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TOKYO — In one of the fashion world’s more unlikely pairings, Loewe creative director Stuart Vevers and Junya Watanabe took over a section of the Spanish embassy here on Tuesday to unveil the fruits of a one-off collaboration: a capsule collection of bags and ready-to-wear pieces crafted from Spanish leather and Japanese denim, heavy on patchwork detailing and punk edge.
The two designers staged three runway shows Tuesday, incorporating the collaboration items into 24 looks featuring a mixture of pieces from Watanabe’s archives and Loewe’s fall collection. The shows, building off the vibe of Watanabe’s fall runway presentation in Paris, had a distinctly punk attitude. Models sported spiky hair in a range of hues from purple to orange and strutted around a set featuring photos of regal Spanish palaces in Seville, the Casa de Pilatos and the Casa de Guardiola. The shows also commemorated the 400th anniversary of bilateral Spain-Japan relations.
Together, Watanabe and Vevers created three versions of the Loewe Amazona tote, two in denim and leather and one in all leather, in various sizes. A black leather tote and a series of small pouches rounded out the accessories. The rtw, five items for women and two for men, included patchwork jeans and denim jackets and a leather miniskirt. The collection will bow at Dover Street Market in Ginza at the end of August and at about 40 other stores worldwide in September, including Jeffrey in New York, Loewe’s online boutique and select Loewe locations.
Vevers said it was a “career highlight” to work with Watanabe, a designer he has long admired. “I was really interested what his take on Loewe could be.” Although Vevers admitted that there were some challenges along the way in terms of the language barrier and adjusting to each designer’s distinctive creative process, he said it was exciting to get to know the Watanabe, who traveled to Madrid to meet Loewe’s artisans and pick leather for the pieces.
“I think receiving some of Junya’s patterns…I mean, they’re the most intricate, incredible things I’ve ever seen. But presenting them to a European craftsperson, they were blown away…impressed and terrified I think,” Vevers said.
True to the press-shy nature of his corporate backer Comme des Garçons, Watanabe declined to give an interview on the collaboration but provided a few thoughts on it via e-mail. “Basically I asked them to let me do whatever I wanted. Our relationship was like an adult accepting child’s play,” said the Japanese designer. “I came up with the idea of combining the essences of each other’s icon. The combination of leather and denim. This is a combination of luxuries and casualness, and also the combination of the fashion agriculture of Spain and Japan.”
Vevers said the Spanish house and Watanabe were able to learn a great deal from each other’s respective expertise in leather handbags and rtw. The clothing items were derived from Watanabe’s patterns while the bags evolved out of a study of Loewe’s own archives, Vevers said. Watanabe said his experience with Loewe might influence further development of accessories for his own brand, although he declined to elaborate how.
Vevers said he’s a fan of collaborations in general — Loewe has worked with Spanish artists as well as jewelry designer Katie Hillier for special product ranges. Vevers and Watanabe also worked together earlier this year when Loewe produced a few items including a dress, a jacket and a bag for Watanabe’s fall show, which also featured a range of classic Amazona bags.
“I’m into them. I think it challenges you and pushes you further,” Vevers said of the tie-ups. “Sometimes you’ve just got to ask for these things because it’s amazing what can happen. All these taboos or things, barriers you think that aren’t allowed to happen.”
Japan is a particularly important market to Loewe, generating about a third of its turnover, and this year the company is celebrating its 40th year of doing business in the country.
Lisa Montague, Loewe’s chief executive officer, said the Japanese market is showing signs of a rebound after a couple of challenging years. She declined to give sales figures for the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned brand, but said the company’s business in Japan is growing at a double-digit pace so far this year, echoing encouraging news flow from other luxury goods players.
“That’s phenomenal for Japan,” she said. “I think you feel [the optimism] on the street.”
Loewe is expanding its presence outside its core markets of Spain and Japan, albeit in a relatively measured fashion. Earlier this month, it opened a more-than-3,000-square-foot flagship in Rome, appropriately enough overlooking the Spanish Steps. An 8,000-square-foot store will open in Shanghai later this year and an outpost in Milan will likely open next spring. The brand also recently reopened its Avenue Montaigne flagship in Paris, bringing it up to date with the current Peter Marino-designed concept featuring gold interiors.
Montague said Loewe is investing significantly to renovate its existing stores rather than focus on new openings.
“We have to get all of our existing stores up to a generally good level before we start being distracted by the thrills of new markets,” she said.