How Loewe Made Craftiness Cool
Jonathan Anderson made cultural responsibility and traditional craftsmanship into luxury values.
Jonathan Anderson’s own label, JW Anderson, achieved critical acclaim shortly after its launch, in 2008.Courtesy of Loewe
Once upon a time, everything fancy was from Italy or France. Never mind the snobbery this engendered—luxury came from the fashion capitals, and everything else was just nice.
The story of the past decade in fashion has been written by several designers upending this perception, but none has done it with such cerebral panache as Jonathan Anderson, who took the helm of the Spanish leather-goods brand Loewe in 2013. When the Northern Irishman started at Loewe (pronounced low-eh-vay), he says, he wondered if that old notion of luxury had died. So he asked himself, “Has it been replaced by this idea of brands being culturally responsible?”
Loewe basket bags are woven locally in Spain; it uses striped cotton from Bangladesh; it sources indigo fabrics from Burkina Faso. Designers have referenced cultures outside their own since forever, but usually doing so by “elevating” the source material in their own atelier. At Loewe, as Anderson puts it, “if there is a material that is from Africa or Bangladesh or Ecuador, parts of America, parts of Canada, I would rather give business to the people who made the craft.”
“The craft” is at the center of everything Loewe does, and it has been, Anderson explains, since the brand was founded, in 1846. “Ultimately,” he says, “all I'm really doing is putting it back to what it really was.” Anderson uses textiles with a fine artist's eye for color and provocation, and the design of each product emphasizes its workmanship. “I enjoy the sense of the hand within what I do,” says Anderson. Rather than impressing you with extreme technical finesse, Loewe's knits, like a red-and-green sweater and a scarf with a cat's-eye-lace knit, call to mind the work of a zany rich grandma. Its leather goods, like signature little creatures fashioned from the house's spare materials, really feel hand-hewn. And its prints, like a quilted handkerchief shirt and matching pants that A$AP Rocky wore straight into the iconography of men's style, are almost naive.
Anderson has expanded this set of brand values such that Loewe operates almost like a center for research. Each retail location, he says, is like “a mini department store” where “you explore things that you would not necessarily have been into, or tackle different aspects of yourself that you may not have ever perceived.” This year Anderson launched Eye/Loewe/Nature (say it aloud!), a line of sustainably minded outdoor apparel, and in 2017 relaunched as a seasonal collection Paula's, a celebrated Ibiza-based nightlife brand from the 1970s.
Loewe is surprisingly inviting for all its weirdness. Anderson may name-drop cloth performance artist Franz Erhard Walther in his show notes, but his clothing is perhaps the most approachable of the young conceptual brands defining a generation raised on Comme des Garçons and Raf Simons's early work. It is whimsical without feeling too obscure. “I don't think [Loewe] tries to be pretentious,” Anderson says. “I don't think it tries to go above your head, or tries to make you feel that there is a barrier. I try to make it as welcoming as possible as a brand.”