If any designer has reinvented the wheel when it comes to, well, reinventing an international luxury label it has to be Jonathan Anderson at that venerable institution named Loewe. Often called the Hermès of Madrid, Loewe has gone through many changes in its lengthy history – but none so radical and earth-shattering as the one under the helm of Anderson – an earthy Ulsterman with a subtly quirky take on fashion and much else.
“My goal from the beginning was to turn Loewe into a cultural brand and I think this place shows how we have done that,” insists Anderson, when Achtung Mode caught up with him during a private tour of the Spanish brand’s new path-breaking boutique in Madrid late last year. Hyper-eclectic and radical in design, the 1,000 square-meter store in effect celebrates the massive wind of change that Anderson blew through Loewe, since his 2013 appointment as Creative Director of LVMH’s storied Spanish marque.
“My goal from the beginning was to turn Loewe into a cultural brand.” – Jonathan Anderson
From the solid concrete cabinets – poured on site in the boutique – to a faux ancient Roman stone torso in a window, this store is revolutionary in terms of conception and product mix. It also contains elements “recycled” from Loewe runway shows: inverted conical concrete ottomans, perspex boxes filled with BIC razors or metal coils and leather box poufs – all from his shows, always staged inside the UNESCO headquarter in Paris. “It’s the first time in Europe, we have been able to have everything we do in one place: menswear, women’s fashion, accessories, lifestyle and, dramatically, a florist,” smiles Anderson.
His ballsy attitude to sampling is apparent in two upholstered chairs, copies of Lutyens’ chairs he bought at an auction, or bizarre new colorful mushroom objects and giant versions of miniature toadstools he picked up in a French market. Giant stones from cider presses stand beside black wrought iron, inspired by a William Morris Sussex chair, and used on door handles and the stair railing.
Jonathan Anderson: “I did not see Loewe rooted in luxury but in craft.”
“That’s my Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory reference,” he laughs boyishly. “From my first day at Loewe I wanted to fundamentally change the face of luxury. I did not see Loewe rooted in luxury but in craft. And I feel like we have achieved that. And we kept that roughness. I think Loewe is a very guttural brand,” he opines. A cool conical gold elevator soars through a dramatic Portland stone spiral stairwell, amidst diverse works of art: notably by Federico García Lorca as well as Edmund de Waal and also including an amazing, wall-sized blotchy orange abstract by Sir Howard Hodgkin.
“And no architect anywhere. Which saves on the fee!,” laughed the man who hired Anderson, Pierre-Yves Roussel, Chairman and CEO of LVMH Fashion Group. “Finding a designer who makes great collections, and has an architectural vision and a great sense of retailing is very rare. But Jonathan just does everything very well.”
Mingled in among Loewe’s Fall Winter collection of handkerchief dresses and leather parkas, are “repeats” of classics for the house: from re-edited leather baseball jackets to his asymmetrical grandfather striped shirts, “that we sell by the bucket.” Anderson invited down several scores of editors to fete the store for 24 hours in Madrid, joined by Juliette Binoche, rock star Sharon Corr and assorted Anglo-Hispanic hipsters. He also staged a double exhibition inside the Jardín Botánico, entitled Past Present Future. On one side, a huge display of new and old Loewe products – from miniature elephant purses to ceramic bowls to towels based on designs by carpet maker John Allen. The floor was composed of images from a striking 592 page, phone-book sized book, art directed by Spain’s Luis Venegas, and containing Loewe 70s ads, architectural drawings, Narciso Rodriguez photo shoots, sketches from Karl Lagerfeld when the German designed for Loewe, a photo of Donald and Ivana Trump celebrating a Loewe store in Trump Tower, as well as a letter of thanks from Hillary Clinton from the White House.
“Finding a designer who makes great collections, and has an architectural vision and a great sense of retailing is very rare. But Jonathan just does everything very well.”
Like we said: eclectic. On the other side, it includes a dozen beautiful photos by Steven Meisel inspired by the floral arrangements of Constance Spry, the legendary British aesthete who created the arrangements for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. The ensemble is cleverly capturing Anderson’s aesthetic, dipping and diving into cultures and eras to assemble a raw new vision of luxury products. “Steven is quite simply the best photographer in the world. The way in which he conceives image has an honesty under everything. He can take an entire season and reduce it to what it was all about in one shoot,” says the designer, who began selling the limited edition 2017 flower calendar by Meisel for 250 euros inside Loewe Flores, next to quirky vases by Spry himself.
His busy evening of cocktails ended in Cock, “one of the five best bars in the world,” said the Northern Irish designer – a famed drinking hole, once favored by Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner, to which he invited a slew of Spanish drag queens to celebrate. “Madrid is an amazing city. Beautifully architecturally, mega-relaxed and one of the most fun nights out you will ever have,” added Anderson, who took his guests on a late night private visit to see Picasso’s Guernica. While the city’s main drag was covered with posters of 50s fitting pictures from Loewe’s factory in Getafe.
The following week, Anderson jetted to Art Basel Miami Beach, “for a seven hour stop,” to celebrate an exhibition of gay Irish abstract painter William McKeown who committed suicide. In March, he will inaugurate a new Loewe Prize for artisans. Partly inspired by the LVMH Prize, the Loewe version will celebrate hand-made ideas – and already has over 1,000 applicants on the Internet. “It’s essentially anything made by hand,” says London-based Anderson, who designs for Loewe in a St. Germain studio on Place Saint-Sulpice and who has just bought a “buy of the century” country house in the flatlands of Norfolk, but regularly holidays in a farmhouse he rents deep inside the forest of Saint Remy national park.
This article appeared first in Achtung Issue 33, March 2017