>> It could be the fact that I’ve spent more time at home, camped out on the sofa with Nico permanently attached to my chest and a roster of distractions on Apple TV.  I’ve somehow found myself reliving the decade of the Space Race by rewatching Mad Men (I like to shuffle play the episodes in non chronological order just to prove to myself that the writing of that show reigns supreme), binging on the documentary series The Kennedy Files, along with its declarations of “We choose to go to the Moon” and also catching the brilliant film Hidden Figures, about the role of African-American mathematicians at NASA, when I was flying to Los Angeles.  It’s not so much the intricate science of space but more the idea of getting there and unravelling the mystery of the skies beyond that makes that 1960s journey of reaching this new frontier so compelling.     Type “space collage” into Google Image and you’ll find a whole raft of Photoshopped imaginations of space that are also tinged with the era Kennedy vs. Khrushchev with a litany of dreamscapes, depicting galaxies colliding with retro pool scenes and cadillacs.  Irish artist Steven Quinn is a primary instigator of these weird but wonderful images that draw your eye into a world where outer space feels that bit more tangible.

It’s no wonder then that Americana dreamer Stuart Vevers chose to blast off into space for Coach, with a comprehensive collection of jackets, sweatshirts, tees, bags and trinkets that have been embellished with space age nostalgia.  Coach’s stable of shearling, varsity and leather jackets and Dinky and Saddle bags have been patched up with space motifs that might have lured the wide-eyed wannabe astronauts, watching the Moon landing in 1969.  “There’s something about the time of the Space Program that just gives this feeling of possibility,” says Vevers about the collection.  “The space references, rockets and planets are symbolic of a moment of ultimate American optimism and togetherness.”  Two things that seem woefully lacking right now, which is probably why the gung-ho patriotism and enthusiasm of those space missions feel somewhat comforting to watch.  And even more of a trip to wear.

 Coach Space sweatshirt and Gotham Tote worn with ShuShu Tong poloneck and Serena Bute tracksuit bottoms 

Coach Space varsity jacket and bad worn with Miu Miu skirt

Coach Space trucker jacket worn with ASOS shirt, SomewherexNowhere dress and Christopher Kane sunglasses

Coach Space sweatshirt and purse worn with Blue Roses by Ed Meadham sleeves and Jonathan Saunders slip 

Coach Space shearling jacket and Dylan bag worn with Balenciaga vest and MYOB trousers

All collages by Steven Quinn

The first bit of physical fashion I’ve seen since emerging from my postpartum haze wasn’t even on a human being.  In fact, I’m not sure I’d even categorise it as fashion.  Jonathan Anderson has taken me to some unexpected non-obvious venues.  Places where art and design live and breathe and when his clothes are presented in those contexts, they feel believable.  One time, it was the The Millinery Works, a wonderful arts and craft furniture dealer in London, for a Loewe dinner celebrating a collaboration with the textile artist John Allen.  Another time, it was up to Cambridge for a J.W. Anderson resort presentation at Kettle’s Yard, where former Tate curator Jim Ede’s 20th century collection was a backdrop for the zany mix of metallic knee-high boots and polka dotty frills.  With a very very kind offer to take Nico in tow with us, Steve and I journeyed up to Wakefield last weekend to the opening of Disobedient Bodies, an exhibition curated by Anderson at the Hepworth Gallery, the first of its kind as the gallery invites creatives from outside of the art world to come and present their perspective on the gallery’s modern British art collection.

Anderson’s starting point was that problematic quandary of “Is fashion art?”, a question that he admits was something that irked him.  Then two years ago, invited by the Hepworth to come and curate its collection, and embarking on a collaborative process of selecting pieces to converse with one another, Anderson became a convert to the idea of fashion sitting alongside art, sculpture and design on an equal and almost indistinguishable footing.  The result is Disobedient Bodies, gathering together over a hundred pieces by artists, sculptors, choreographers, furniture designers, fashion creators and even ceramicists, who have all looked at the body in a rebellious manner.  In most instances, the body is absent, altered or abstracted in some way and together it’s an extraordinary assembly of aesthetics.

Henry Moore’s wooden sculpture, the “Reclining Figure” from 1936 marks the beginning of this fluid and unconventional exhibition, where a Madame Grès pleated dress is draped haphazardly on an Eileen Gray Transat chair.  Or where a Christian Dior haute couture dress from A/W 1952 with architectured jutting out and undulating hips stands like a totem next to Jean Arp’s S’élevant (Rising Up) sculpture or indeed, Barbara Hepworth’s white marble Totem, both conceived in 1962.  One of the central anchor pieces of the exhibition sees a Jean Paul Gaultier jersey dress pulled tautly over a specially made mannequin body where the conical breasts are exaggerated to mimic Moore’s curvaceous figure.

“Can Helmut Lang be seen as powerful as Louise Bourgeois or a Giacometti?” was another hypothetical question that Anderson posed and so Lang’s iconic harnesses and holsters hang behind the spindly Standing Woman by Alberto Giacometti.  Aesthetic similarities are drawn in a deliberate bold fashion as the flat steel planes of Naum Gabo’s Head No. 2 are paired with the felt brilliance of Rei Kawakubo’s “2D” A/W 12 Comme des Garćons collection.  The padded out fabric tubes of Kawakubo’s “Monster” collection is seen on parity with Sarah Lucas’ “Bunny” works made out of stuffed flesh-coloured tights.

