How Creative Director Jonathan Anderson Jolted Loewe Back to Life

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Photo: Billy Ballard

A 170-year-old label has been reinvented by wunderkind creative director Jonathan Anderson. It took this brash designer's unconventional approach to the jolt sleepy Spanish luxury house Loewe (LOH-eh-vay) back into the big leagues. Read on to see what the designer had to say about his short but potent tenure.

From the February issue of InStyle on newsstands and available for digital download on Jan. 6.

In a bright alcove of his new Casa Loewe flagship in Madrid, Jonathan Anderson has finally realized one vision of his dream for the Spanish label: a store where art, ceramics, and even a flower shop fill out his idea of what fashion can be. Behind him, on a sunny afternoon just before the opening in November, is an early example of a Richard Smith “kite painting” that decorated a Mr Chow restaurant in London in the 1970s. Downstairs, facing the entrance, is a large-scale print of abstract spots by the British painter Howard Hodgkin, whom Anderson has admired for years. Korean moon jars from various decades are potted amidst a rainbow display of leather handbags that have names like the Puzzle, the Hammock, and—who could not love it?—the Elephant, a small coin pouch shaped like an origami animal.

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Billy Ballard

“The art is from all different periods,” says Anderson, 32, who became the creative director of Loewe in 2013, just five years after starting his wildly popular J.W.Anderson collection in London. “It’s just, like, how do you do it in a way that is a bit wrong? And sometimes the taste is, well, maybe not everyone’s taste. But I suppose that’s the point.”

Anderson’s ascent in the fashion world has been remarkable not only for its speed but also for its potency. In his brief tenure at the Spanish luxury goods company, he has changed the perception of Loewe from a second-tier player within the LVMH conglomerate to one of its most powerful names. He has altered the dynamic of his personal narrative as well. Not long ago, Anderson was seen as a budding enfant terrible for his gender-bending runway shows that featured men in flouncy bloomer shorts and lace dresses and women in cartoon-ish leg-of-mutton sleeves. Today, at Loewe, he is bringing focus back to artisanal craftsmanship and womanly glamour. In fact, his taste, embracing both the good and the bad, is quite exceptional.

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Billy Ballard

“Three years in, I think I finally feel the confidence to keep going, if that makes sense,” says Anderson, whose makeover of Loewe (previously designed by Narciso Rodriguez and Stuart Vevers, among others) has at moments bordered on audacious. “The great thing is that the brand has so much history,” he says, before adding slyly, “and you can make up history as well.”

Anderson, who was born in Northern Ireland, represents a major shift in a new generation’s approach to fashion, especially that of a tightly knit community of designers based in London who are less precious about ownership of ideas and openly sample one another. At the same time, he stands apart for his outspokenness and competitiveness (his father, Willie, is a former rugby player and current coach). So it’s perhaps not surprising that Anderson’s comments, while refreshingly frank, often flick at sacred cows and industry taboos.

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Billy Ballard

“Since I started at Loewe, I went on a crusade,” Anderson says. “I felt like fashion was not reflecting the period it was in. It was very old-fashioned in terms of approach, which was ‘I designed this aesthetic, so this aesthetic belongs to me.’ My whole thing is that fashion doesn’t belong to anyone. You don’t come up with a concept. You recycle it. The best thing to do is design something and get rid of it.”

In one example of his ability to synthesize his own ideas with those of others, Anderson created a 2015 advertising campaign for Loewe using Steven Meisel photographs of kids on a beach taken from a 1997 magazine editorial, because they expressed his feelings so perfectly that there was no reason to make something else. Anderson describes his obsession with collecting such visual references as both a strength and a weakness, as this desire for information can sometimes lead to more and more convoluted layers of exploration. But his latest collections have shown that he is also capable of editing those ideas into a crystal clear presentation of femininity for the modern age.

“Now I find the simplest things more exciting than the heavy architectural layers,” he says. “I’m suddenly very into a black dress, which had never occurred to me in my entire life of working in design, because I think there’s something new in it.”

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Billy Ballard

Anderson describes the creative process as dipping into “a giant patchwork of information,” and this philosophy could be seen literally in the designer’s spring collection, which included a jaw-dropping shirtdress made from hundreds of swatches of fabric, all taken from the discards of his previous designs. One of the most talked-about pieces from that show was a whimsical necklace in the shape of a bat, which was actually something Anderson found in a flea market in Beijing and jokingly gave as a gift to an assistant. During a model fitting, they decided to add it to the show. (In a similar act of spontaneity, he showed a skirt made entirely of knotted rubber bands for fall.)

“Sometimes I feel like I can, out of my own isolation, make things overly intellectualized,” Anderson says. “It’s nice to focus on things that are relatable. If it works, it works.”

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Billy Ballard

From the February issue of InStyle on newsstands and available for digital download on Jan. 6.

Billy Ballard; hair: Elena Sahuquillo/Balmain Paris Styling Line/Kasteel Artist Management; makeup: Gato/Maybelline New York/Kasteel Artist Management; production: Rosco Production; models: Mica Arganaraz/DNA Models; Phillipa Hemphrey/Premier

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