“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…

Grasse, the famous epicentre of the perfume industry, is a sort of mythical land to me. Somewhere I’ve read about extensively, most notably of course in Patrick Suskind’s novel about a scent-mad serial killer, but have never had the chance to visit because I’m not technically a beauty journalist.   Nor am I by any means an expert on the perfume industry.   Its relation to fashion though is more than obvious. In many cases, its revenue dwarfs that of ready to wear and accessories.  The launch of a perfume has catapulted a fashion house into stratospheric levels, giving a brand household stats.

In the case of Louis Vuitton though, the order is somewhat unusual.  First of course came the luggage – the outfitting of the privileged for their travel needs on the waters, by rail and road and eventually by plane.  Then its foray into fragrance and cosmetics with crystal perfume bottles called ‘Editions d’Art’ and then their first scent in 1927 entitled Heures d’Absence, followed by Je Tu II in 1928 and then Réminiscences and Eau de Voyage in 1946.  This buried fragrance history of Louis Vuitton was something which I only learnt about in last year’s Volez, Voguez Voyagez exhibition held at the Grand Palais. Sadly no traces of those original perfumes – its physical form or formulae – exist anymore because of an archival fire in the 1970s.  And so Louis Vuitton – the perfume – as a project was shelved for decades.  Until about four years ago, when Jacques Cavallier Belletrud was hired to become the official Louis Vuitton “nose” or more formally, their Master in-house perfumer.  As a third generation perfumer, Belletrud has architected many award winning perfumes such as Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio and Issey Miyake’s L’Eau D’Issey.

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He began to go on a journey, collating experience and artefacts from around the world to come up with what would form Louis Vuitton’s collection of Les Parfums.   Why seven?  There wasn’t a specific number in the brief and Belletrud had the tough task of whittling it down from an initial batch of ninety.  It was perhaps too difficult to compress Belletrud’s research into one singular scent.  Or on a more practical level, having seven very diverse (yet unified by their idiosyncrasy) fragrances mirrors our perfume shelves for both men and women.  In our household, Steve has about four or five in steady rotation and I normally grab from a selection of about seven or eight depending on mood, occasion and even what sort of clothes I’m wearing.   You’ll gravitate towards specific scents in the Louis Vuitton’s Les Parfums but equally, three or four of them might take your fancy, hence why they have produced miniature sets comprising of all seven as well as travel atomisers that allow you to switch around.

To begin this journey of LV’s Les Parfums, after Paris Fashion Week, I flew to Nice to experience Grasse and more specifically, a dream of a fragrance laboratory for Louis Vuitton and Parfums Christianne Dior, known as Les Fontaines Parfumées.  Housed in a former tannery that harks back to Grasse’s roots as a centre of leather goods dating back to the 12th century, Belletrud has a pretty idyllic setting to experiment, create and explore.  The perfume project for Louis Vuitton of course is an ongoing one, which is why we got not just a presentation of the now released parfums but an insight into the working life of Belletrud.

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But this initial seven is what we came to discover.  Nestled in a recreation of a flower-filled trunk known as the Malle Fleur, which Louis Vuitton once sent to clients as a token of goodwill, are the chosen seven fragrances that form Les Parfums encased in the French-made flacons designed by Marc Newson.  As we smelled each one, it was clear there was definitely a strategic thinking behind the diversity.  The journey begins in Grasse’s field of roses where Rose des Vents was born.  The distinctive smell of lily-of-the-valley continues that floral wave in Apogée.  For fans of sweeter fragrances, you have the heady Madagascan and Tahitian vanilla of Contre Moi.  The intensity of tuberose is worked into Turbulences along with a jasmine native to Grasse.  Naturally leather would somehow be involved.  The tanned leather used at Vuitton’s Asnieres workshop is incorporated with two kinds of jasmine and narcissus in Dans la Peau.  Upon seeing a raspberry leather at the workshop, Belletrud also managed to weave in the contrasting scents of leather and raspberry into Mille Feux.  My personal favourite is Matière Noire, perhaps the most masculine of scents with its notes of agarwood, contrasted with an intense mix of blackcurrant and jasmine.

