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Loewe’s first exhibition “Crafted World” runs through May 5 at Shanghai Exhibition Centre in China. Courtesy of Loewe and OMA

Spanish fashion house opens first exhibition in Shanghai with OMA

By Lee Gyu-lee

SHANGHAI — At the entrance of the Shanghai Exhibition Centre, a colorful decoration inspired by Loewe’s leather tool bag is juxtaposed with the neoclassical architecture, serving as the gateway to “Crafted World,” the Spanish luxury fashion house’s first public exhibition, and encapsulating the essence of the longstanding brand at a single glance.

Founded in 1846, Loewe has grown from a leather-making collective to an eclectic luxury brand encompassing fashion, fragrance and accessories. With “Crafted World,” which is on view from March 22 to May 5 in Shanghai, the brand aims to celebrate its 178 years of history and share its dedication to craft and its journey through evolution to where it stands today, proving itself as more than just another high-end luxury brand.

“For me, the biggest thing was that when I joined Loewe, I wanted to eradicate this idea of the luxury status of a brand and this idea of a cultural brand. I think I wanted to put the culture at the forefront of the brand rather than it just being about a luxury product,” Jonathan Anderson, the Loewe creative director who has been leading the house since 2013, told The Korea Times during the press preview of the exhibition, March 21.

“Without the craft, without the art collaboration or the idea of the Poetry Prize or the Craft Prize, we wouldn’t have a brand, and ultimately that has to do with the culture of it and this is what I think is fundamental. And that’s what I would like people to remember.”

“Born From The Hand' Highlights The Evolution Of Loewe. Courtesy Of Loewe And Oma

“Born from the Hand” highlights the evolution of Loewe. Courtesy of Loewe and OMA

Oma Partner Ellen Van Loon / Courtesy Of Oma

OMA partner Ellen van Loon / Courtesy of OMA

Exploring Loewe’s legacy

Curated by Anderson and designed by the global architectural firm Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) ‘s partner Ellen van Loon and associate Giulio Margheri, the exhibition takes a wing of a 93,000-square-meter Sino-Soviet architecture from the 1950s and delves into the brand’s rich history through six thematic chapters.

The first room, titled “Born from the Hand,” visualizes the evolution of the brand, bringing together the products from its early years, ranging from first editions of its iconic Flamenco and Amazona handbags, crafting tools to Loewe-featured advertisements from the archive and of modern days — innovative “show-in-a-box” archive for one of its collections during the pandemic and three significant fashion pieces, including the red flight suit worn by Rihanna for the 2023 Super Bowl halftime show.

Margheri of OMA said the exhibition captures the brand’s rich narrative from a wider scope with its heritage as a backbone.

“There was definitely the necessity to give a broader angle and a broader history to the brand. That’s, for example, the first place that has an inhabitable timeline,” the architect said. “There were these themes that I wanted to make sure that came across, which was the legacy; so the history of Spain, craftsmanship, [the brand’s] relationship with craft and then, of course, the collaborations to showcase and the fashion that would show you they’re not only doing bags but also experimental fashion collections.”

The “LO-WEH-VAY” pronunciation tunnel with videos teaching the correct way to say the brand’s name leads to the room dedicated to Spain, an immersive space surrounded by video installations showing the landscapes of the brand’s homeland.

With the ocean blue and green nature of Spain as a backdrop, the space put on display a collection highlighting the country’s craft traditions, including basket bags made in collaboration with Spanish artisans as well as a handful of Pablo Picasso’s ceramics from Loewe’s archive.

Installation View Of 'Pronounciation Tunnel' / Courtesy Of Loewe And Oma

Installation view of “Pronounciation Tunnel” / Courtesy of Loewe and OMA

Oma Associate Giulio Margheri / Courtesy Of Oma

OMA associate Giulio Margheri / Courtesy of OMA

“The Atelier” section walks visitors through the behind-the-scenes process of making Loewe’s famous leather bags, laying out the meticulous process from cutting, prepping, painting and testing leather to assembling it. The room offers visitors, who are on the other end of the production process, an opportunity to grasp the dedication and craftsmanship Loewe puts into its products.

“It’s funny because these brands, you never see — it’s always a bit hidden, the production process. Nobody knows how it’s made or know where the fabrics are coming from and what they do with it,” Loon said of the space. “I think that’s probably also because we are architects. We like the making. It’s a nice part that nobody ever sees.”

The architects emphasized the importance of involving the brand in sharing the process, which had previously been kept behind the curtains.

“It’s interesting because we come from an external point of view and then we sometimes note things that, for them, are taken for granted. And you kind of convince them it’s worth showing or worth sharing,” Margheri said, adding researching and developing the space were some of their favorite parts of the project.

“I enjoyed ‘The Atelier’ very much as a space because it’s really rooted; going there to see their lab and factory, and understanding how the factory works, [I was] excited to translate them and with the experiences to make it accessible to everyone … So the fact that we managed to have a whole space which is very much rooted in the factory and tells the process that the leather goes through is quite nice. In that sense, I really enjoyed that we managed to do something that was meaningful. It’s not just a beautification of things, but it actually shows things.”

