There is a funny story about Jonathan Anderson’s initial experience with Loewe (pronounced “Loh-wev-eh”), the LVMH-owned brand of which he is now creative director. When he first visited the 168-year-old Spanish brand’s headquarters in 2013, he posed as a writer.
"Ah, when I worked for i-D magazine," he recalled with a grin at a private event Barneys hosted in his honor Monday night. “Yeah, I had to do an undercover to go and see the factory, which I was not very good at. I got busted.” He flushed red. “I got busted the moment I walked into the building.”
At the time, LVMH had just purchased a share of his London-based J.W. Anderson brand, and offered him a role at Loewe. “Delphine [Arnault of LVMH Group] wanted me to go and see what I thought, and by the time I had finished at the factory, I was like, ‘OK, I’ll do that job.’”
I asked him if he took the creative director position at Loewe because he thought he would be able to invent freely.
“I actually took it [because] I thought the archive was extremely good. It hasn’t been overexposed. It was a big leap for me, but I ultimately just fell in love with the brand.” He took a sip of espresso and continued, “There were these guys, these master craftsmen, who made bags for 40 years, and I just asked them, ‘What do you enjoy?’ and they said, ‘Well, we really enjoy designing bags ourselves, which we haven’t been doing in a long time.’ So I thought, 'OK, well, you want to design bags, start designing bags.' That’s what’s been happening.”
A lot of the bags on display come in a sepia-toned saffron shade, a color I've heard is called oro. I asked Anderson about it.
“This is the heritage part,” he explained. “It’s how the brand started, because in the ’70s the Spanish architect Javier Carvajal was doing my job, and they invented this bag called the Amazona. Suddenly, Loewe became a brand and everyone knew about it in that period. I started with that [oro color] because I kind of like it, and I’m blonde, and I think it works.”
Anderson has also invented a new handbag for Loewe: a structured bag in calf leather that folds in several unique ways. It’s called the Puzzle, and it’s quite popular — in fact, Anderson says its outselling the Amazona, once Loewe's bestselling bag, by 27 percent. “We’re taking the brand and jackknifing it in another direction," he explained.
Simon Doonan, Barneys creative ambassador at large, believes Anderson "has injected Loewe with a huge amount of creativity and surprise — and also craft.” Doonan has been especially impressed by Anderson’s knitwear. “It’s audacious and colorful and it feels great. He’s a creative guy, so he’s shaping up all aspects of the brand.”
What’s striking is how many of Anderson's pieces for Loewe are instantly recognizable. That’s hard to do in such a short period of time. (“The collection has only been selling in stores for eight months, worldwide,” he reminded me.) Towards the end of the evening, I spotted the model Alexandra Agoston in Anderson’s black sleeveless Loewe dress with large colorful appliqués. Even though she’s strikingly gorgeous, there was something about the outfit, grounded by flat black shoes, that gave the 6-foot-tall beauty a certain subtlety. At Loewe, the sex appeal feels a little less obvious, the luxury a little more decadent. But, like a curious dream, these clothes and accessories, whether you like them or not, are hard to forget.
“You want people to care,” said Anderson. “I love fashion. You want people to love your collection or hate it.”