Loewe on the Rise

The one percent of the one percent have always been aggressive in exerting their power—it is they who elevated dressing as a domestic ritual and legitimised fashion as the snob’s art form. Here, history is synonymous with authenticity, and the Spanish, who have surrendered their pride to exalted French glamour—Balenciaga is the country’s most stinging loss—continue to boast that Loewe bloomed from their very own earth. “There’s so much goodwill for Loewe in Spain,”says Jonathan William Anderson, the London-based designer who, in 2013, succeeded Stuart Vevers as Loewe’s creative director. “They see it as their only luxury brand, so they’re very protective of it.”Loewe was acquired by French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH in 1996; LVMH acquired a 46 per cent stake in Anderson’s company just two years ago. Vevers’ first catwalk presentation proposed aphotic fantasies of Gothic excess that displaced the little black dress and consecrated the leather black dress. He was inspired by the work of German photographer Chris von Wangenheim, in particular, a 1977 shot of Christie Brinkley and a shadowy mare that had originally appeared in Vogue—eroticised mammals, both leggy, of two very different kinds. This season, Anderson described his woman as “someone who wears the trousers,”though she won’t be able to conquer the feat without a dash of impiety.

J.W. Anderson

J.W. Anderson

Loewe (pronounced low-ay-vay) doesn’t loll on manic cheers of devotion, certainly not to the extent of its flashier siblings—Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and, perhaps now, Céline. The name isn’t easy to pronounce, the company suffers an atomised archive, and its biggest market outside Spain is Japan (a quick Google search for Australian stockists diverted me to a home electronics company of the same name). Loewe was established in 1846, in Madrid, with two royal marriages approaching. Isabell II of Bourbon, at just sixteen years old, was set to wed her distant cousin, the Duke of Cadiz. That very same day, the teenage royal’s younger sister, Princess Maria Luisa Fernanda, two years her junior, married French noble Antoine d’Orléans, Duke of Montpensier. A group of artisans exploited the momentous double wedding to hawk their wares, and, in 1879, were joined by Enrique Loewe Roessberg, a German craftsman who lent his name to the company (he is erroneously dubbed the founder, though, born in 1842, would have possessed audacious sleight of hand to yield a carving knife at four years old). In 1905, Loewe was declared the Official Supplier to the Spanish Court, then under the auspices of King Alfonso XIII. Loewe launched a small apparel line in 1965, just months before Yves Saint Laurent launched Rive Gauche. The ready-to-wear department was fully realised in the 1970s, and designers including Enrique Õna Selfa, Narciso Rodriguez, Giorgio Armani and Karl Lagerfeld—the first German since Loewe Roessberg to spearhead creative operations—have fattened the archives.

Read the rest on Manuscript Daily.

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Saint Laurent Menswear Fall/Winter 2015

This month’s cover of Vogue Paris features German model Anna Ewers in looks from Saint Laurent’s spring collection: a cropped leather jacket with ridged detailing, skin-tight daisy dukes with split sides, embellished with crystal and a studded brown belt. Her face, with lips puckered to a pout, is superimposed over the “G,” which, in editorial parlance, is prime real estate. If Chanel really did liberate women’s bodies from the corset, she eventually imposed tyranny over a new body ideal: slender and svelte, the loose silhouette that makes you wonder if a woman’s torso has been sucked into the chasm of black silk. Likewise, if Hedi Slimane really revolutionised men’s dressing, as the loyalists winsomely suggest, it wasn’t that he extended the metaphor of what clothes could mean, or offer, to this generation of misfits and ciphers. He was, on the contrary, aggressively myopic about his vision. “He’s very interested in the reality of a scene,” notes Emmanuelle Alt, editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris. “Any girl of twenty years old can completely relate.”

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His latest menswear collection was a distillation of that scene: a conjuration of lyrical Californian haze, cadaverous band mates and benumbed play mates; music and mayhem; all the grit of youth, carried on the backs of kids plucked from the street in the scorned face of bourgeois dignity. Mr Slimane opened with a black pea coat, styled over a striped T-shirt and skinny jeans. A passel of suits soon followed in pinstripe and solid black, with shoulders both padded and rounded. The girls wore little black dresses with big berets—a cursory nod to consummate French chic—and the boys wore speckled jackets and silver shoes. One of these models wore a shirt of Italian silk and pants of sweat-lodged leather. His pointy shoes might have been stolen from a sex shop window; his fuzzy fur coat, in the glaring pink of Elsa Schiaparelli’s “Shocking” tone, perhaps from a grimly lit vintage shop in Paris. The exit was as wonderful and ungainly as it sounds.

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Prada: The New Sexy

A plain nylon bag heralded the renaissance of modern Prada, a heritage leather goods company founded, in 1913, to provide the European upper-crust with delicate luggage to accommodate decorous lives. By founder Mario Prada’s instruction, women were forbidden from entering the family business, a rule which changed when, in the 1950s, Miuccia’s mother, Luisa, took over the company. Mrs Prada herself joined in the 1970s, though she was lured from the store to the streets as Communism flourished across Italy. Still, social activism by no means demands that a young idealist abandon the perks of her class—rumour has it that Mrs Prada would hand out pamphlets wearing Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche. By then, the company was not only selling its wares to the rich; the Prada clan itself had well and truly entered that circle, Prada made politesse.

