A new era of luxury
“I’m not a fearful CEO,” affirms Loewe’s Lisa Montague when we meet her in Hong Kong. In the two years since she appointed Brit whizz kid Jonathan Anderson as creative director, the Spanish house has gone from passive participant to rebel leader defining a new era of luxury. Its last three collaborators break the well-oiled formula of big brands pairing up with cult pop names.
Ceramicist Tomoo Hamada, from Japan’s most renowned family of potters, created two exclusive pieces for Loewe’s first ever Casa store last year. Third generation leather artisan Jose Luis Bazan kicked off the house’s initiative to explore new possibilities of what leather can be used for with the Bowls Project this Spring. And 80-year-old British textile designer John Allen kitted the brand out for a fine summer by translating his landscape tapestries to its oversized beach towels and bags.
It’s a bold new vision: one where, ironically, what is being sold is not product, but culture. “At the moment, I’m in the process of trying to get the consumer to fundamentally forget what the brand ever was, so they have to kind of reset,” says Anderson. Spain’s most storied house has seen its fair share of top names taking the reins, among them, Narciso Rodriguez and Stuart Vevers. It took a 31-year-old millennial however, to nail exactly what was needed to catapult Loewe into the new millennium. Not just a refreshed logo and revolutionary signature bag, but a strategy that flat out breaks down the walls between product, fashion and art.
The man himself
The story that Loewe’s individualistic creative director wants to tell is one that creates a dialogue between past, present and future, and he himself is an embodiment of all three. He turns up for the interview in a simple white cotton T-shirt, well-worn jeans and Ray-Bans. It’s pretty much exactly the same gear he is described as wearing in other interviews, and what he was in when I first met him three years ago. There is a timelessness to it that underpins the avant-garde design aesthetic he is known for.
The scruffy young man in front of me looks more like an earnest art student than the visionary who has turned around the 169-year-old house. The only giveaway: his leather espadrilles and tote bag. They feature Loewe’s latest logo, which he reworked with renowned French design agency M/M. “What’s interesting about the logo is that it has changed so many times over the history of the brand, and always in reflection of the period, whether it was the 1920s or the 1980s. I wanted to remove all the layers and have a hybrid of that. The current anagram goes back to the exact outline, but without the italics to it. It’s like the cleaned-up computer version.”
The ingenuity of Anderson’s approach is that without being overtly commercial, Loewe’s bottom line has been healthier than ever. His multi-dimensional, multi-functional Puzzle bag has been hailed one of the It bags of 2015 by Vogue and Style.com (now Voguerunway.com), outselling Loewe’s former signature Amazona by 27 per cent. Composed of geometric fragments of leather sliced and repositioned, it can be flattened for travel or folded into a backpack, clutch or handbag. Seen on the arms of style icons from Queen Sofia of Spain to Julianne Moore, its innovative design is almost impossible to counterfeit. The real coup, however, has been pulling off a bag that it is both challenging, and a bestseller.
In the midst of this sea change, has Loewe stayed true to its core values? Montague is confident that the brand has. “The values that are intrinsic to Loewe are its bold Spanish passion and the savoir faire of its craftsmen. We are just articulating them in a fresh and modern way. In fact, we have a responsibility to continually evolve. But I’m not afraid of alienating people, because our approach has been honest to the brand. There is nothing here the Loewe customer wouldn’t still appreciate.”
It’s also the reason Anderson was the only person LVMH chairman and CEO Pierre-Yves Roussel says he considered for the post. Recounting Anderson’s first visit to the factory, Montague describes how he immediately got what was so precious about Loewe. “He fell in love with the brand and understood implicitly that leather was at the heart of it.”
In Anderson’s words: “Luxury shouldn’t be about big blockbuster brands coming in with a take it or leave it attitude. The products don’t have anything to do with culture, or where something is from. I believe you have to give to get back. It’s karma.”
An adapted version first appeared in Female‘s September issue.