As Loewe celebrates its 170th anniversary in Madrid, Charmaine Ho speaks to Creative Director, Jonathan Anderson about the “now” and why a bagis as important as a home
"In all my years in fashion, I have never seen a crowd such as this,” says a fellow journalist in amusement. She is gazing at a pale lanky boy with a satin robe tied around the waist and worn just so to expose his nipples. On his arm is a Charlotte Dellal-looking brunette who has chosen this chilliest of nights to break out her patent leather overalls and nothing else in between. Add to this fancy coterie a bleached blonde who sashays past in all the Marilyn Monroe air her corseted waist can carry.
Looking around at this eclectic crowd, no one seems fazed by this audacious cast of pretty young things. The other guests— comprising stylish artsy types, along with the Spanish society set and an international troop of style influencers—are too busy taking in the sights of the newly opened Casa Loewe Madrid to bother with anything else.
They have reason to marvel at the sight: Spanning across three levels, Loewe’s first-ever Spanish flagship store (the world’s biggest) located on the corner of Goya and Serrano streets in Madrid’s Salamanca district, contains the brand’s entire universe: Menswear, womenswear, accessories, its made-to-measure service and lifestyle products. There’s also a respectable collection of artworks across the 10,000sqft venue by artists such as the late Richard Smith, Gloria García Lorca and a painting by Sir Howard Hodgkin that greets visitors as they enter the store.
The artworks, handpicked by Creative Director Jonathan Anderson and acquired through the Loewe Foundation, stand as reminders to the brand’s strong links to the art world, not least of the commissioning of highly publicised works for Salone del Mobile and Art Basel—commissions that reaffirm what Anderson sees as the legacy of the brand. “We buy different artists, different crafts, the people we have commissioned… it’s about giving back and being able to learn from it,” he says with conviction. “I sell this idea of a cultural brand—no idea what it is—but I feel that everything I do is going in that direction because luxury has changed. I don’t think we consume the way we used to. I feel like the home is just as important as the bag and vice versa. I feel the experience is more important than just the bag. So for me it was, how do you scrap the idea of luxury and focus it on the idea of ‘now’ and craft. For me, that’s what is important. It’s about people in the end.”
It is this latter point that explains the infinite care that has been taken with the new flagship store. As he tells me, the lighting was carefully chosen to light parts of the boutique differently to evoke an emotional and homely atmosphere. Stucco was used for the walls because it “absorbs light not in a perfect way;” and the floors are made of limestone—a commonplace Spanish material bought from local resources “as an environmental thing.” It’s clear that he has approached the new store with the same dedication and verve that saw him relocating and outfitting the brand’s Parisian headquarters upon his appointment as brand steward in 2013. The opening of Casa Loewe Madrid in a 19th-century landmark building (which also houses the brand’s Spanish headquarters, complete with a florist inspired by British floral designer and author Constance Spry) sees him guiding the brand back full circle to the city of its birth. The Spaniards could not be happier with their national treasure’s homecoming on its 170th anniversary. “I feel that over the last three years, we’ve been building momentum and it was important that we did this in Madrid. The local people have huge amounts of emotional connection to Loewe; I was giving justice to the brand.”
It’s a humble stance to take considering the 33-year-old Irish designer is credited for singlehandedly placing Loewe on the global fashion map. Under Anderson’s “edit,” LVMH-owned Loewe has blossomed into a full-fledge fashion powerhouse (its prêt-à-porter collections were launched in 2014) with fans the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Kate Moss and Angelina Jolie.
So what exactly is it about this “edit” that seems to have struck a chord with the fashion crowd? “I don’t know,” he answers. “The only thing I can say is that I do not overthink; I do what I feel is right. Everything is designed incredibly quickly. I think that is the rule of a creative director: To never become comfortable because then you become generic. There is nothing more petrifying than being generic.”
The resonance of these words ring true as I make my way to the conservatory of Madrid’s beautiful Real Jardín Botánico for part deux of the celebrations. Products and imagery curated from Loewe’s 170-year history plaster the walls and floors as dance beats fill the air. In the other room, 13 specially commissioned photographs of floral arrangements by Steven Meisel hang serenely on the walls of the darkened space—with only conversations for a soundtrack. It’s a study of discordia concors, brought to a harmonious whole through a singular vision. There is nothing generic about this.
“I want to do a good job that will stand the test of time and not just for one moment. So I do feel sometimes 170 years can be a very heavy weight,” Anderson confesses. “I’m the worst at birthdays because I don’t really care about the 170 years at all. I care what this brand means now. And that’s why this whole weekend has been about this idea about ‘Past, Present and Future;’ that you need everything divided into those groups to be able to operate a brand.”
From the young ones barely out of their teens dancing their hearts out in the other room, to the dignified faces appreciating Meisel’s take on a Mapplethorpe subject, here is a microcosm of Loewe’s “Past, Present and Future” brought to life—give or take a nipple or two.