The role of the creative director has changed, and the old idea of luxury no longer exists, according to LOEWE’s Creative Director Jonathan Anderson. Sitting alone, locked away, sketching a collection front to back is a romanticized dream of what it really takes to keep a brand relevant in today’s image-hungry, social media–driven fashion industry.
Instead, Anderson sees himself more as a conductor or a coach to a team of skilled craftsmen, creatives, and other staff. Since joining LOEWE in 2013, he has worked to build up brand awareness at a steady pace, rather than exploding overnight.
Part of his strategy has been to highlight the handmade leather quality the Spanish house is known for by supporting emerging talents in the world of craft—notably with the LOEWE Craft Prize, the ongoing “Chance Encounters” series during Art Basel in Miami Beach, and a recent collaboration with Anthea Hamilton for an exhibition at the Tate in London.
Just before his summer holiday, Whitewall spoke with Anderson over the phone to discuss the culture of fashion today.
WHITEWALL: Craft seems to be at the center of your creative process and many collaborative projects. Why is that?
JONATHAN ANDERSON: My grandfather was a printmaker. He was the creative director of a very large print company. So I would see thousands of meters being screen-printed. When you see that, it’s fascinating. It shows a great idea of skill of the hand.
WW: Did you always see that connection between craft and garments that brought you to introduce those collaborative projects?
JA: Yes, because I see it as the same thing. I have incredible master craftsmen and people on my team who make bags or clothing. I think there’s something that interlinks this idea of human beings using their hands to make something. I feel like it’s incredibly important to be able to modernize that, in a way, to open that up and talk to a younger audience so that it doesn’t feel trite or dusty.
WW: You approach retail a bit differently, focusing on the handmade. And you have talked about wanting young people to be able to experience the store as a place for discovery, even if they aren’t able to afford every item—maybe there is a book they can walk away with. Why is that important to you?
JA: I remember going into Brown Thomas when I was very young with my parents in Dublin, and (this was in the early nineties) I felt like the idea of the luxury brand was really a barrier. It was like you were judged before you bought. They felt like mausoleums built for these static products.
When I joined LOEWE, I had this thing where I didn’t believe the concept of luxury existed anymore in modern society. I felt it was an odd marketing tool to make people feel interested in elitism. I wanted the stores to feel like domestic spaces slash spaces where you could see things. When we opened the first one in Tokyo, we had chairs by Heal & Son, George Walton. And we had, for example, a four-part series of ceramics from four different generations of the Hamada family. It was this idea that people could go in and see things you would probably see in museums; this idea of how do you build a cultural space? This idea that you could pick up a fanzine for free or you can go and look around.
We did a lot of training with staff in each store to make sure there was a softer approach. It was about letting people sink into the environment.
WW: With that idea that this old version of luxury doesn’t really exist today, do you think that the role of a creative director has changed as well?
JA: One hundred percent. In today’s world, brands became brands. They became masters. You look at the biggest brands in the world and they’re multi-billion-dollar brands. It started, I think, in the early nineties. You had this moment where people really became about brand building and what that meant: Why do we buy a product or why do we want to be a part of it?
For me, this idea that the designer works in a utopia—in 2018 it’s becoming even more impossible. Because you cannot be locked away. It’s a very complex thing now because ultimately you have to think 360—what the logo means to the bag, the master craftsman, the store, the shelving, the stone that the bag sits on. All of this has become something, because ultimately we decided that we were going to take a picture of the world every millisecond.
WW: That vision of the creative director alone, sketching, is impossible, right?
JA: I think so, or maybe I’m just being too blunt. But for me, in my daily job, I have to deal with HR, I have to deal with store openings, I have to deal with people, actual people.
WW: You’ve also talked about this idea of your role being more like that of an entrepreneur creator and that when you joined LOEWE you were told, “Don’t lose your sense of entrepreneurship.” How do you keep that entrepreneurial side of you active?
JA: My whole theory in life is that the minute you feel like you were there, you’re not there. My feeling is that wherever the bar is, you’ve got to keep moving it up. If you get too comfortable, then you get taken over.
WW: Things are moving incredibly fast and that also makes it difficult to maintain brand loyalty, right?
JA: I think the problem is that there is no such thing as brand loyalty anymore. People used to buy brands for, like, 20 to 30 years, but you might be lucky if you can get two years.
I think you have to build on a very solid platform. I really do believe that there is an importance in this idea of a product that is authentic. I never wanted LOEWE to explode overnight, and I don’t think it has. I think if it had, then you wouldn’t be talking to me right now because it would not be worth talking about.
WW: How do you see the LOEWE Craft Prize and your engagement with emerging talents as important to what you do at LOEWE?
JA: I collect craft. I love craft. I’m an obsessive collector of ceramics to the point where it’s crazy. It’s bordering on madness. And I just felt like there were some people who were doing some of the most incredible things. Someone like Sara Flynn is doing some of the most amazing contemporary ceramics right now. I wanted to be able to expose these people to a bigger and a younger audience. The thing about fashion, art, furniture—anything—the problem is that if we do not translate to the next generation, it then evaporates. So for me it was just like, how do you represent ceramics or furniture making, or glass, et cetera, and put it in a context for other people to engage with it?
WW: Who are some of the artists that you’re following at the moment?
JA: I love Joe Hogan—he makes baskets I think what he did was fantastic. Jennifer Lee is amazing. She’s now becoming quite popular. She’s one of the most fantastic British ceramicists at the moment.
WW: Can you tell us about putting together the exhibition series “Chance Encounters” in Miami’s Design District?
JA: I love that project. It’s in the Design District in a store that I really believe in, because it was such a risk to do. It is not the most commercial of stores, but for me it’s very important in terms of what it means. It is a very good laboratory to show how you can use retail differently.
The reason we started doing “Chance Encounters” was a personal thing. I wanted something that was more of a personal project of things that I am obsessed by—to be able to show them as a kind of moving mood board. They are not always going to appeal to everyone. But for me, it’s important to have naiveté when putting things together.
WW: What was it like working with Anthea Hamilton for her exhibition at the Tate this past spring, “The Squash”?
JA: We had worked with Anthea before for Art Basel and then she rang me one day and said, “Look, I really want to make costumes and I can’t find how to do it. I want to use leather.” And I was like, “Well what do you want to do?” She showed me her ideas and I was like, “You know, let’s do it as though we were doing a fashion show and we’ll do fittings on these looks. We will make them.” It has been the most phenomenal response. It’s an amazing thing to see someone use leather in a way that I would never imagine.
WW: How do interactions like those with artists influence your role at LOEWE?
JA: My biggest thing that I love about that project that we did is that it was really amazing for my team. It takes them out of doing a show. It gives them something else to think about that is not a commercial venture.