Loewe Men SS23 was an exquisite hybrid of nature and technology
With plants sprouting from denims and iPads panelled onto cashmere coats, Jonathan Anderson delivered one of the veritable highlights of the season.
Images via gorunway.com
Though fashion is supposed to be about the very notion of change, of looking forward into the future season to season, it is, in fact, the oldest boat on the planet. Very few designers in leadership roles at major houses look beyond the horizons of their comfort zones, and even fewer seek our a certain kind of radical modernity; innovation rather than nostalgia; creativity instead of pure commerce. Remember when, during the pandemic, we all thought the fashion world would change to reflect modern values? Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same, as the saying goes.
Jonathan Anderson is the exception to the rule. His SS23 menswear show for Loewe this week was as modern as it gets, an instance of fashion truly mirroring the times we live in. Staged in a James Turrell-like backlit white space – almost like a giant laptop screen – it offered a harmonious juxtaposition of the natural world and all its living greenery and our contemporary obsession with technology. Clothes spurted real-life plants, seeded and grown onto fabrics. At the same time, high-definition screens became garments, projecting images of nature in the way that we all post sunsets and landscapes on social media, and computer screens come with de facto desktop backgrounds of mountains and oceans.
“I think it's this idea of how nature can lead technology or technology can lead nature. It is not a viewpoint of what is happening in the world, but it's more about if we experiment then we might be able to find different methods within fashion to be able to progress it,” Jonathan said in his post-show debrief. Of course, if you’re reading this, then you don’t need an explanation as to how much we see the world through a screen, but when put on a catwalk, articulated in the way that Jonathan does so well with his shows, it offers a moment for reflection. Love it or loathe it, we’re plugged into the Matrix — our eyes trained to see the world through the prism of our smartphone cameras. This was an nonjudgmental reflection of a paradox that’s often discussed but rarely reflected in the realism of luxury fashion.
The plant-sprouting fabrics were a result of a collaboration with the Spanish bio-designer Paula Ulargui Escalona, who seeded denims, jerseys and Loewe-crafted leather with actual chia and cat’s wort greenery on shoes, coats and jeans, growing them over 20 days in a polytunnel just outside of Paris. Jonathan recalled the typical British childhood experience of growing watercress in a classroom. It almost felt naive, and brilliantly ephemeral — the pieces were made especially for the show, which only added to the excitement of seeing them. The show was seated almost like a theatre, bringing to mind the incredible shows that Hussein Chalayan used to stage at Sadler’s Wells in London, many of which explored the themes of technology long before the Internet had come to have an inkling of influence on fashion. Even that served as a reminder of how much fashion has drifted from its creative impetus to provoke and entertain.
At the other end of the spectrum were screens woven into patchwork coats and face-concealing masks, displaying images and videos of nature pulled from Shutterstock, the online home of stock imagery. This wasn’t as gimmicky as Google Glasses (remember those?) or ‘wearable tech’ (whatever that means), but rather a visual exploration of how we live now. “Ultimately, it is [about] trying to find newness within clothing, and I think this idea of even just a simple act of growing something from something,” he continued. “If this was some sort of reality. It's nearly like, if we were all to disappear, everything would still grow and maybe technology would still exist.”
Part of Jonathan’s genius is in understanding modernity, and not shying away from the banality of it all. Yes, there were tapestries of screens worn as coats and masks, but there was a resolutely contemporary styling to the clothes themselves — mainly comprising outfits of puffy bombers and big coats, incognito baseball caps, skintight leggings, and clunky shoes and Flamenco bag boots. It almost looked like the kind of fit you’d have on at home, perhaps throwing over a big coat to go get a pint of milk at the local off-license. Repeated over and over, the “HD silhouette”, as Jonathan called it, became a timestamp for for the way so many men dress now: casual clothes, headphones plugged in, iPhones in hand.
Yet upon closer inspection, most of the pieces on display were leather, “the most leather we’ve used in a Loewe collection yet,” as Jonathan pointed out. “We're in such a strange place,” Jonathan said. “And I think we're so consumed by this idea that it has to sell, but maybe the idea in technology is like watching the matrix.” So, screens became faces and the outdoors was transposed into our domestic lives. Fashion to make you think, and yet invokes a desire to wear it as a badge of pride. You want to wear the boots and logo-emblazoned leggings, if only to be a part of a club that indicates you’re up to speed with fashion’s shifting tides.
There’s been a lot of talk of late about how fashion will adapt to the Metaverse, who will take the jump into NFTs and the rest; whether it’s a Gold Rush or just another fad. What was incredible about this collection was that it was incredibly tactile — as always, it was rooted in the tactile craftsmanship that Loewe had prided itself on showcasing, whether that’s conceptual or material. Though the living fabrics won’t make it to the shop floor, they will provide a wellspring of in-store installations to sit alongside the supple leather bombers and highly desirable boots and bags that people flock to Loewe for. Therein lies the genius of Jonathan Anderson, a designer who can sell us ideas and make us think — and back it up with a real-life wardrobe to put on our backs.