“Welcome to Loewe Land”  I *think* Jonathan Anderson was saying this in jest, as he waved his hands over the “Past, Present, Future” exhibition that is currently open to the public at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Madrid.  But over a compact two day trip to the city where the Spanish leather goods house is rooted to, it really did feel like an excursion to a Loewe Land of sorts.  One that crazily, has really only been in existence for two years since Anderson became creative director.  The word ‘past’ in the title of the exhibition lingers in the background, and yes, we saw traces of Loewe’s 170 year history embedded here and there – but there can be no doubt that what you took away was the here, the now and the yet-to-come from Anderson’s creative direction.

Case in point, there was a stark difference between when I last visited Loewe’s factory in Getafe, on the outskirts of Madrid back in 2012 when Stuart Vevers was still heading up the house to the factory visit I undertook this time round.  Everything looked different.  The physical layout and decor.  That M/M Paris reconfigured logo embroidered on all the craftspeople’s uniforms.  A snazzy canteen that looks more than fit to feed what looked to be an increased workforce.  Above all, the processes looked completely different.  More machinery in rooms where alas, I wasn’t allowed to enter due to my advanced pregnancy.  Peering in through the window, I could hear the hum drum of vast laser cutting machines programmed to cut all those wonderful skins.

The leathers had broadened out.  The super soft Spanish entrefino lambskins, sturdier calfskins and marble-rubbed suedes were all still there and obviously take centre stage in the key bags that Anderson has since introduced into the Loewe bag fold – the Puzzle, the Hammock and the Barcelona to add to the existing Flamenco and Amazona styles.  On a crazier rail in the leather research room though are bonded leathers, pleated finishes and bold patterns as well as swatches of hand-painted leathers.  It’s a balance between the traditional and the experimental that the Loewe craftsmen have taken onboard and you see an excited glint in their eyes when they recall creating objects such as the leather-clad giant cat necklaces of the AW16 collection or being tasked to take the material of a trainer recontextualise it into bags.  And yet, at the same time, Anderson still has the appreciation of leather that is “like a lady with very little make-up on”.

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Perhaps the biggest change I saw was in the production line of the factory.  You can always tell demand for a brand’s bag is up when there are target sheets pinned onto the line.  Production of the hit Puzzle bag was in full force and I finally got to see the beginning-to-end of the assembly of what is a complicated bit of leather pattern cutting, where forty pieces of leather come together.  Around ten craftsmen work in tandem with one another to bring the components of structured last, the canvas lining, handle and of course the distinctly cut and sewn Puzzle configuration in leather together.  It’s perhaps a more efficient process to what I saw last time I was at the factory when they were making the old style Flamenco bags.  This paced up production is required of course to meet the customer demand that Anderson’s transformation of Loewe now engenders.  And yet, despite the sped up hands and lean manufacturing processes, the quality control that goes into a Loewe bag isn’t lost.  That’s evident in the final product itself as well as the numerous checks put in place to ensure stitch, seam and component meets the exacting standards of the house.

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The main purpose of my being in Madrid though was the opening of Casa Loewe, officially now the largest Loewe store in the world and the first in Spain that reflects the new direction of the house.  In bricks and mortar form, Anderson’s indelible mark can be seen everywhere.  Again, I’m comparing and contrasting against the last time I was in Madrid with Loewe.  Back then I visited the historic but small Gran Via store.  The newly revamped Casa Loewe is a different beast altogether, occupying an entire corner of Calle Goya and Serrano in the Salamanca district.  When we were there, that famous Madrid golden light in the late afternoon was hitting the impressive facade.  And inside that light flooded into the double height space of over a thousand square meters that accommodate specially chosen pieces of artwork such as Sir Howard Hodgkin’s giant aquatint entitled ‘As Time Goes By (Orange)’ that stretches across the ground floor wall.  Keeping Casa Loewe specific to Madrid is a wall installation of handmade ceramic tiles by Spanish-Americna artist Glora Garcia Lorca.  Their earthiness complements the Valencian clay floors and Camparspero stone of the central staircase as well as the organic craft-led textures of Anderson’s most recent ready to wear collections for the house.  Cleverly, amidst rough-hewn tweeds, shades of calico and veg-tan leather though is product.  Plenty of it.  Anderson has never shied away from the P word and so elephant bags, abstract brooches, interiors-led blankets and now a his ‘n’ her house perfume are now recognisable signifiers of Anderson’s Loewe, in addition to the stable of bag styles.  They take pride of place in Casa Loewe.

