Radical Irish designer Jonathan Anderson remakes Spanish brand Loewe

Jonathan Anderson drastically remodelled Spanish luxury label Loewe and made people forget what it used to look like

Halter-neck tops, ruffled bloomers and plunging necklines. Jonathan Anderson's menswear designs for his own eponymous label JW Anderson may break stylistic taboos.

But it is the Irishman's complete and aggressive remodelling of Loewe, the 170-year-old august Spanish luxury leather house he helms, that has cemented his reputation as a radical spirit.

Appointed as its creative director in 2013, Anderson wasted no time ripping up and rebuilding the heritage brand, favoured by the Spanish royal family, from the ground up.

Its logo was redesigned by famous French art and design firm M/M Paris, which has collaborated with musicians such as Bjork and Madonna and fashion brands such as Balenciaga and Stella McCartney, to name a few. The systematic refitting of more than 180 stores worldwide followed.

Loewe's headquarters were also relocated from Madrid, where the brand was founded, to the building where legendary French actress Catherine Deneuve lives in Paris.

Loewe Spring/Summer 2016 menswear (above) by creative director Jonathan Anderson.

"The pencils, the door handles, the style of the press release, the stone of the building, the choice of photographer. I wanted to change everything," he tells The Straits Times in an exclusive interview at The Raffles Hotel recently.

"To restart a brand, you need to make people forget what it looked like and get them to believe that the brand was always like this."

Anderson, who turns 32 in September, was here to launch Casa Loewe, a new store concept for the brand which will be rolled out progressively worldwide. After Tokyo and Milan, Singapore is the third city in the world to have Casa Loewe, which is conceived around an intimate home interior concept in Paragon shopping centre. The label is also available at Club 21 at Four Seasons Hotel Singapore.

In person, Anderson is relaxed and speaks in a charming Irish lilt. His boyishly handsome face is framed by tousled sand-coloured hair, which he ruffles every now and then during the interview. But beneath that gentle and laidback demeanour lies fierce ambition.

For one thing, he makes no apologies for having pushed the reset button on Loewe. Heritage, he says, should not be confused with vintage.

"It had to be done. It has to be reset to a place that fundamentally feels modern because I want Loewe to last another 100 years," he adds.

He is slowly getting there: the fashion posse can now at least pronounce its Spanish name (Lo-ay-vay) correctly. "It's not there yet," Anderson admits. "My goal is to make it a household name."

Under him, the once sleepy brand has certainly been revitalised after having witnessed a revolving door of designers, including Narciso Rodriguez and Stuart Vevers, looking for an identity.

LVMH, its parent company, does not reveal numbers and it is early days yet to measure if Anderson's experiment has paid off in sales.

At the moment, in terms of column inches, Loewe is easily the most newsworthy label in the LVMH stable, which includes flashier brands such as Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Celine.

Anderson's rapid ascent has also placed him alongside other heavyweight LVMH designers, namely Nicolas Ghesquiere (Louis Vuitton), Riccardo Tisci (Givenchy) and Phoebe Philo (Celine), who are all in their 40s .

Does he feel pressured?

"Never. I never felt pressured. And if I did, I don't think I would work as well," he says confidently. "I feel like I work well on instinct and instinct doesn't happen under pressure."

He certainly thrives under pressure though. He designs six collections - two for men and four for women - for Loewe a year, and another six for his own label.

Then there are the ad hoc collaborations with third parties, such as Topshop in 2012 and Versace in 2013 .

Many designers have buckled under such a workload in recent years, but Anderson, whom Donatella Versace once called "a great talent, a genius", finds fashion's new rapid pace exhilarating.

Luxury needs to move at a faster pace in the Internet age. Fashion, he contends, is about survival of the fittest.

"The customer today needs newness," he says. "We always think the industry is too fast. But if you don't adapt, your modernity level will be incredibly low. Fashion has changed."

Anderson, obviously, likes to move quickly to keep boredom at bay.

Boredom, it has been said, fuels creativity. It surely feels this way with Jonathan William Anderson, who was born in Magherafelt, a small town in Northern Ireland where not much happened. The eldest in the family, he has a brother and a sister. His mother was an English teacher and his father a rugby player who capped 27 times for Ireland.

While he may not have inherited his father's passion for sports, it instilled in him an innate competitive spirit. "If you're in this industry and you're not, why bother?" he once told W magazine.

It is this fearless bravado that has been the base of his stellar ascent. After graduating from the London College of Fashion in menswear in 2005, he worked in visual merchandising at Prada under the late Manuela Pavesi, the right-hand woman of Italian fashion designer Miuccia Prada. In 2008, he started JW Anderson as a menswear label. Womenswear followed two years later. By 2013, he had secured substantial minority investment from LVMH for his own label.

Last year, the British Fashion Awards named him menswear and womenswear designer of the year, the first time any designer has won both categories in the same year.

All the more impressive considering he does not even sketch or drape like a traditional fashion designer.

"I am not Alaia. I am not YSL. I never will be," he says, referring to French couture giants Azzedine Alaia and the late Yves Saint Laurent. "I'll never know how to cut a shirt. But I know what shirt I like. Fundamentally, I am a creative director, not a designer, and there's a huge difference."

He says he aggregates fashion references, then edits them down to his own vision for the visually driven Instagram generation. It is a process not unlike the image appropriation and reblogging people do on Tumblr or Instagram these days.

Never one to shy away from referencing other people's works, he says: "I am not against referencing. I'm open about it because I am comfortable with it. I didn't reinvent clothing; I reinvented the edit."

His debut advertising campaign for Loewe proved his point. Alongside newly shot accessory images, the entire campaign featured a 1997 Vogue Italia fashion editorial taken by Steven Meisel, the fashion photographer who has shot every cover of Vogue Italia for the past two decades. Reproduced with Meisel's permission, it featured a bevy of supermodels such as Kate Moss, Maggie Rizer and Amber Valletta.

It was a bold move considering that the clothes featured in that editorial were not even by Loewe. Anderson takes that criticism on the chin and says: "It doesn't matter because for me, it's about who owns an image better."

He may sound cocky, but one cannot fault him for taking the unconventional approach and coating Loewe with a subversive cool that resonates with the fashionobsessed millennial generation of Snapchatters and Instagrammers.

Loewe, Anderson says, has more pop cultural bandwidth than before. Without sounding pompous, he adds: "It has the foundation to be the biggest brand in the world and that's what I want it to be."

With the luck of this Irish, Loewe may stand a chance to be just that.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2016, with the headline 'Rip and rebuild'. Print Edition | Subscribe