Prada's latest collection. Images from Style.com.

Prada’s latest collection. Images from Style.com.

And so, Mrs Prada has had to live with the conflicts of class and gender all her working life. Loyalists still consider her collections gentle spurs of activism: she was one of the first contemporary designers, by her own words, to make “ugly [look] cool.” For spring/summer 2000 she designed skirts printed with disembodied lips, an allusion to vagina dentata in alignment with the monstrous feminine. It’s a sexist trope in art and literature to present woman as carnal beasts—witches, hags, treacherous whores—though, for Prada, some of her greatest work is borne of that fury. More recently, she has dressed her models in bananas and cartoonish monkeys; flames and hot rods (Italian men like fast cars and fast women, according to the designer). She hates lace, so for fall/winter 2008 she designed a collection comprised entirely of the frilly web, and cast Linda Evangelista—whose avian nose and feline eyes makes her a flawed experiment of evolution, very much kindred of Prada’s ideology—as the lone campaign star.

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Fashion Writing Series 2015

When I was fourteen, someone told me for the first time that I should become a writer. I don’t remember who, exactly–perhaps a friend, a teacher, or someone else entirely. When I was seventeen, in my final year of high school, I was told the same thing. These recommendations continued sporadically but unfailingly for the next few years, until I turned twenty and launched Antwerpsex, by which time I finally told myself that I should pursue the craft in earnest. Most writers I’ve spoken to don’t remember who it was it, or what it was, that inspired their vocation. They’ve entered the work like a dream–not because writing offers infinite spiritual rewards (in fact, few people hate writing as much as someone who trades in words)–but because they’ve found themselves in a dazed state of elation, with a gaseous beginning and an uncertain ending.

Me during fashion week, honestly.

Me during fashion week, honestly.

Radical Chic,” a nervously witty story on the Met’s Impossible Conversations exhibition, which entangles Elsa Schiaparelli’s lurid fashion with Miuccia Prada’s conflicted idealism, made me want to become a writer. The article appeared in a March 2012 issue of The New Yorker, and its author, staff writer Judith Thurman, has become one of those few people I’d invite to my imaginary dinner party (I’d seat her in between Yves Saint Laurent and the Marquis de Sade). I’ve embarked on a mission to track down her public speeches, which are, sadly, few and far between. But of the ones I’ve managed to scrounge, she talks about fashion writing with self-awareness, humility and a humour so sharp it has only elevated her charm for me. She says that good writing is keen, appreciative, muscular, and buoyant.

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Milan Men’s Wear: Bottega Veneta, Prada and the New Gucci

Tomas Maier—born in Germany, resident of Florida, stealthy commandeer of Bottega Veneta (the Italian Hermès, and the second resurrection parable under Tom Ford’s stewardship of the Gucci Group)—experienced his sensory awakening at an Yves Saint Laurent fashion show, where his gazed became fixed on a particular flowing dress. “It was just a piece of fabric,” he told Interview. “But, as the model was walking, you didn’t know how she got into it, how it closed, where the seams where, and that, for me, was perfection.” Roberto Cavalli once declared God to be the world’s greatest fashion designer for his mastery of seamlessness. Later, Maier and his artisans devised an ingenious way to splice crocodile skins in a manner that might dissolve the join (“I find it vulgar when you can distinguish how something is made,” he said). Now it seems, after investigating the ways in which fabric moulds itself so organically around skin, Maier has abandoned that ecclesiastical pursuit of perfection for something closer to earth. He seems just about done with trying to erase his clothes’ entry points: divine intervention shouldn’t supersede designer’s intention.

Bottega Veneta x Dexter Dalwood

Bottega Veneta x Dexter Dalwood

It’s curious, then, that his latest menswear collection was in total disarray. You had to wonder what his intention really was. Collars lifted haphazardly, jackets pulled to the side to mock the central axis of the spine. Colours seemed anything but natural: pinks, greens and mustards that might have been hatched in some confectioner’s whirring contraption, as were the names that followed them—purple was “byzantine,” orange was “persimmon,” and pink was “mallow,” as reported by Tim Blanks. But it was fun. And it was welcome flavour to a brand that commits itself to a notoriously essentialist existence, and a man, who, in the true slumped manner of a fatalist, once mourned that he “can’t get happy.” So it may be that loosening the silhouette and mixing these fabrics was a conscious choice to be happy. Or, at the very least, to dress like it. Never mind that Biblical doctrine forbids the cross-collaging of two entirely different materials. This reprobate went a step further to what many in fashion would consider heresy: sweatpants, a corduroy jacket, a polo shirt and a neck scarf—all in a single look. Maier doesn’t indulge in the objects of consumer fetish, nor does he think that luxury should lend itself to meretricious snobbery. He wants his clothes to achieve what he calls “a certain state of nothingness.”