Anderson doesn’t shy away from calling out his heroes and references in his own work.  Kawakubo is one of course as is Issey Miyake, whose pleated garments hang next to the lamps of Isamu Noguchi.  Other fashion design purists such as Yohji Yamamoto and Rick Owens also feature in the exhibition.  Anderson’s own work isn’t necessarily the main focal point, but is present where it feels necessary and significant.  For instance, a grouping of clear plastic Loewe garments stand next to the only bit of natural light in the exhibition, with Wakefield’s old factory buildings looming in the background.

Housing all of these conversations are curtain-esque partitions made out of surplus fabric from Anderson’s studio, devised by 6a architects in London.  It’s an intentional nod at domesticity as are the tables for displaying some of the pieces.  You almost trip over the gingham ‘lumps and bumps’ of the infamous Comme des Garcons S/S 97 ‘Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body’ collection as they lay on the floor like casually placed boulders.  The tangibility is something that Anderson wanted to convey even if it isn’t quite possible to maul our hands over the art works on display.  Hence why the central room of the exhibition has been filled with an installation of twenty eight floor-to-ceiling elongated jumpers, drawing from Anderson’s love of knitwear.  Here you can twist and interact with yarn, forming your own tactile ties.  Much like the local kids of three schools in Wakefield, who were photographed wearing the exhibition’s fashion pieces by Anderson’s longtime collaborator Jamie Hawkesworth.

That acknowledgement of the Hepworth’s out-of-London location was one of the primary reasons why Anderson was drawn to the project.  “London is an island,” said Anderson at the dinner feting the exhibition on Friday night, “We don’t end up sharing or seeing outside of our bubbles.”  That’s of course a valid sentiment cited as one of the primary driving forces behind people voting for Brexit.  By placing Disobedient Bodies at the Hepworth, Anderson is keen on empathising with this sentiment, by wanting to share creativity across the whole country, and not just within the M25.  It’s an attitude that makes sense coming from the Northern Irish Anderson, who once told me he never really identified himself as a “London” designer.

It seems appropriate that for my first work outing, after my own personal life-change, that the fashion that I did see was placed in a context that makes you really think about its true value.  Can fashion matter or make a difference?  Is it worthy of a similar stature of say, the work of Louise Bourgeois or of course, Barbara Hepworth?  Can it comment on our times and the significant world beyond the hyper-glam and privileged surfaces that whirs past us during fashion month?  Why yes is the answer which is why when the time comes I’ll gingerly attempt to enthuse Nico about it all.  Even if she doth protests.

>> Here’s one accessory that I’ve not had the opportunity to touch upon in all of Style Bubble’s ten year history.  The fan.  There are many an instance where it’s required but so often, forgotten as a handbag essential.  In the un-airconditioned environment of London, primarily on the tube for instance.  Or at fashion show venues in the hotter months of July and September where guests end up collectively fanning themselves furiously with folded up press releases.  Or lately in any crowded situation because of my pregnancy.   And yet, despite the practicalities of a fan, the very act of fanning oneself especially with a traditional fan shape can recall frothy characters in period dramas.  Therefore are they FANciful or functional?  It’s a bit of both according to fashion PR Daisy Hoppen, who has paired up with Danish textile designer Amanda Borberg to create Fern Fans.  “I have always loved fans and have bought them whenever I have been on holiday – you can get ones with the most amazing prints and also they are excellent if you are constantly fidgeting like me” explains Hoppen.  “I felt for sometime there was a real gap in the market – finding fans that didn’t feel gimmicky but elegant, well priced and chic. The historical history of them has also been really important- it’s a personal area of interest and there are few fashion items today that have existed for as long as the simple fan.”

And so Fern’s first collection doesn’t stray too far from tradition.  In that recognisable pleated concertina construction made out of traditional birch wood and textured cotton, Borberg and Hoppen found a classic framework that suited Fern’s subtly contemporary designs.  “As a designer I find it interesting to work with a very set frame – a fan is a fan, and even though they come in many shapes and sizes, they all have the same purpose,” says Borberg.  “It’s the color, print and material that can make a fan unique. So we chose to work with those factors and go with the classic fan construction, which I find to be both beautiful and genius as it folds.  I hope that everyone can find a fan from our collection that feels appealing to them. It should be a joyful, but elegant accessory – its not a costume, but an everyday friend.”

Whether it’s in a beautifully dyed gradient, solid coloured cotton or adorned with hand painted florals, Fern pays homage to both the perceived tradition and the enduring practicality of a fan.  Fern’s first look book is accompanied by a set “fan language” – to hold it opened, covering the mouth denotes one’s singleton status, to hold the fan with the right hand in front of the face is to invite onlookers to follow them.  And of course, to physically throw the fan is a petulant declaration of hate.  Whimsical historics aside, Hoppen also acknowledges simple pleasures of carrying a fan such as the sound it makes when they snap shut.  Or when you thrust it open in dramatic fashion.  Whatever your fanning etiquette, there’s no doubt that with Fern, Borberg and Hoppen are fulfilling a niche.  Their first collection will be in-stores from spring 2017 onwards in time for the summer months. 

“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…