It’s Personal: How Jonathan Anderson and Steven Meisel Are Redefining Loewe

In fashion, history is often synonymous with chic. And the Spanish, who’ve had to surrender their pride to exalted French glamour (Cristóbal Balenciaga is perhaps the most stinging loss, though he’d surely have contended he’s Basque), continue to boast that Loewe hails from the Iberian peninsula. “There’s so much goodwill for Loewe in Spain,” says Jonathan Anderson, the London-based designer who, in 2013, succeeded Stuart Vevers as the company’s creative director. “They see it as their only luxury brand, so they’re very protective of it.”

The name is a little difficult to pronounce (something akin to low-ay-vay), in effect discouraging gratuitous name-dropping among competitive fashion chatter. But make no mistake, Loewe is on many lips. In his new role at the storied house, Anderson is luring so-called millennials with an easy charm and a subversive cool. By placing an emphasis on craftsmanship and soft carnality, he’s piquing intrigue among jetsetters and Snapchatters alike.

Then there are those ingenious campaigns by — and of — Steven Meisel. Just today the house pre-released another image from the upcoming fall campaign, a picture of the enigmatic photographer when he was a child. So while Loewe doesn’t enjoy manic rounds of devotion, at least not to the extent of its flashier siblings — Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, Céline — under their parent company LVMH (which acquired a minority stake in Anderson’s own label, JW Anderson, just two years ago), you can bet that’s changing quickly.

In 1846, Loewe was established in Madrid by an enterprising group of artisans capitalizing on the momentous double royal wedding of princess sisters Isabella II and Luisa Fernanda. In 1879, they were joined by Enrique Loewe Roessberg, a German craftsman who lent his name to the company. He’s often erroneously credited as the founder, though, born in 1842, he would have possessed incredible sleight of hand at just four years of age.

Loewe launched a small apparel line in 1965, a year before Yves Saint Laurent launched Rive Gauche. The ready-to-wear department was fully realized 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 since fattened the archives.

But the brand’s bread and butter has been its leather goods. Many pieces were thought to be irretrievably missing until 1996, when a mission to hunt down the lost treasures through eBay auctions and flea markets was instigated. A jewelry box dating back to 1905 was recovered, as well as a crocodile travel case from the 1940s and a black goatskin vanity case that belonged to a Spanish duchess. One bag of curious construction was tested by a leather museum in Barcelona, which concluded it to be elephant skin. “This would never happen today,” said a Loewe spokesperson, quite rightly.

Spanish imagery is deeply Catholic. And though the clergy may have inspired some of Balenciaga’s more priestly designs, Jonathan Anderson has expressed his intention to make Loewe “less serious,” to feel “fresher and sharper.” In essence, to break out of the bourgeois complacency that had become the norm. For his first accessories campaign, he gained permission to reprint several beach scenes from a 1997 Italian Vogue editorial by Steven Meisel, titled, rather serendipitously, “An Interpretation.” In one of the images, Maggie Rizer’s windswept, freckled face is juxtaposed with the house’s Flamenco bag in suede, alongside a new logo by the design collective M/M Paris. Anderson’s trips to Ibiza, where he carried his own Amazona bag (first launched in 1975 and still the company’s best-seller), inspired the use of seaside imagery.

Shortly thereafter, an even more provocative image was released, and this time it was personal — Steven Meisel himself in a lip-lock with an unidentified partner. The undated image had been hand-picked and re-photographed by the famously reclusive lensman. That was followed by model Marc André Turgeon, captured in a defiantly swishy posture and clutching a bag. With today’s new image, the unorthodoxy continues. It shows Meisel as a child, smiling innocently from somewhere in the tropics, his arms loaded with parrots. Random, to say the least, but very much in keeping with Anderson’s quest for authenticity, character, and history.

Loewe spring 15

Loewe spring 15

Loewe spring 15

Loewe spring 15

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