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Escapism, Asceticism and Eroticism

The general complaint against menswear is that it doesn’t move fast enough, that gentleman prefer bores and stagnant signifiers of power. They don’t take many risks, they are comfortable where they are. They are too proud to take instruction, or ask direction, same old, same old. And yet, Craig Green’s work is the most compelling when he leaves direction to chance. His parachute jackets, with strands and bands swinging from the torso, could have ballooned on impact with even the slightest gust of wind. He once confessed that his “hands are too big to do womenswear”: a man’s hands, of course, as synecdoche for his greater manhood, even more so for one whose fingers weave magic with the fabric. And so we see these cottons and wools warped around erogenous zones, because it’s too easy for sex to be smothered when men are dressed to conquer something elemental with disregard for something carnal. Fashion has a tendency to glorify, at times even fetishize, the individual. The emphasis on “individuality,” to Green, has the insidious effect of isolating. “I feel like there won’t be any true subcultures again,” he mourned. “There aren’t people finding each other anymore.” He’s that old-fashioned dreamer, so it’s probably true: you don’t have to be an extremist to be an escapist.

Left: Craig Green x Clyfford Still / Right: Burberry Prorsum x David Bomberg

Left: Craig Green x Clyfford Still / Right: Burberry Prorsum x David Bomberg

Funny, that. Burberry has a rich history of escape and expedition, if nothing else. Craig Green didn’t feature a single bag in his collection, whereas almost every single one of Christopher Bailey’s models came down the runway toting just that: totes, in every colour and hide. They’re always going somewhere. Original Burberry trench coats were equipped with pockets deep enough to hold a newspaper, but now they’re just deep enough to hold a phone, a wallet, and perhaps a set of keys. Thomas Burberry was ahead of his time, with the development of gabardine to scorn moisture of both skin and skies. Now, the company has embedded itself into its time. It tackled the digital problem with enthusiasm dwarfed only by effortlessness. Perhaps Bailey’s greatest virtue is that he’s one of the youngest creative directors and CEOs working in the luxury sector at the moment—he knows how the digital current behaves, and has never resisted the tide. But his propulsive work ethic hasn’t blinded him to the simpler, humbler truths of his craft. He’s possessed by an almost metaphysical appreciation for these clothes, having previously said, “People want the soul in things. They want to understand the ‘whys’ and the ‘whats’ and the values that surround it.” These shoes and belts were made from the finest leathers; the fringed blanket scarves weaved from yarns sourced somewhere far and remote, no doubt, with the worldliness of Britannia and the romantic spirit of a musty old attic, where this finery is doomed to expire. Because, ultimately, Burberry is clothing with history, and garb to be gifted to our children, and their children. Lovely, for sure, but that might also mean Burberry lacks any immediate pleasure. Who has the time to see these clothes reveal their charm? Or, more importantly, the patience?

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London Menswear: Gender, Honour and the Death of Irony

There are few designers who are as disillusioned by the tired tropes that plague fashion on an editorial level as Jonathan William Anderson. The “rags to riches” fables that have been written about him continue to support an insidious form of classism—that an idealist who “came from nothing,” as he describes himself, was able to break the bulwarks of luxury fashion is anathema to an industry built on big names and even bigger spenders. Never mind that three of the most influential designers of the 20th century—Chanel, Vionnet and Balenciaga—were born poor. Then, of course, there’s the “gender bender” descriptor that follows Anderson’s name like an increasingly malignant shadow, because what he does with his clothing can no longer be trapped in such a hollow, harrowing box. He doesn’t seem so concerned about bending masculinity, for fear of its brittle body crumbling in his bare hands, as he is about uncovering a utopian idea of dissolving the spectrum of sex and gender into new form. New form and new feeling.

Left: J.W. Anderson and Cy Twombly / Right: Alexander McQueen and Lucien Freud

Left: J.W. Anderson and Cy Twombly / Right: Alexander McQueen and Lucien Freud

Anderson’s fall/winter 2015 menswear was led by sobriety: a black mid-length coat with a wide collar, sweeping to the back of the neck. Button holes—or where one expected to see buttons—were adorned with rusty trinkets that carried the flash of royal jewels without the decorative fervour. Nothing looked punishingly expensive, and that seemed to be entirely intentional. Pants were flared and slit at the hem to reveal impish shoes that beckoned mischief. Glossy leather trench coats and scratchy suede tunics might have been a reactionary slip into the hedonism of 1970s Halston, who, had he lived to see Anderson’s ascent, would no doubt be his most receptive client. And, then, a fuzzy coat made out of teddy bear hide (or something) was more kindred of pimp’s boy toy than boy’s plush toy. Anderson’s menswear is more assuring, more articulate in its finery: “I’m cutting out the fluff,” he said last year. “You have to push because in ten years that will be normal.” He’s wearing down the institution of masculinity by upping its wardrobe.

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