“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”.
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.