Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Jonathan Anderson Keeps ‘Pushing the Boundaries of Fashion’

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Jonathan Anderson keeps racking up the accolades. In the past few weeks alone, he dressed Rihanna in Loewe for her Super Bowl halftime show; unveiled one of the most acclaimed collections during London Fashion Week with his JW Anderson brand, and scooped the Neiman Marcus Award for Creative Impact in the Field of Fashion.

Geoffroy van Raemdonck, chief executive officer of the Neiman Marcus Group, said the award recognizes “creativity that goes beyond the product” and Anderson was a “clear choice” in this regard given how he has “pushed through the boundaries of fashion” to position Loewe as a cultural, “thought-provoking” house.

“At the same time, he’s able to modernize the heritage craftsmanship of Loewe,” van Raemdonck added. “It’s about reviving the brand, and being true to its history, but projecting it with a very strong point of view into the future.”

To be sure, the designer, born in Northern Ireland, has revved up Loewe since arriving at the creative helm in 2013.

His makeover of the Madrid-based heritage brand has been sure-handed and innovative. He initially appropriated ’90s-era fashion imagery as present-day ad campaigns; brought an unvarnished, spontaneous spirit to the typically glossy luxury world, and introduced some dramatic store concepts with artistic elements, including Picasso ceramics and Rennie Mackintosh chairs.

He’s also been waking up the eye with spellbinding accessories and clothing propositions: melding toy cars and fiberglass flowers into dresses; growing live plants on sneakers and jeans, or simply shrinking or supersizing familiar garments to create alluring, unexpected new proportions.

Backstage at Loewe women’s for spring 2023.

Kuba Dabrowski/WWD

“What makes him so special are his references outside of the pure fashion world,” said Lana Todorovich, chief merchandising officer of Neiman Marcus. She was referring to the filmmakers, sculptors, painters, textile artists and architects that Anderson references at Loewe, and occasionally enlists to help create his show sets, fabrics or capsule collections. “It makes Loewe very distinctive and recognizable, and makes him stand out in the luxury world.”

Todorovich also lauded his “intellectual approach to fashion” and “his masterful touch for pushing this envelope.”

In recent Loewe collections, Anderson has referenced Old Masters and also the Surrealist art movement.

“He’s done this in a really unique, bold and courageous way and this is what we really appreciate about his fashion,” she said.

Todorovich lauded how Anderson helped bring “retail-tainment” to Neiman Marcus with Loewe’s tropical-themed takeover in Los Angeles and Atlanta last year for the summertime Paula’s Ibiza collection.

The Loewe x Paula’s Ibiza at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills.

Courtesy of Neiman Marcus

“It was really a very special immersive kind of experience,” she enthused, noting that Anderson is “very involved in the curation of the message, the curation of the environment.”

Neiman Marcus began stocking Loewe in 2014 with women’s handbags and some accessories, and the brand is now carried in 24 doors and online.

Handbags remain the largest category, but the retailer flagged “significant growth” in women’s ready-to-wear and women’s shoes in recent years. Neiman’s also carries men’s apparel, shoes and accessories, beauty products and jewelry.

Todorovich cited brisk sales of some of Anderson’s most offbeat designs, including shoes with cracked eggs or upside-down flowers as heels. “The sell-throughs have been incredible. And we have carried the full spectrum of his really unique, groundbreaking styles,” she said.

Anderson sat down with WWD on the occasion of the Neiman Marcus recognition, with an awards gala planned for March 5 during Paris Fashion Week.

In the interview, the designer spoke about the importance of cultural relevance, the value in bluntness, and why balloon-heeled shoes are not full of hot air.

WWD: How have you seen luxury evolve since you first joined Loewe?

Jonathan Anderson: When I first did the pitch to Delphine [Arnault], the concept that I came up with…was that luxury had died and ultimately brands had to become cultural brands. So how do you put culture at the forefront of brands? That’s why we started the Loewe Craft Prize, why we did all the projects at Salone del Mobile, why we started an art collection, why we’ve been sponsoring a lot of museum shows, and helping artists.

Luxury ultimately had to fall into the cultural landscape for it to be able to become relevant. And I think this remains true, ultimately.

WWD: In a 2014 interview with WWD, just ahead of your first show, you said that you wanted to quadruple the size of Loewe. Mission accomplished?

J.A.: I think we have. You know I’m not allowed to talk about numbers, but I think we probably more than quadrupled. We’ve passed a big threshold, let’s put it that way.

WWD: You immediately connected Loewe to culture, with Steven Meisel photos and an 18th-century granary in your Miami store. How does this fit in with your design ethos?

J.A.: It comes down to this idea of past, present, future. I was going into a brand that was about the past, when I went into the brand, it was ultimately about the present. And then we had to kind of work out what the future of this brand was going to be. Meisel’s image of the beach had been influenced by Alex Katz’s painting of the beach. So you had the painter who paints the picture, the photographer takes a photograph, and then 20 years later, this image is presented as new ultimately. In a weird way, that’s what fashion is about — a cycle that continually goes around and improves itself, and I wanted to show that work in progress.

The brand is about storytelling. There is a complex language that is being built, but ultimately it is about bringing people on the journey with either something they expect or something they don’t expect. I think that’s what’s nice about Loewe — you cannot pigeonhole it.