Ceramic Works Are On Display Against The Backdrop Of Digital Displays Showing The Landscapes Of Spain. Courtesy Of Loewe And Oma

Ceramic works are on display against the backdrop of digital displays showing the landscapes of Spain. Courtesy of Loewe and OMA

“Fashion Without Limits” features 69 looks that Anderson selected from his decade-long runway collections since he joined the brand in 2013, giving a glimpse of its avant-garde, experimental fashion.

The following chapter, “United in Craft,” highlights the Loewe Foundation’s annual Craft Prize, showcasing the winning piece of 2022, a horsehair woven basket created by Korean artist Jeong Da-hye, alongside other collaborative projects. These include colorful ceramics from the Chinese Monochrome Collection. The space radiates Loewe’s commitment to craft under Anderson, who launched the Craft Prize in 2016.

“For me, the craft is brain to hand. It’s the action everyone has. I believe that craft is fundamental. I think you can tell the history of the world through objects of make,” Anderson said. “Craft for me is like passing on information from generation to generation … So it’s fundamentals to any kind of creative exercise.”

The exhibition concludes with “Unexpected Dialogues,” featuring nine rooms dedicated to the brand’s past collaborations. These rooms showcase works from American potter Ken Price, Japanese ceramic studio Suna Fujita, British textile artist John Allen, and Studio Ghibli.

'The Atelier' Offers A Glimpse Of The Making Process Of Loewe's Leather Bags. Courtesy Of Loewe And Oma

“The Atelier” offers a glimpse of the making process of Loewe’s leather bags. Courtesy of Loewe and OMA

Creative freedom

Organizing such an eclectic brand that spans over a century of history into one exhibition was quite a hefty job, especially as this is Loewe’s first project on such a scale. Yet, having no precedence from the brand gave creative freedom, Margheri noted.

“It’s been kind of great that we started there was no pre-concept or pre-ideas. Everything was new. It was also more exciting to do but also more complex … The sequence of spaces is also quite eclectic. With the choice of material, the shape of the spaces, there is quite a lot of differences and excitement that are in the mix, which was also an interpretation of how [the brand] operate and act,” he said.

“The fact that it’s made out of all these different identities that ultimately stay together; the way that the space is imagined or designed is pretty much around that. I think that’s what we do all the time. We work with someone and take the time to make sure that we are delivering something meaningful and specific.”

Loon added the key to designing the exhibition was making sure it delivers the multidimensional aspects of the brand.

“This particular brand has a nice mix of serious things in the exhibition and more ironic things. There’s an interesting mix of pop, jokes and irony,” she said.

Installation View Of “Fashion Without Limits” / Courtesy Of Loewe And Oma

Installation view of “Fashion Without Limits” / Courtesy of Loewe and OMA

“The beginning of the history is quite serious but it becomes later, of course, more fun. But in the current time, there’s also seriousness. I think all these different layers that are basically part of the brands was the most important for us to share.”

Despite the antique Stalinist architectural style of the exterior, the venue turned itself around covering up the whole interior with white walls to create a completely new space.

“As an architect, you play with quite big things: ceilings, walls, chairs, and other spatial defining things. But the problem is, in fashion, that objects are relatively small compared to the space. So sometimes these objects need the background in order to be seen,” Loon explained.

However, along the way, the exhibition manages to add more layers with pieces of the original building, like a chandelier hanging above craft works or gold Baroque-style pattern décor peeking through a cut-out window of the wall.

Craftworks From Loewe Collections And Its Foundation's Craft Prize Are Put On Display At The Exhibition. Courtesy Of Loewe And Oma

Craftworks from Loewe collections and its foundation’s Craft Prize are put on display at the exhibition. Courtesy of Loewe and OMA

“On the inside, the spaces are quite controlled in terms of atmosphere. But on the other hand, we intentionally kind of worked on this ‘revealing some moments,’ which was also almost curatorial strategy on the existing building,” Margheri said.

“We were fascinated by the building but it was very complex to deal with on the extent of the whole space. But we still wanted to have it as a part of the narrative and as a part of these glimpses, which is special and unique for this building.”

Loon added, “It would have been impossible to show the original space everywhere but I think we’ve found a good balance on the outside and also revealing sometimes where you are [in the building].”

A Room Wrapped With Woven Carpets By John Allen As One Of Loewe's Collaborations With Different Artists / Courtesy Of Loewe And Oma

A room wrapped with woven carpets by John Allen as one of Loewe’s collaborations with different artists / Courtesy of Loewe and OMA

Anderson emphasized his intent to share the making process with the audience through this exhibition. “I wanted to be able to show that there’s a huge amount of technology, craft, and engineering that goes into making a bag. And some of the bags have hundreds of components and processes to get to,” he said.

“Sometimes, we forget about the process. I think it’s to humanize the process and realize it … So you take this very precious material, and it has to be utilized in a respectful way. I hope in this exhibition, people start to see that ‘things take time.’ It can be fun, but it is a process of engineering ultimately.”

Shanghai is the first stop of “Crafted World” before traveling globally.

“We will probably be going somewhere next year, to another capital,” the creative director said, without disclosing the specific region. “It will be going to another capital and then probably another capital [after that].”

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