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In Belletrud’s office, a custom made Louis Vuitton trunk houses the myriads of scents that form the tools to a craft that is difficult to illustrate in words and pictures and yet evocative to see. We went one step further and got to sit in Belletrud’s laboratory space where the delicate and scientific task of mixing up a fragrance is done. Working with milligram scale, pipettes and precise formula, we got an idea of mixing our very own perfumes. Going for a woody scent, it was up to us how much of the key components named ‘Coeur Floral’ and ‘Bois Moderne’ would go into our fragrances.   The result?  Something that probably smelt quite crude and common to Belletrud’s fine nose but for me wasn’t a bad fragrance to tote around when travelling.

The simplicity of the fragrances we created of course pale in comparison with what Belletrud has achieved with Louis Vuitton.  By the time you’ve had a whiff of all of Les Parfums, the combination lingers like a storied voyage around the world, where different places leave their olfactory traces on your skin.  Belletrud doesn’t have a prescriptive method of mixing Les Parfums.   “It’s not my property anymore,” he says with a shrug.  Meaning you do with the seven bottles as you will.   Just don’t spritz the perfume and rub furiously into your wrists, which kills the perfume.  That’s apparently the equivalent of trampling all over a bed of flowers with your feet.  Duly noted Jacques.  Duly noted.

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0e5a0217Wearing Molly Goddard dress, J Brand trousers, Missoni x Converse slip-ons and Off-White bag

Having previously lamented about the lack of summer in the UK (although it’s turning up right about now), I thought I’d roll back time to when I was in the Tuscan hills, taking in the spiritual home of Emilio Pucci.  It’s rare that I get to go see the roots of Italian powerhouses unlike their French counterparts.  Either they’re remote stable secrets or they’re not open to the likes of me.  Pucci, though being part of the LVMH Group was a participant of the “Les Journées Particulières” programme, where for a weekend back in May, they threw the doors open to the Villa Granaiolo, forty minutes outside of Florence, so that they could learn about Pucci’s heritage and history.  This idyllic Renaissance-era Tuscan villa has been in the Pucci family since the 16th century, and it was one of Emilio Pucci’s favourite residences, which is why his daughter Laudomia decided to transfer some of the house’s archives here to create a private museum as well as creating a dedicated space to training students in the ways of print design.

Whilst I was in Florence for Pitti, Pucci were kind enough to extend the opening of this special exhibition so that we could take in the splendour of the villa itself – and inhale some of that slowed-down Tuscan pace that in some ways is related to Pucci’s associations with the sun-worshipping jet set, as well as an exhibition that delves into the elements that make Pucci’s aesthetic so distinctive, whether it’s the original prints by Emilio, or by subsequent successors like Matthew Williamson, Peter Dundas and now of course, Massimo Giorgetti.

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Before we began to delve into the exhibition, we got to take in the most Pucci pieces of furniture I think there is.  An outdoor arrangement of oversized padded seating covered in a swirl of Neapolitan-esque pink and yellow.  It’s the sort of furniture that naturally invites you to lounge about in the sort of printed caftans, stretch fabric swimwear and towelling jumpsuits that Emilio pioneered.  Wrapping around the main house is a cleverly proportioned staircase lawn, designed by Niccolo Grassi, mirroring the geometric lines of some of Pucci’s archive prints.  From here you can catch a glimpse of a delicious looking swimming pool that again, ties in with that Pucci lifestyle. 

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The exhibition though revealed to me aspects of Pucci’s history unbeknownst to me.  Curated by historian Maria Luisa Frisa.  It bears reminding the innovative nature of Pucci’s history in that he successfully exported an Italian aesthetic abroad on a large scale, by its ability to create ready-made sizes in a plethora of colour and print variations.  The first things you see in the exhibition space are the glass fronted wardrobes of colour-arranged capri trousers in shades that are custom Pantone colours with at least thirty shades of “Rosa” pink.  Laid out in sections of ‘Forms’, ‘Materials’ and ‘Patterns’, you can explore Pucci’s universe from its mid-20th century beginnings to the present day with Giorgetti taking on the modern Prince of Prints mantle.

