Men’s – Eclectic, Curated, Sustainable. Loewe AW21

Jonathan Anderson‘s Loewe universe is a wonderland of eclectic, curated – and sustainable! – things. And the autumn-winter 2021 collection for men is like a treasure chest of details, curiosities, textures, crafts prints and colours. But to organize what we’ve got: this Loewe lookbook actually feautures two collections, and the one at the bottom is produce from the company’s Eye/Loewe/Nature sustainable-practice department. This time, the communication came as a show-in-a-book, wrapped up in a coffee-table sized monograph on the queer New York artist Joe Brainard, and as a show-on-a-shirt – a huge T-shirt printed with all the sustainable-practice pictures. Why Brainard? “I remember zines he’d done in the ’70s. We remade a book on him which we’ll be selling in bookshops, and the proceeds will go to the charity we work with all the time, Visual Aids, to help artists who have suffered from AIDS,” says Jonathan Anderson. “I felt like Brainard is so important. He was part of a huge movement, with his writing and his pansy collages – his work is now at MOMA and the Pompidou. I like his writing, it has huge optimism, questions sexuality and things like that. But he’s one of those underground figures.” Anderson talks through the collection in an open-access video on the Loewe website, where it’s easy to see the assembly of charming pansy patterns made into big cardigans, or vast rectangular trousers, or inset as leather marquetry on Loewe Puzzle bags. You also get to understand how the panels of a patchwork shearling are pieced together from reproductions of Brainard’s canvases. And how a tote bag is decorated with the artist’s painting of a whippet on a green background. It’s all adorable and completely wantable. And the extra kick to the feel-good sensation of buying it is that your money is also going to do some good in the world. “I think the whole thing now is about clothing and something else,” says Anderson. “I think the customer wants more than just the clothing now. They want to make sure you have a unique viewpoint and, at the same time, a moral viewpoint.” A joyful vision and a bit of a mad-creative take on fashion are also rare luxuries to enjoy vicariously these days, what Anderson calls “being imaginative with clothing.” His current work on extreme trouser shapes delivers all that. Besides the multi-strapped leather and grommeted punk trousers, the pieces that might read as maxi-skirts actually turn out to be pants too. “I did a lot of wide, wide, super-wide trousers. Kind of performance trousers – this idea of being in your bedroom and dancing on your own.” Which we know is an actual social phenomenon in these days of lockdown.

Amongst the collection is also a huge, cosy multi-patterned Shetland-cum-Norwegian type sweater, knitted together from upcycled yarns. It links directly into the work on sustainable research that’s been going on for four years with the Eye/Loewe/Nature collection. It’s much more than an isolated side-project, Anderson explains. “We set it up as an incubator inside Loewe to try to work out a long-term solution to sustainability. It’s where the entire design process is monitored from start to finish. Every year we try to chip away at something – buttons, zips, hardware, plastic clips – so that what was a problem becomes less of a problem. Because it then means that your supply chain can deal with it, manufacturing know how to deal with it, and the design team knows how to design within that framework,” he says. “And from those learnings, working with suppliers, we can disseminate elements into the bigger workings of Loewe.” In practical terms, it’s meant “buying a huge bulk of used knit sweaters, or denim, and working them into garments. The great thing is that the whole company is involved. What I like about the industrial side is the idea of talking to suppliers like YKK about a problem – and actually making it not a problem. The trouble is when you’re impatient, like me, you want to be completely sustainable tomorrow – but you have to realize it takes time. It means turning an industrial revolution into a new eco revolution. Ultimately, the big picture is, we all have to do it,” he says. “It’ll probably be an ongoing thing throughout my entire career.” If luxury goods companies ever worried that customers would baulk at buying products made of upcycled or non-traditional materials, then the testing ground of the Eye/Loewe/ Nature collection is beginning to prove them wrong. “This is the third collection now,” says Anderson. “And, you know, it’s becoming very, very popular.

Collages by Edward Kanarecki.

