As ever, timing isn't my strongpoint as I'm now currently in Hong Kong for a family wedding but blogging about my brief jaunt to Barcelona and Madrid for Loewe last week. I'm thinking I'll need to make a little avatar for the sidebar giving you an indication of where in the world I am, prefereably with little exploding flags popping up over my animated head.
Apologetic digression aside, Steve and I were most grateful for getting an experience Loewe, the fiercely Spanish brand that up until Stuart Vevers' appointment as creative director in 2008, hasn't exactly been high on the international radar. It was an experience that packed in a store opening and big trunk A/W 12-3 trunk show in Barcelona as well as an indepth tour of the workshop in Madrid as well as a bit of immersion into the city where Loewe was born in 1846. This is the sort of behind-the-scenes revelation, that Loewe's parent company LVMH has been pushing with its Les Journées Particulières events last year as well as allowing mere mortals into Louis Vuitton's Asnieres workshop. I'm not about to complain even if I'm well aware that to reveal what goes on behind the scenes and to emphasise the importance of heritage, craft and workmanship is indeed part of a marketing strategy. The proof is in the posting pudding. If Loewe didn't have a tale to tell, I doubt I'd be able to split out our mammoth amount of pictures and material into multiple posts.
I begin therefore with the Loewe Galeria, which is a contemporary space just down the road from the new Paseo de Gracia store that is the perfect introduction to all things Loewe if you know absolutely nothing about the brand whatsoever. It delves into Loewe's heritage and history in a unique way, aided by innovative installations as opposed to just stale explanatory plaques. It's for those that like a bit of interactive childsplay in their exhibitions and museums and given that Galerie Loewe will be free of entry to the public and directly faces Antonio Gaudi's La Pedrera building, it should become a bit of a tourist destination. It's also a perfect summation of Loewe's number one priority from the beginning of the brand to the present - doing the best they can with leather and respecting the material at hand.
The Loewe Amazona bag, established in 1975 with its flexible shape and unlined suede finishing, unfolds here as sixty-five pieces, which is also accompanied by a video projection of Loewe craftsmen going through the motions of piecing together the bag. The incredible thing is that Paco Guzmán (seen in the pics below), who started working on the Amazona bag back in 1975 is still at Loewe today, evident by our visit to the workshop where he was overseeing projects and training apprentices. Thirty-five years of dedication to one company is definitely not to be sniffed at. Paco features in this beautiful Masters of Leather video that came out a while ago.
The Amazona has become one of Loewe's signature bags that now comes in a plethora of skins and colour combos as illustrated by this image mapped projection. A bag that actually changes colour at one touch is a salivating thought.
Loewe has taken the line "One touch tells the story" as an invitation for people to touch its bags and this leather tree here where suede, nappa and exotic skins are all respresented in what can only be described as "MAAAAGICAL". I'm saying that word in the way that those annoying kids would in a Disneyland advert. Touch a branch of the tree and depending on what skin you're touching, a different animation will appear on the tree. It's for the five year olds inside all of us to go "Oooooooh!".
Upstairs in the mezzanine floor and Loewe's history unfolds in a more traditional way using touch screen videos. I don't want to go into storybook and timeline mode but in short, Loewe was born out of a Spanish royal weddings of the Borbon Queen, Isabel II and her sister the Infanta Maria Luisa Fernanda and so Madrid was buzzing with demand for pieces like tobacco pouches, coin purses, boxes, bags and cigar cases from these new branches of the royal family and aristocracy. Enrique Loewe Roessberg makes this official with a Loewe store on call del Principe which quickly expands to a store in Barcelona and then all over Spain, supplying the wealthy and the discerning with custom-made leather goods. All the while the business is passed through generations of the Enrique Loewe family. The interesting thing to see was that there was no singular focus in Loewe's product output as it ranged from leather-clad photo albums to vanity cases to gun holders. The only thing that united it all was the dedication to the working of leather, which initially was focused on pigskin and later on super soft nappa leather.
We also got a broader sense of Loewe's product scope through the archives at the Madrid factory, carefully organised in vault-like cabinets where every artefact is clearly marked by decade and where we also got a glimpse of the ready to wear and silk scarves (introduced in the 60s-70s). Incidentally, before they were famous, Giorgio Armani and Karl Lagerfeld also did some freelance work for Loewe, designing some of their ready to wear.
A commission for the Spanish royal family as Loewe became "Supplier to the Royal Court"
One of Loewe's first bag designs.
The bag styles in the 1950s are mostly structured and boxy, made of box-calf...
...which then changes when the Amazona bag is introduced in 1975, made of a the "Oro" suede which becomes another Loewe signature. This move towards more flexible bags was quickly followed by the La Movida creative scene in Madrid, which made way for Loewe's more freespirited unstructured Flamenco bag, which is now available in more colours than ever.
Downstairs in the Galeria is a section devoted to silk scarves, another main offering of Loewe where Spanish iconography and motifs have been worked into the designs over the years. When I took a peek at the archive cupboards of scarves, I was half tempted to fashion a dress out of them on the spot, given my track record with an excess of silk scarves. The artist Daniel Wurtzel has also created a mind-bogglingly simple installation involving lengths of silk and a few strategically placed fans. It's hard not to think of the plastic bag blowing about in the film American Beauty when you're fixated by what is essentially a length of fabric flying about in the air. It's weirdly fascinating despite being so minimal.
Loewe's store on Madrid's Gran Via is a key part of the brand's history as the shop windows become focal points for all kinds of fantastic mise-en-scenes. Loewe's creative director Jose Perez de Rozas designed the windows from 1945 to 1978 and thankfully all the original illustrations and photographs of the beautiful windows were all retained. It's a visual merchandising treat going through all the sketches.