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To the side on 4 Calle Goya is an unexpected addition to the store that will draw in most non-fashion folk with a florist that ties in with Anderson’s latest collaborative imagery with Steven Meisel, inspired by British educator and florist Constance Spry.  Her books on flower arranging are floristry classics and so her ethos flourishes both in this Loewe florist and in the set of stunning colour photographs, that look almost like painterly Dutch still lifes.  This “Flowers” series is also on display at the Royal Botanical Gardens.  The spontaneity of the arrangements and their exuberant palette is an irresistible combination.  They simultaneously have everything and nothing to do with what Loewe are outputting.  That’s Anderson again asserting his unpredictable respect for the past, which just so happens to feel right for the present.

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In the other part of the ‘Past, Present, Future’ exhibition you can see the taxonomy of Loewe laid out before you in the form of collaged walls and floors as well as a clear perspex display of objects from Loewe’s archives, current product as well as antiques that configure into this architected brand map of the house, conjured up by Anderson.  In other words, Loewe Land.  One that feels like it has been around forever but scarily, has only been in fruition for just over two years.  Which leaves the question of where Loewe and Anderson can go in the future.  You couldn’t but wonder about where else this exacting vision, curation and precision of aesthetics could be applied to.

Casa Loewe now open at Calle Serrano 34 in Madrid. Loewe ‘Past, Present, Future’ exhibition on at the Villanueva Pavilion inside the Real Jardín Botánico in Madrid until the 9th December 

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P.S. Yes the blog has been lying dormant for a while.  Hormones, hospital visits that involve a “bleed bag” and extreme fatigue somehow don’t make you want to HIP-HIP-HURRAH about fashion.  My fash-mojo will be making its way back onto the site now though…

>> I had been meaning to post this small collation of “unnatural flora” which I had partially picked up from some extraordinary sets during the SS17 shows.  The main culprits being Rodarte’s arrangement of neon light tubes, yellow-hued wild flowers trapped in steel frames, looking like industrial wreaths on the ground.  And then there was Dries van Noten ‘s twenty-three floral arrangements encased in rectangular blocks of ice, created by the Japanese flower artist Azuma Makoto.  Then I thought back to Simone Rocha‘s 2015 collaboration with photographer Jacob Lillis, culminating in a series of photographs “Flowers and Cars” where humble gatherings of English blooms sprout from the seats and bonnets of rusty old vehicles.

Two days after the US Elections, for some reason I mulled over these images of unnaturally trapped flora.  Their unexpected beauty took on a different meaning.  They’ve become flowers that mourn something of a heavy loss – the full consequences of which are yet to play out.  Whether embedded into steel, frozen into ice or crashing into chassis and engines, there’s a swell of meaning in these poignant bouquets, that go beyond surface-level prettiness.  Time to reflect and rethink.


Rodarte S/S 17 set of neon, steel and wild flowers created by Bureau Betak

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Dries van Noten x Azuma Makoto floral arrangements encased in ice at S/S 17 show

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“Flowers and Cars” photographed by Jacob Lillis for Simone Rocha 

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simone-rocha-amuseInstallation inspired by Lillis’ photographs in Simone Rocha’s Mount Street store at the beginning of this year (from Amuse)

“You’re going to Tokyo… straight after fashion month… and you’re six months pregnant….”