I always felt like my job was to put a ready-to-wear language into a leather house, because it didn’t really have a clothing archive, although obviously it had the period when Karl Lagerfeld had done stuff, when Giorgio Armani had done stuff. There was also Narciso Rodriguez and Stuart Vevers. But there was not a cohesive fashion language, other than during the ’70s, which was suede.

WWD: You’ve also played up craftsmanship, and modern craft since the get go. How has the customer responded?

J.A.: We see it in the sales. When I first joined and I thought of Spain, I always thought of baskets weirdly. I think it’s just because when I went on holiday as a kid you always saw someone with a basket and espadrilles in a cliche way. But you know baskets represent one of our biggest selling departments, whether it’s leather basket, baskets made from straw. We make baskets in about seven different countries, from Africa to Madagascar to Spain, obviously to Italy. We’ve done baskets in India. And what is interesting is I think the consumer wants to see something which is about the physicality, the make. Who would have thought a luxury brand per se could sell a raffia basket?

Madrid_Urban_Sports_2022

A Loewe tote made of raffia and leather.

Courtesy of Loewe

WWD: It feels like your tenure at Loewe can be divided into clear chapters. Did you deliberately map it out that way?

J.A.: I think there’s definitely Loewe before the pandemic and Loewe after the pandemic. I think the pandemic changed me. I think it made me reset a bit. I feel like the stakes went higher and I think that we became more focused ultimately. I think the pandemic helped me to slow down a bit, to sharpen my sword.

WWD: You seemed to relish your collections-in-a-box during the pandemic, and equally relish the return to IRL fashion shows. How do you account for that?

J.A.: I realized I was in a bit of a pattern. And because the pattern had been broken [by the pandemic] and I had to focus on how to tell the story through a box, it then ultimately gave me the excitement to do a show again. Then when we had that show, which was the first show where the models emerged from underneath the floorboards, and the collection was based on the Italian painter Pontormo. I felt like I had found this idea that if you’re going to put something on the runway, then it has to count.

WWD: How far in advance do you plan your collections?

J.A.: Most of the collections that we do usually are initiated about nine to 10 months in advance. I’m not very good at working last-minute, and I find it really difficult to be able to build a narrative ultimately. I don’t mind having an extra two looks, but I can’t deal when there’s too much more.

WWD: Your latest chapter has some surreal elements, and a lot of bluntness. Tell me about that?

J.A.: My biggest fear as a designer is to be known for one thing. Also I think I would be so bored. After the pandemic, we went through a renaissance somehow, which was the Pontormo collection, which then evolved into something which was more surrealistic. And since the last show that we had done with the [anthurium] flower. I feel like everything in my mind has become more reduced and more blunt. Less-is-more has suddenly become more exciting to me recently, even in my own brand. I wanted to kind of boil it down because I felt like there was so much happening in fashion right now.

Backstage at Loewe RTW Spring 2023

Backstage at Loewe women’s spring 2023.

Kuba Dabrowski/WWD

I feel like a lot of fashion recently was about the overall styling of a show – where you have a hat and a coat and a thing and a shoe and bag and a sock. To have the confidence to take things away, I think that’s where we are going now – where things are becoming more elevated, more graphic, more in focus. I feel like fashion is heading towards a period with a tighter vision ultimately.

WWD: You seem very implicated in the retail experience, choosing artworks, furnishings, etc. What kind of experience are you trying to create?

J.A.: I’m very lucky to be able to have an in-house architect Paula [Aza Custodio]. Our stores are a reflection of the city they’re in, so each one varies. You’re walking into a curated space that is not conventionally luxury, ultimately. It’s this balancing act of elevating the product.

All the furniture, the ceramics, the artworks, all these things are things I have sourced with Paula and with Pascal [Lepoivre, Loewe’s chief executive officer]. And each store is different, each city has a different vibe, like New York is very different to L.A., and L.A. is very different to Miami. Each store has its own vocabulary, because I don’t like a cookie cutter, otherwise you’re trapped within this one vibe.

WWD: What has been your proudest achievements at Loewe so far?

J.A.: People still are starting to respect the brand, and I’m hoping more people know how to pronounce the name. I think my biggest achievement is I feel like we are still relevant. I think this is sometimes very difficult. You know, I think some people are so used to what’s next, what’s next.

Also setting up the Loewe Craft Prize. It is a huge undertaking and a massive investment into craft. I hope it’s an important legacy that I have put into the brand – not just for the last 10 years, but for the future of this brand Loewe.

When you come into a heritage brand, it’s older than all of us. Loewe started in 1846. So I think it is important that you build foundations that are long term… because I think the brand has to go on for another 100 years.

The job of a creative director today is to bring the DNA of the brand to the forefront and make it relevant for the period – not to alter the actual the DNA of the brand itself.

WWD: You’re not afraid to take risks on the runway, with metal clothing, broken-egg shoes, and car dresses. What’s the craziest thing you’ve made you thought would never sell and did like hotcakes?

J.A.: I would never have thought people would buy shoes that had a broken egg for a heel, or balloons on them or all the kinds of weird and wonderful things we have done. It is surprising the appetite out there for clothing that is unique. To have a balloon-heeled shoe be sold out is kind of crazy. But this is what’s amazing about fashion today: People have the courage to experiment. Sometimes I feel like big brands get too conservative and underestimate the consumer. Obviously, we haven’t sold any trousers with grass growing on them, but you never know?

Backstage at Loewe Men's Spring 2023

Backstage at Loewe men’s spring 2023.

Kuba Dabrowski/WWD

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