”. Yet, there were times when onlookers thought “Hector was the product of taxidermy rather than fashion”. Is that some kind of ageist reaction there? And are there those who can’t see an older person carrying something that cute as hold-all? Past five decades of life and you should have instead a real companion like Karl Lagerfeld’s Choupette?
Loewe’s leather necklace with perspex resin cat pendant. Photo: vogue.com
Kawaii accessories are so associated with school girls that on older women, the latter’s sartorial judgment could be called into question. While it is not reported (nor witnessed) that those sneakers with teddy bear tongues by Adidas and Jeremy Scott have scored big with anyone about to receive their first CPF cheque, it is blinkered to consider cuteness the prerogative of the young. If shortness and sheerness of dress are no longer equated to mid-life, fashion items with mammalian likeness could well be on the right side of 50 (or insert your preferred decade). Age, as we’re increasingly accustomed to, is no barrier to entry.
Animals have always lent themselves to the delineation of cuteness. Hello Kitty! And that cat necklace that Jonathan Anderson introduced at the Loewe autumn/winter show just two weeks ago. Surely women of a certain age would wear it if they cannot resist its charm. And why should they? Resistance is futile when kawaii has become a global culture. So successful has the Japanese been with exporting their consumable cuteness that, according to Japan Times, search data from early this year is suggesting that “the image of Japan as the land of Hello Kitty upstaged its perception as a country full of swaggering samurai and mincing geisha in the Western mind”.
Chat apps such as Line perpetuate the necessity of cuteness (bear and bunny as a dating couple!) in not only our everyday online conversations, but also our everyday activities, even those as normally unmentionable as going to the toilet to facilitate bowel movement. How do you explain the need for a poo emoji—21 variants, last count? The irony of it all is that as one gets older, there’s less need for euphemistically enhanced images to replace the utterance of natural motions. Who gives a shit!
Loewe Cat Head Necklace, SGD1,150, is available for pre-order at loewe.com