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.

I’m just about emerging out of a hallucinatory haze, comprising the tail end of what seemed like a never ending pregnancy, a shockingly speedy labour that then segued into a shocking amount of blood loss and then two solid months (feeling like two years) of falling in love with this new being in my life and having my heart stabbed every time she cries.  And then all the while, the fashions have been going on in New York, London, Milan and Paris and I wasn’t there for the first time in about seven years.  Colleagues and cohorts have said I haven’t missed much but I think they’re just trying to make me feel better.

It’s not however necessarily the fashion that I have missed but the feeling of doing something with my brain, unclouded by feeding times, nap times, more feeding times and the occasional time when her eyes are awake, looking at you in that way that makes you feel like an awful human being for even thinking about wanting to do anything BUT look after her.  I’ve barely written a thing.  I’ve not read anything longer than a five hundred word online article (or more precisely a few panicked sentences in a baby forum that never seems to answer the question that I’m asking at 4am in the morning).  Venturing outside and breathing physical fresh air has mostly ended with my rushing back inside the house, clutching an Amazon Prime parcel or a bouquet of flowers (thanks friends, family and fashion peeps for filling our house with all that flora).

That haze is slowly clearing up though and with Nico Hiu Nei (pronounced Lei if you speak Cantonese) Salter-Lau registered and writ real into the world, I’m also beginning to think about integrating my daughter (I’m still trying that word on for size… ) into life, rather than making life revolve around her.  That could also be fighting talk that decrescendos into me staying in a nursing bra and bobbly overwashed leggings for the next week.

Still, the haze did produce something to kickstart the blog with, after the looooong hiatus.  Namely, a variety of shades of a colour that automatically accompanies and heralds the birth of a baby girl.  Thankfully, the range of pinks I’ve been receiving have been of the nuanced kind.  And they’re also things that don’t just revolve around saccharine baby gifts.  I’ve also been feeding my sleep addled brain  – online and in person – with images that are incidentally along that colour register.  On film Natalie Portman standing in the White House in a blood-splattered pink Chanel suit in Pablo Larrain’s Jackie, Naomie Harris staring down the camera with a menacing neon pink light behind her and Matty Bovan’s pink hued fashion film Girlness have been on my mind.  Wolfgang Tillmans’ skyscapes and crustacea and Ren Hang’s visceral poeticism and Maisie Cousins’ sexually charged fruits and flowers are also floating around in the noggin somewhere.  There’s little coherence below other than the shared colour palette but that’s par for course when you’re going through the postpartum pink haze.

Molly Goddard S/S 17 dress worn with Chanel t-shirt, Waven jeans and Shrimps x Converse hi-tops

Maisie Cousins

Lina Scheynius image from “09”

Sandy Liang dress with Yolke sleep mask and J.W. Anderson pink Pierce bag

Patty Carroll “Anonymous Women” series

Nico in Stella McCartney bunny knitted romper and bonnet, Soft Gallery onesie from Scandi Mini, La Coqueta booties, Studio Arhoj moneybanks and Loewe blanket

Wolfgang Tillmans, Astro Crusto, 2012 

Wolfgang Tillmans, From the Skies, 2015

Nico in Fendi Baby romper and pram blanket with Melanie Johnsson prints

Anna Barlow ceramic ice-cream tiles

Holly Hendry installation at “Wrot” Baltic Mill, 2017

Mold Magazine

Karen Walker “Transformers” sunglasses and Sophie Hulme S/S 17 Albion tote worn with Prada jumper

Ren Hang photography

Repetto “Anna” ballerinas  with Luncheon magazine issue 1

Naomie Harris in Moonlight

Natalie Portman in Jackie

Still from Matty Bovan’s film Girlness for Barbie’s 58th Birthday

Fiorucci bomber jacket 

India Mahdavi interior for Red Valentino store in London

Milo Baughman sofa from Coming Soon NY

Plys knitwear and Christopher Kane safety buckle Devine bag 

James Springall collage

Jo Brocklehurst drawing from Nobodies and Somebodies at House of Illustration

Fendi S/S 17 “Rokoko” trainer boots and Prada lace-up socks

Christian Lacroix homage editorial photographed by Roe Ethridge and styled by Katie Shillingford from AnOther Magazine S/S 17