I didn’t consider the madness of that sentence until someone strung it together in that way, in addition to the raised eyebrows that went with it.  Under any other normal circumstances, I don’t really need a rhyming reason to go to Tokyo.  It is my happy place, where the simple act of going into a convenience store instantly lifts my spirits.  Therefore I saw a three day jaunt to Tokyo as my last random trip hurrah, before I really have to nest up and wait for the pending arrival of Lau-Salter sprog.  

I have to thank Gucci for giving me this condensed opportunity to see my favourite city one last time as a pre-motherhood freedling – or as a child at heart that is about to have a child of her own.  What was the occasion?  Gucci were celebrating the debut of Gucci 4 Rooms, an immersive installation featuring four artists that get carte blanche to interpret the codes of Alessandro Michele’s Gucci at their flagship store in Ginza as well as in the window of Dover Street Market nearby.

Tokyo as a location for Gucci 4 Rooms is of course a natural one, given that the current AW16 ad campaign was shot in the city amongst a backdrop of pachinko machines and dens of iniquity in Shibuya.  It’s also an important market that accounts for 10% of Gucci’s revenue and it’s easy to see why.  All those wonderfully adorned surfaces that Michele has been creating with their animal motifs, prints, textures and accumulative we candy fall perfectly in line with the Japanese penchant for the kawaii – I don’t mean the  ‘cute’ definition of the word but more a general aesthetic that favours anything that is instantly eye-catching.  

When Gucci’s CEO Marco Bizzari gave his speech to introduce the exhibition, he talked about the need for a luxury house like Gucci to take risks and to look at their agenda from different angles in order to move forward.  And so Gucci 4 Rooms was conceived initially as a digital only project that then became a physical one.  Four artists.  Four rooms.  And you can experience the true essence of each artist’s intent online in the form of slick mini films and animated visuals.  Guests that happened to catch the exhibition in Tokyo get the bonus backdrop of the city of course.

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The Tokyo-based contemporary artist known as Mr. ‘s Gucci Garden is perhaps the most ostensibly ‘Japanese’ of all the installations as the artist Mr. is fascinated with placing the geeky otaku world within an art context.  And so anime character heads roll around in amongst a manga interpretation of Gucci flora and fauna.  It’s more of an urban jungle than garden as graffiti and apocalyptic messages like “Stay with me absent Tokyo-minded’ are scrawled across the walls. 

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Berlin-based Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota’s trapping of the Gucci Herbarium print in the form of toile de jouy covered bed and matching accessories is a mind bending maze of luminous red thread.  It’s as if a game of cat’s cradle has been enlarged and engulfs anything that comes into its twine-based path.  Superficially it makes for an impressive backdrop to our Gucci outfit antics, in particular the coat I wore to the party, which blended right in.

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Gucci Words by Daito Manabe is an interactive experience where viewers can play pinball with Gucci pieces hanging on the wall, melding seamlessly with a digital backdrop.  The ball pings around hitting bags and jackets, causing them to spin, reminiscent of the clanging noise of the arcades of Tokyo.  Japanese literature on love inspired by Michele’s slogan of L’Aveugle Par Amour forms the backdrop to this surreal pinball game. 

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Brooklyn artist Trevor Andrew otherwise known as Trouble Andrew, of course is by now no stranger to all things Gucci as his graffitied GG and Gucci Ghost take over the window of Dover Street Market Ginza in the Elephant Room, housing an installation of his lo-fi films, Gucci Ghost accoutrements and all the accompanying merch that debuted in the AW16 collection.  I in turn, got my chance to be Trouble Andrew GG’d by pretending to be a Gucci baller on not one but two nights, wearing both graffitied denim jacket and the orange fur coat for the trip. 

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The bits in between the serious business of appreciating the art were padded out by hanging out with my real life bezzies Bryan and Tina in Tokyo.  They’re the peeps to rely on when one wants to sing karaoke in a Kigu animal suit, eat ramen AND fried chicken at 3am in the morning or go hunting for second hand Comme.