Craft. Gabriela Hearst SS21

This season, Gabriela Hearst decided to show in Paris instead of New York not only to catch the spotlight in Europe, but also because it was the most sustainable and carbon-neutral thing to do – most of her samples and designs are produced in Italy. And since New York Fashion Week suffered from its cuts and was stumbling this season due to strict COVID-19 regulations, Paris really is a better option for brands like Hearst’s. “It was really important to us to push ourselves creatively, to not let the pandemic stifle us,” Hearst told Vogue. “It became the craft challenge.” The collection was a proper Gabriela Hearst line-up, relaxed, made out of top-notch materials (most from deadstock) and full of gorgeous, timeless garments. The tailoring that has made its way onto the backs of influential women like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jill Biden, and Oprah Winfrey, took a back seat. Instead, and in keeping with the themes of comfort and ease that have defined the season so far, Hearst trained her focus on knitwear: a long crocheted tank dress of many colors and its ivory sister were both striking, as were a pair of hand-knit cashmere ponchos with fringe that nearly reached the ankles in back. The collection’s genesis was a shell bracelet from Easter Island, a gift from Hearst’s mother back in January. The designer re-created it as shell trimming along the edges of circular cut-outs and on the straps of two repurposed silk dresses, making keepsakes to treasure of what were otherwise simple silhouettes. The shells led her to explorations of the golden spiral, which she reproduced in embroidered seaming details on a pair of slub linen trenches and on an aloe linen dress. Hearst knows that nothing is as important as the detail.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Time For Reset. Balenciaga SS21

I expected to see something truly uncomfortably intriguing from Demna Gvasalia, but his latest, spring Balenciaga collection is radical in a different way. First thing you notice: it’s all about Gvasalia’s Balenciaga classics, stripped-back and simplified. And then you get it: it’s a line-up that to the bone reflects what most of us (if not all) really feel now. We need comfort. We feel secure when invisible. We don’t want to be bothered by others. And it’s great if our turtleneck can act as a mask. You can love a gorgeous, fairy-tale dress, but deep inside, under the pressure of the cracking world, a good hoodie, a big coat, and a pair of undemanding pants make us feel safe and relaxed. So, as a sort of middle finger to the industry where some still do business as usual, trying to sell a dream, Gvasalia lets us stay in the comfort zone. But then, the collection isn’t as grey and dull as it might sound. “Hope is the last thing to die. That’s the Russian saying. You know, I couldn’t wait not to do a show. It didn’t feel right with the way things are. So we’ve made a music video,” he told Vogue in a phone call from Switzerland, where he lives. “My husband recorded that ’80s track by Corey Hart, ‘I wear my sunglasses at night’—because you know, is there anything more absurdly fashion than that? It’s also allegorical. You know, where is fashion going? It’s out there, searching in the dark at the moment, not seeing…” But wait – there is nothing dystopian about this video. Gvasalia’s tribe of Balenciaga nighttime people are each captured as if heading somewhere with a purposeful step. We see them as they walk along the Rue de Rivoli, past the Tuileries gardens, embodying exactly the inimitable cool of the type of people who turn heads after dark on the streets of Paris. We clock them, we check out their clothes, how they’ve put them together, each to their own. They feel real. They are real. Demna confesses that something has change inside of him, in midst of the lockdown. The very man who plunged his fashion show audience into a terrifyingly apocalyptic show experience last season has come back with his head in a far more optimistic place. “Because some day we will be out of this.” He imagined a man who leaves the house near the site of Cristóbal’s maison – a guy, setting out in an oversized navy suit, wraparound shades, and what looks to be a sweater draped over his head (but is a ready-made Balenciaga accessory). “So,” Gvasalia related, “he walks through the night, going through lots of changes, morphing into her, him, them. And they end up meeting as friends, going to a party or a club maybe—and everyone is without masks. That’s the hope!” Pandemic-end pending, however, the film credits meticulously set out every detail of the COVID-secure measures taken to safeguard models and crew. Moreover, the impetus of the collection was “imagining how fashion will be in 2030. When thinking of the future, it’s not a Stanley Kubrick space-age vision for me. Mine is very much down to earth. Ten years from now, everything in fashion will be sustainable. No discussion, right? I think we will be reusing the clothes we have. Time makes things beautiful. I heard a quote from Martin Margiela when I was working there, about the value of ‘the trace of time’ in clothes. That touched me deeply. We keep clothes like that to death. I mean, I have a hoodie that’s 15 years old. It’s bleached out and has holes in it. But I cannot throw that away. So, I thought: In the year 2030, how will your favorite things look, aged and destroyed?” A press release specified: “93.5% of the plain materials in this collection are either certified sustainable or upcycled. 100% of the print bases have sustainable certifications.” This speaks for itself. With the resources of the Kering Group at hand, Gvasalia said, “we discovered we could do it quite easily, with the exception of the fibers that are in some of the existing fabrics. There are solutions if you look for them. There’s a need to revise things. To start a new chapter.” So, in the end, it’s not that depressing. A reset-slash-detox brings space and lets fresh air in. Gvasalia keeps on provoking the mind, even with the simplest gestures.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Oh La La! Patou SS21