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There’s of course the scarf tops/tunics and jumpsuits that make up the ‘Forms’ sections, ranging from the fluid to the structured.  There’s the distinctly Pucci materials such as the stretch jerseys, silks and towelling and chenille fabrics.  Across ready to wear and accessories, Pucci’s prints of course come to the fore, exploring thematic umbrellas such as monochrome, optical, orientalist and landscapes.  There’s also an intriguing display of Pucci accessories from across the decades that include splendid oddities such as a papal-esque velvet printed hat or a pair of calcio Florentino (a historic form of football) canvas shoes.  The links across the house’s numerous designers can clearly be seen in the exuberance of everything.  Behind the mannequins, lies the bulk of Pucci’s archives hanging on wardrobes.  It’s the rail rifling of dreams for any print enthusiast, which is why Villa Granaiolo is regularly open to students from Central Saint Martins, Polimoda and ECAL in Lausanne to come and explore the archives and work on their own projects in the attached ‘Talent Centre’.

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As the Villa isn’t strictly speaking open to the public outside of the Journées Particulières programme, it felt like a privilege to come by this tucked away Pucci-world (or Pucci-verse).  It’s hard to look at this curated display of buoyant clothes and not away thoughts of sun-drenched days.  They’re somewhere around the corner.

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Two of my tweets last Thursday afternoon might seem completely unrelated to some but in my head, I’ve since been trying to connect them.  I congratulated Grace Wales Bonner upon winning the LVMH Prize, marking the third successive British-based winner of this prestigious and necessary funding. Two minutes later upon reading about the shooting of Labour MP Jo Cox in Yorkshire, and about the possibility (now all but affirmed…) that the shooting was in any way politically-motivated in amidst the debate about Brexit, I tweeted that this wasn’t a Great Britain I recognised anymore. It scaled from elation about a deserved designer – a rising star in the London fashion industry, to utter despair about a side to Britain that I won’t/don’t connect with.

It’s difficult to wade into politics on a fashion blog without being told that you’re not qualified to speak or you don’t have your facts straight.  Or indeed, that your privilege makes your voice less valid. Framing the EU debate within a fashion context might not seem immediately obvious either but the fashion industry has clearly made a stand.  Key players have made their position on the debate clear by standing by Remain, with the likes of Alexandra Shulman of Vogue UK, Dame Vivienne Westwood and Imran Amed of Business of Fashion having signed a letter to keep Britain in the EU.  The argument?  “Britain leaving the EU would mean uncertainty for our firms, less trade with Europe and fewer jobs.  Britain remaining in the EU would mean the opposite – more certainty, more trade and more jobs.  EU membership is good for business and good for British jobs.”  The economic uncertainties post potential Brexit is the main thrust being put forward.

untitled-article-1465301184-body-image-1465301450Steve Salter (aka my other half)

But we all know that the EU referendum goes far beyond facts, figures and statistics.  When experts are being “dismissed” and emotions are riding high, threats of imminent recession, loss of jobs and a plummeting £ all seem to be falling upon deaf ears. People are going to vote with an idealised vision of this country in their head and sadly many have built a battleline in their head where they are “us” and everyone else is the “other” or “them”.  And so it is with ideology that I vote for Remain at the polling booth tomorrow morning. Because the Great Britain of my reality is one where we celebrate and cooperate with the “other”, not merely tolerate it.