As Gucci feted their 4 Rooms with a rave-ish party at the store that was all UV walls, laser lights and glitched up video installations, which later morphed into an after party at Shibuya’s legendary Trump Rooms, Tina and Bryan were also on hand to provide the sort of japes and hi-jinx, that perhaps I’ll tell Baby Bubble about when she’s a bit older.  All that remains to be said is… Tokyo, you still slay me.  I’ve loved you every time I’ve seen you.  Even a three day trip is a fix worth having.  Next time, I will be back with a new addition.  And you’ll feel completely different. 

Gucci 4 Rooms on until November 27th at Gucci Ginza 7th Floor

img_4505Arrangement of some Gucci-appropriate garms in the Peninsula Hotel where we were staying

img_0402Dame Edna eyes courtesy of Gucci glasses

img_0425Draping a Gucci chain mailed hand across a course of kaiseki dinner

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img_0453Karaoke is defo more fun with a) animal suits and b) a mic booth that lights up

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img_3739Getting Gucci Real at the official Gucci 4 Rooms party held at the Gucci Ginza store

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img_0647Tina in the Gucci Ghost UV universe at the party

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img_0669Playing Mannequin outside the Gucci Ginza windows

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img_0679Ending the night as most fashion parties do in Tokyo… in Trump Room

I’ve yet to write extensively about Burberry on the blog before.  Why?  They’re the big razz ma tazz tent of a flagship British brand that rolls into town come London Fashion Week, into which I race in, huffing and panting because inevitably some traffic disaster has made late.  I plonk myself on a seat, the show starts immediately (on time), a very very loud soundtrack blares out (sometimes live, sometimes not) and out comes a troop of trenches and then there’s some confetti moment at the end.  It’s over in a blur and resides in my mind often as a blur.  What else could I add that Tim Blanks, Alex Fury and Sarah Mower can not?  So it’s been a brand watched from afar as they sped up, digitised, and pushed the industry into a social media initiative overdrive.

Burberry September, as they’re now calling it, would be a different beast.  Last Saturday on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, I openly expressed my scepticism over see-now-buy-now, summing up in short what I also said in this Vogue.com interview I did, regarding the future of fashion a few months ago.  I’m skeptical because I have qualms about how the pressure of delivering straight after the show and in the right quantities will affect the aesthetic merit of the clothes.  Will collections be as creative and innovative as they can be, or will they simply be robotically designed and manufactured according to what the market demands, because sales will be monitored straight away?  Furthermore, is it a model that every brand can and should adopt?  What of young designers who don’t have the means to produce in advance and are taking a big financial risk by doing so?

Those questions still rage on but I did lay the hope of someone succeeding at see-now-buy-now at the hands of Burberry.  They’re big enough.  They’ve set agendas before.  If they didn’t pull off this coup, then who would, you wondered.  What I didn’t expect though was the all-encompassing experience that Burberry would serve up.  One that touched you emotionally, quelled the nay-saying and more importantly, physically (and digitally) engaged with the non-industry onlooker.  To the point where you would go have a gander at the store to check out the ruffled shirts or go online .  Incidentally, I have anecdotal evidence to back it up.  A day after the show, I was in Selfridges’ new Designer’s Studio to pick up a few new thangs (do check out their very brave, new-generation designer selection by the by) and a shop assistant who I wouldn’t have pegged as a Burberry fan, enthused about the show and talked about logging on the website to see what he could get his hands on.

I’ll leave the semantics of how Burberry’s take on see-now-buy-now is operating to this very useful Business of Fashion piece.  The graphic of Burberry’s timetable in particular makes sense of how production will work, demonstrating a level of extreme time re-management, that needs to take place to actually make this work.  What I was interested in was the process of seeing something and the inciting of desire to buy it immediately, coming from a place where I was previously content to wait for said desire to burnish and build up over a six month period.  If something is great, it will remain great

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Orlando was already an irresistible starting point but one that cleverly makes an inspiration catch-all for Christopher Bailey.  Its themes of gender fluidity and an ageless narrative unshackled by time and history, means that all of the influences laid out so evocatively on the mood board that you see in one portion of Maker’s House – English stately homes, foppish imagery of the Bloomsbury set, 16th-17th century aristocratic portraiture, Colefax & Fowler-esque fabric swatches and embedded in amongst all of what seemed oldy-woldy and deathly traditional, the insouciant airs of more contemporary figures.  All readied and mixed into a potent cauldron that would produce one of the most stirring Burberry shows that I’ve ever seen in person.   

