PARIS — Jonathan Anderson, who stages his first runway show for Loewe today, is setting out not only to modernize the Spanish house but to deliver a new conception of luxury: unvarnished, immediate and personal.
“If a bag owns you, it’s a bit of a problem,” the 30-year-old said. “The idea of luxury today has fundamentally changed. You need things to look real. The faker it becomes, the more detached you are [from] a product.”
Luxury also needs to move at a faster pace in the Internet age, he contended. “The customer today needs newness,” he said. “Fashion has changed, and it’s continuing to change because, fundamentally, people get bored quicker. When you see it, you want to buy it.”
A handful of looks from the spring 2015 show, which were featured in outdoor advertisements plastered around Paris late Thursday, were to go on sale today at select Loewe boutiques and on Net-a-porter.com.
“It’s not necessarily about design. It’s about how we consume,” Anderson said. “We consume a lot online, so the veneer has gone, the barrier. You can shop at your leisure — in bed, on the beach, in any format.”
Grabbing a catalogue, he showed one of his first bag designs juxtaposed with a 1997 Steven Meisel photograph of a beach scene, making the point that the product inhabits or reflects the lifestyle. He cited encouraging sales of that unstructured hobo, which telegraphs his less-formal approach to design. “I feel like they’re easier. You can throw it over your shoulder,” he said.
An intense, articulate young man who sprinkles his parlance with academic terms and twirls his hair nervously, Anderson said he immediately conceived of Loewe as a bright, daytime brand and set about relieving it of an image he felt was too dark and too evening-oriented.
Cue the show’s 9:30 a.m. call time, the open-air setting in front of UNESCO’s Paris headquarters and unusual looks such as a suede gown embellished with fluttering, rough-hewn patches and drapes of the same sandy leather.
“I think Loewe had become heavy, and I wanted it to be lightened up. I wanted it to feel fresher, sharper,” he said.
Anderson’s runway debut comes one year after LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton took a 46 percent stake in his London-based signature label J.W. Anderson and put him at the creative helm of Loewe, a brand that dates back to 1846.
Both brands fall under the purview of Pierre-Yves Roussel, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Fashion Group, which also comprises Marc Jacobs, Donna Karan, Céline, Givenchy, Kenzo, Emilio Pucci and Nicholas Kirkwood.
Charged with interpreting a Madrid-based brand often characterized as the Hermès of Spain, Anderson said its production capabilities and signature “hand” were the most important characteristics to exalt, rather than clichés like flamenco or bullfighting.
“When I think of Spain, I think of being on a beach,” he said. “It’s not serious, if you know what I mean? Because I don’t think Spanish culture is serious in that way. It is not heavy.”
Anderson zeroed in on a fizzy period at Loewe in the Fifties and Sixties, when Spanish architect Javier Carvajal revolutionized its stores, designing furniture and even some products.
“He looked at the brand with a different viewpoint. He looked at architecture, he looked at furniture, he looked at how leather goods fit into culture. And so that’s where I started,” the designer said, noting that key brand codes — its sunny Oro leather, the color gold and the signature Amazona bag, still a bestseller — emerged from that period.
“When this brand started, they did not set out to make vintage bags. They went out to make modern bags. So, there always has to be the modernity, no matter what decade you’re in,” he said.
Under its previous creative director Stuart Vevers, an accessories specialist tapped in 2007 from Mulberry, management had put the focus of development on handbags, fronted in recent campaigns by Penélope Cruz.
Owned since 1996 by LVMH and previously helmed by designers Narciso Rodriguez and José Enrique Oña Selfa, Loewe ultimately scaled back fashion to concentrate on handbags, leather apparel and a substantial gift business based on leather picture frames, leather boxes and the like. It also marched prices and quality upscale, adding a leather lining and double zippers to bags, for example.
Yet Anderson is adamant that apparel, though today a small percentage of Loewe’s business, is an essential ingredient in propelling the new-look brand.
“Fundamentally, ready-to-wear is the character. If you do not believe in the character, you do not buy the bag — I 100 percent believe in that,” he said. “You have to want to be that woman. It has to have global appeal, but it doesn’t have to have mass appeal.”
Known for an androgynous approach to fashion at his signature brand, Anderson said the spring 2015 women’s wear marks a “running conversation” from his first men’s effort, unveiled last June and spanning his-and-hers versions of asymmetrically cut shirts, cuffed jeans and striped sweaters. The debut women’s line spans the full range of apparel categories, along with footwear and costume jewelry.
Anderson said he sees his own brand as targeting a “younger girl,” though he also wants to bring “young elements” into Loewe.
Among the preview looks he showed during a meeting at Loewe’s new design studios on the Place Saint Sulpice here was a pair of roomy red leather pants and a cap-sleeved T-shirt in latex printed with a retro landscape of ducks alighting on a pond.
Anderson lauded leather as “such an incredibly versatile material,” capable of taking on a range of colors and patinas and resembling anything from velvet to lacquer.
“You can do things with leather that you can’t do with suiting or cotton. Leather never falls in the same place. It’s like flesh, ultimately,” he said.
Born in Northern Ireland, Anderson studied men’s wear at the London College of Fashion, graduating in 2005. He went on to work in visual merchandising at Prada under Manuela Pavesi and consulted for several brands before launching J.W. Anderson in 2008.
At Loewe, Anderson’s creative reach extends to retail stores, with his first new units, in Tokyo and Milan, incorporating fine Arts and Crafts furnishings — a rare bench by William Morris or a chair by Rennie Mackintosh, for example — and other arty touches.
“People want a personal experience. They want to feel like they’re in their own comfort [zone] to shop, without any barrier,” he said. “For me, Arts and Crafts furniture is extremely modern. It influenced Bauhaus. There’s a reality to it.”
While Loewe’s 143 stores are concentrated mainly in Spain and Japan, which respectively boast 37 and 27 locations, Anderson said the brand should have global resonance and reach. Market sources estimate the company generates annual revenues of 250 million euros, or $327.9 million at current exchange. Besides its own store network, Loewe sells to about 160 multibrand stores.
The company’s first U.S. store, which Anderson described as his “pet project,” is slated to open early next year in the Miami Design District.
The designer said his association with LVMH and a slew of developments with his own brand, headlined by an e-commerce site, have made him more “business-excited” and that he finds daily selling reports addictive.
“I do fundamentally want to quadruple this brand,” he said of Loewe, clarifying that it’s a personal mission and not a target set by LVMH. “I look at sales every morning. If I’m in an airport, I’m at the store. If I’m in Paris, I’m in the store. You have to do that….I want to know what is selling, in what quantity, to whom, and why did they buy it?”
Anderson is also acutely aware that fashion insiders and the general public have very different benchmarks. For example, he’s proud of campaigns mixing new photographs by Meisel with iconic Nineties shots, such as one of Amber Valletta sipping a glass of water that’s part of the latest billboard campaign.
“Does it really matter if the imagery is from that period or not from that period? It raises questions, and I think that’s what good advertising is about,” he said. “The image is just as relevant today as it was then. My sister would believe that [image] is shot today, and that’s what I like about it.”