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IMG_3421Wales Bonner S/S 17 

When it was announced that Wales-Bonner had won the coveted EUR300,000, prize I thought about her eye-opening, mind-expanding ideas that have led to us to ponder the idea of black male sexuality and masculinity.  Her borders span far and wide as for her S/S 17 collection, she was looking at the crowning of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia in 1930.  Her influences have long been concerned with the black male diaspora, spread across expanses of Africa, the Caribbean, India and Europe.  They’re both real and imagined journeys, resulting in clothes that whilst rooted to certain geographies and histories, are also original in its inspired ceremonial pomp for the 21st century.  As a British-born half English, half Jamaican designer, Wales-Bonner isn’t necessarily directly related to the EU conversation, but the fluidity of borders expounded in her work, feels pertinent somehow.  That Britain can foster designers like her make you somehow hopeful that fashion as a creative outlet still is an outward-looking and progressive beacon.

And then those thoughts were quashed by a disturbed man who reportedly yelled “Britain First” or “Put Britain first!” before firing shots at a woman, who had spent her entire working life thinking about the bigger picture – one filled with compassion.  The horror.  The despair.  At the time, I was preparing to go out and see the Raf Simons show in Florence but found myself crying uncontrollably in my hotel room.  This quote from Cox’s maiden speech, has since taken on a memorable significance: “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”  Then why is it that within communities, we’re finding ourselves with self-imposing divides placed in amongst us.

As the rolling news played out, I then thought about fashion as a facilitator of open-mindedness and freethinking creativity.  At least, that’s the fashion that I fell in love with as a young teenager, when hemmed in by pressures to perform well academically and to be “normal” or “attractive” by society.  I thought about free movement being more than just people moving from one country to another for economic and benefits gain (although whilst we’re at it, it bears repeating that immigrants to the UK put in more than they take out).  It’s also about a movement and exposure to cultures, ideas and ways of thinking.

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If Brexiters can deduce immigration to “those bloody Polish shelves in Tesco’s” then I am free to equate Remain with values of openness, tolerance and partnership.  When applied to fashion, this is in evidence not just in the designers that we have come to call our own, whose origins are in the EU – Mary Katrantzou, Marios Schwab, Faustine Steinmetz, Astrid Andersen, Marques Almeida, Marta Jakubowski and Peter Jensen to name but a few, but also in the countless graduates, stylists, photographers and make-up and hair artists that benefit from free movement and ability to ply their much-needed trade in this country.  The result?  A richer, more diverse and creative industry that thrives on collaboration.  The flow of ideas in the British fashion industry has never been so vibrant, even amidst talk of a tumultuous industry in flux or a shrinking social mobility in fashion education impeded not by the EU… but by our own government.

And that’s just the peeps from the EU contingent. London’s fashion community has of course become home to many from outside of Europe and that’s where it becomes scarily problematic. Who’s to say that Leave voters’ fear about immigration doesn’t just stop at the borders of the EU. That they want England for English people only (people polled through various BBC Breakfast/Today programmes – their words, not mine), defined in the only way they see fit. Leavers will say they are not tainted by racism and xenophobia, but why is it that the rhetoric being heard on the streets, on social media and even from the official Leave camp people (*cough* Nigel Farage), is dangerously designed to inspire hate and ire against “them foreigners”.

untitled-article-1465301184-body-image-1465301502Stephen Isaac-Wilson

I echo Polly Toynbee’s thoughts as she gives her final boost of belief towards Remain. “I don’t believe those politics of isolation will win on Thursday. I can’t and won’t believe it – and if I’m wrong then being wrong is the least of the despair I shall feel.”  Because say what you want, a post-Brexit Britain will inevitably project the idea to the world, that British people are inward-looking self-interested little Englanders, even if that isn’t necessarily the case.  That creative to-and-fro flow, a bi-directional conversation between Great Britain and continental Europe, that we have taken for granted for the last forty years, will stutter, splutter and maybe even slowly ebb away, as students from the EU are deterred from studying in the UK and visa impositions will make working/living here much more difficult.

This will inevitably read like wishy washy twaddle spewed by a media “luvvy” but it’s an opinion that’s no less valid than the woman in Solihull telling foreigners to get out, as she drags her shopping trolley on the high street.  The so-called “Project Fear” levied at the Remain camp isn’t just about economic-based projections, but it’s the fear of a country slipping into an abyss of no return.

All EU Remain Straight Ups photographed by Holly Falconer for i-D