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The notion of see-now-buy-now strikes fears of “easy” product in my mind.  A textbook sweatshirt.  A sellable coat.  These things must shift straightaway, on the basis that collections in quantity have already been produced, so the pressure to perform is heightened.  And yet in Burberry’s September collection, you found uncompromising aesthetic that when broken down still fell in line with their previous output.  The military braided coats and jackets of seasons past looked more quietly regal, in an intimate setting, where there were centimetres rather than metres separating your eyes and the clothes.   The English pyjama prints layered up with belted-cardis and Oxford shirts counteracted with the high-necked Elizabethan ruffs, embedded pearls and voluminous sleeves.  Where Bailey had previously looked to the Bloomsbury literary scene for inspiration, those same muted tones of Vanessa Bell’s Charleston home felt tangible and covetable.

In effect we had seen many of these thematic explorations before but somehow, as one historical period seamlessly segued into the next, and scruff and splendour worked in harmony with one another, there was something that clicked.  And it wasn’t just the sound of the Buy button (early analysis says Burberry are seeing the fruits of their see-now-buy-now labour).  I immediately looked up the price of the gold tasselled boots for pure personal curiosity.  It was an impulse aided by what looks to be an abundantly stocked e-commerce site.

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You could deduce that my personal appreciation of the collection had much to do with the vastly smaller and changed-up format of the physical show, soundtracked by a live orchestra playing an original composition.  That’s something that is often a shuttered off experience for the masses and one that is hard to communicate from still images and even high quality video alone.  Step in the open doors of Makers House, residing in the former old Foyle’s bookstore building off Charing Cross Road.  On the first floor, where the show played out, the clothes are there on mannequins for you to touch and feel.  On the ground floor though is where Burberry has borrowed smatterings of other brands’ experiential-based exhibitions (Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Dior are all of course dab hands at this).  Beyond a charming courtyard of sculptures and ivy and then into an abbreviated version of Thomas’ Cafe (I highly recommend the vicky sponge…), in partnership with The New Craftsmen, Burberry gathered up a lovely group of embroiders, passementeriers (the last remaining ones in London hand-making braided trims and tassels), patchworkers, sandcasters and more to demonstrate not necessarily the craft of the actual collection, but to celebrate these endeavours that echo Burberry’s own brand values.

We weren’t there to witness the making of the collection as we did at Chanel’s recent haute couture show but to marvel at niche crafts that incite emotions of nostalgia and curiosity.  How you link up sandcasted jewellery and hexagonal patchwork cushions with the collection is entirely up to you.  For me, it was a much more subtle and celebratory showcase of craft – one that wasn’t necessarily designed merely to schill product but instead to shout out about a fundamental aspect of craft today – that if you don’t raise awareness of say, Jessica Light’s handmade tassels or Rose de Borman’s silk screen prints (both available to buy in an on-site gift shop) then it’s likely their craft won’t likely survive. It was basically what entities like London Craft Week have been promoting, but of course it’s hard to parallel the backing of a brand like Burberry.

The programme of various craft demonstrations and events finishes up tomorrow and it will be even more interesting to see how many visitors the venue got and whether that visit, in turn led to a gander up to the flagship store on Regent’s Street.  Maybe those of you who managed to make it down to Makers House can report back. If enough people went from live stream to Maker’s House to store or to the website, then I would consider a success from Burberry’s perspective. And as someone who has often felt like someone peering inside Burberry’s shiny windows, this felt like a re-assessment of sorts, where qualitative experience triumphed over the need to merely sell you something immediately.

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