There’s something grossly uncomfortable about this interview that Ed Meadham did with Anders Christian Madsen for i-D.  Over tea, Meadham opens up about the demise of the almost-cult label Meadham Kirchhoff, one of the saddest and in my mind, completely preventable losses of the fashion world.  The interview touches on the label’s insolvency, Meadham winding up in a coma, an unsanctioned sample sale of the brand’s precious archive as a result of a cruel case of profiteering and a personal isolation that left Meadham practically jobless for two years.  It makes for a tortured and bittersweet read because it brought up the waves of anger that I’ve touched upon time and time again about the fit-in-or-die mentality of the most cut throat parts of the fashion industry.  How genuine talent isn’t always necessarily rewarded.  How waves of press hype often malign the designers that deserve it.  How retailers are often restrained in their financial and sales-driven ability to buy as creatively as one might hope.

Certainly in the case of Meadham Kirchhoff, it was never the case that the public didn’t want what they were serving (which is the stark and plain truth behind many labels’ downfall).  The love was strong.  It was a rainbow outpouring of unicorn, heart and sparkle emojis from all over the world, reblogged and liked on Tumblr and championed by maverick-minded figures such as Tavi Gevinson and Ione Gable of Polyester Zine.  The mainstream press of course chimed in and celebrated the label’s high points as well when it suited them, but as Meadham recalls being blanked by certain people in the industry at a recent RCA show, it exposes the cruel fickleness of the industry.  Meadham ponders this volte-face: “It was like, ‘Are you not allowed to speak to failures?'”

There is of course no point in praising talent to the high hills if there’s no work to show for it.  So in an act of cathartic defiance and to trial a new way of channelling Meadham’s ideas, energy and yes, talent, Ronnie Newhouse of fashion agency House + Holme and Adrian Joffe of Dover Street Market invited Meadham to create a new brand for the store.  That warms the heart.  Two people with means, power and influence creating alternative paths for a designer that was always destined for alternative ways of working.

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br2The Blue Roses space at Dover Street Market replete with Meadham’s collages and scribblings

And so on Thursday on the ground floor of Dover Street Market London, a heart-shaped chocolate box opens up to the debut of Blue Roses, named in reference to the famous line in Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie.  With the support of DSM, Meadham has created a line of affordable tees, hoods, stockings and pretty pieces of frippery such as a Victorian velvet collar and matching sleeves.  Glitter encrusted sweatshirts are perhaps the only direct flashbacks to Meadham Kirchhoff’s early past but it’s an idea that still stands solid (literally) today.  The texture makes for a nice onomatopoeia and leaves its sparkly fairy dust all over my coffee table when I try it on at home.  It’s not really a regurgitation of greatest hits but rather essences of Meadham’s oeuvre and aesthetic that come with pleasingly and comparatively purse-friendly prices (starting at £58 for a tee and rising up to the £200s for the velvet and glitter stuff).  Former MK-heads were already enthusiastically rifling through the rails when I popped in to delve into the Blue Roses corner on Friday morning.  Some of the pieces are available on the DSM site but the best selection remains in-store.

Where does this leave Meadham then today?  It’s not quite a full on resurrection, nor would you expect a shouty comeback from Meadham.  The i-D interview ends with “I always wanted to put some beauty into the world. I tried very hard.”  The past tense tinged with sadness, in that last sentence seemingly comes with a hardened sigh of despondency over his output and achievements.  No, Ed.  You DID create beauty and it DID spread far and wide in the world.  With Blue Roses, there are signs of a beginning that could indeed flourish with the correct modifications that such a floral genus requires.  I, along with countless others will be sitting here willing it to happen.

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img_3033Blue Roses velvet frilly collar and sleeves worn with vintage dress

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img_3075Blue Roses long-sleeved tee worn with Sacai shirt, navy tulle skirt and Marques Almeida furry trainers

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img_3082Blue Roses pink glitter top worn with Minki Cheng skirt

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“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…