The fashion industry should finally give some love for Guillaume Henry‘s brilliance at Patou. I even think that the buyers should give the brand a chance. Why? Really, nobody else does French chic this good right now. For his presentation, the designer welcomed people to an absolutely delightful Patou runway show that didn’t really happen yesterday. “It’s a show with empty seats and no models!” he laughed. “We’ve turned our studio into a catwalk.” The models you see sauntering across the parquet in their puffballs, voluminous smocks, Provençal collars, and jaunty sailor hats had played their parts, sans audience, a couple of days ago at the label’s Île de la Cité HQ. For spring-summer 2021, Henry offers meringue-sque Provençal-printed puffed sleeves, a pie-frill collar, and a mini-balloon skirt, which all came from his 1980s childhood imagination. But wait, it’s not as easy as it sounds. All made from organic cotton poplin – 100% GOTS cotton, it said. “Yes, we’re 70% recycled and organic materials in this collection,” Henry exclaimed, “and we’re aiming for 100%.” This is the most modern thing about the rebirth of Patou: it comes with full-on French style, transparent sourcing, and non-ridiculous prices. “Patou is about a wardrobe, and it will always be,” said Henry. “But this time we turned this wardrobe into something more fantasy! I wanted to go back to this love of fashion I had when I was nine years old, drawing dresses in my bedroom—and nobody was talking about fear or the economy. It was just about fun, flamboyance, joy, enthusiasm. I wanted to go back to that exuberance.” And so it reads. Exaggerated silhouettes have been steadily inflating over the past few seasons. Ideal timing, then, for the comeback of Henry’s memories of being enthralled by watching the likes of Christian Lacroix on French TV news. “He was a huge influence on me when I was nine, 10, in the late ’80s, early ’90s. So I wanted the silhouette to be ‘couture’ even if you can break it all down separately.” Lacroix, as all fashion history geeks know, started his rise to fame at the house of Patou, so his puffball silhouettes, succulent bows, and French-regional references resonate happily through Henry’s collection. The difference, in the hands of the younger designer, is the practicality and sense of economy that underpins his design. The huge white collars are accessories – they’re meant to be laundered and used as styling pieces. The silhouettes that appear to be frivolous one-party outing dresses (like the captivating Provençal look) are often actually skirts and tops, intended for multiple reconfigurations. “A blouse, a skirt, and a dress,” as he put it. Smart, chic, fun, sustainable. Et voila!

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Focus On: Petit Kouraj

After discovering Petit Kouraj some time ago on Instagram, those bags are still on my mind, so I thought it’s worth sharing! The label – the name translates as “little courage” in Haitian Creole – is the creative child of fashion stylist, Nasrin Jean-Baptiste. Born in London to Haitian immigrants, Jean-Baptiste amassed over a decade’s worth of experience as an international fashion stylist before creating her brand. An innate desire to create something meaningful lead Jean-Baptiste to develop a luxury bag line full of unique personality; both lively and chic – qualities quite uncommon within conventional brands. Following a trip to her native country of Haiti in 2018, she was immediately inspired to do something that frightened her – acting from her core, and with the help of a little courage, Petit Kouraj was born. Based in Brooklyn (and handmade in Haiti in partnership with D.O.T Haiti, women-lead organization which works closely with local artisans to provide opportunities, education and vocation training), each of Petit Kouraj’s bags are lovingly handmade using organic cotton net bags, 100% leather handles and rayon fringe. Each strand of fringe is individually sewn 656 times to create the large bags and 342 times for the mini. It’s a labor of love, and it takes 8-12 hours of manual labour to complete a single bag. Petit Kouraj signature accessories are fun, whimsical stand-alone pieces of wearable art that celebrates love for haute-knitwear and identity. Shop them here! And here are some of my favourites:

All photos courtesy of Petit Couraj.