Loewe’s Milan exhibition unexpectedly took us to heaven in a handbasket

Milan – The year before Jonathan Anderson took over Loewe, the Spanish brand had been heavily criticized for being behind the times. In a nation in the midst of perhaps its worst economic crisis, the company released a video campaign focused on a selection of 12 of the most impossibly obnoxious upper-class young people and their love for their (unaffordable to most) Loewe handbags.

It's a different brand now. This time, in the middle of a Milan Design Week understandably concerned with 3D biomaterial printing, the symbiosis between man and AI and how technology can help make more inclusive design decisions, Loewe decided to stay behind the times in an intentionally different way: by doubling down on its celebration of slow and experimental handicraft.

And that’s why we think of it as one of the most memorable exhibitions in this edition of Fuorisalone.

Baskets was Anderson’s on-brand homage to basketry, calligraphy and hand quilting. It was a project two years in the making, as his team approached nearly a dozen international artists and asked them to experiment with leather instead of more traditional weaving materials such as reed or water hyacinth.

Loewe decided to stay behind the times in an intentionally different way

The results were displayed at the Via Montenapoleone store – where, after walking through the main straw-tote-covered portico, the crowded world outside seemed to disappear. In the courtyard, leather baskets made for carrying large rocks and knotty squiggle nests sat on long white tables, sheltered from the sun by a series of delicate ecru quilts on a clothes line. It wasn’t until you saw the soft wind hit the textiles that you realized that, even in the middle of the most crowded shopping street in Milan, this space had become a silent temple. We were all in awe of the space afforded to time: Loewe had offered a generous grand stand to the man-made, the intuitive, the one-off and the labour-intensive. If that wasn’t immediately evident, the idea was driven home by the upper-floor room entirely dedicated to letting ikebana master Watarai Toru do his thing in a trance-like state.

For all the failings of Viva Arte Viva, the core pavilion of the 2017 Venice Art Biennale hosted two standout performances: Lee Mingwei’s When Beauty Visits and Dawn Kasper’s temporary atelier. In the former, visitors had to be patient and wait for a roving woman, the embodiment of calm, as she brought an envelope with an unclear message; in the latter, placed right at the entrance of the pavilion, attendants had to grudgingly come to terms with the fact that artistic creation isn’t something that happens on demand. In that other northern Italy city, we’ve come to expect design installations to be easily digestible and Instagram-ready in under a minute, so as to allow us to cover as much ground as possible. Loewe reminded us that design should, even today, require more of our patience.

The takeaway: To cut through the noise, reverence always pays off… but on-brand reverence goes even further – keep this in mind, as there is the risk of doing Old Loewe instead of Now Loewe.


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