Loewe goes punk with Junya Watanabe collaboration

by Danielle Demetriou

Special To The Japan Times

She is a textbook-perfect bad girl — from her raw-edged purple mullet, scarlet lips and snarling scowl to the black leather jacket, ripped leggings and studded boots.

But the model stomping across the runway carries something in her hand that gives the game away. It may display an edgy patchwork motif, but its form and fabrics indicate more luxurious origins — it is in fact a reinvention of an iconic bag much-loved by celebrities and created by the Spanish fashion house Loewe.

The handbag — and the bad-girl fashion it accessorized — was part of the recent unveiling in Tokyo of a refreshing new collaboration between Loewe and Junya Watanabe of Comme des Garçons.

It’s a fashion union that will surprise many. One half is a Spanish heritage brand famed for its luxury leather goods and artisan craftsmanship dating back to 1846. The other is an iconic Japanese designer revered for his avant-garde deconstruction and experimental fabrics.

The end result — as showcased last week at the Spanish Embassy in Tokyo— is as surprising as it is attention-grabbing: a punkesque world of black leather, blue denim, red tartan, ripped leggings, patched trousers and, of course, exquisitely fashioned handbags.

“The idea of a bad girl or bad boy carrying a Loewe bag was what this was based on,” explains Stuart Vevers, the innovative British creative director of Loewe who masterminded the collaboration. “Junya did the wigs, I did the red lips.

“We deliberately wanted it to be surprising. The biggest part of my mission at Loewe has been to rejuvenate the brand and raise its profile. I very much saw this collaboration as a big step in that direction.”

It is a perfect time for such a creative collaboration between Spain and Japan. It was exactly 400 years ago that the Japanese samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga set off on a historic mission to Europe, paving the way for the first trade agreement between the two nations.

This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the opening of the first Loewe store in Japan, which now has 40 stores — the highest number for any country in the world, including Spain.

The collaboration came about after Vevers traveled to Tokyo last October in order to discuss with Watanabe over tea in Ginza the possibility of working together.

Speaking from his 12th-floor suite at the Grand Hyatt, Vevers tells The Japan Times: “I have always been interested in collaborations, how they can challenge a brand and move it forward. And I have always been a fan of Junya Watanabe’s work, I think he is a really talented designer.

“There are no obvious affinities between the two companies and I was intrigued by what Junya’s take could be on Loewe. The thing that I like most about his work is how he reinvents a classic. I think he is the best designer at that — taking something and changing it and making it new.”

Despite the anticipated linguistic or cultural divides, the pair instantly clicked — and a new collaboration was born, with the pair first testing the waters with Loewe designing bags for Watanabe’s show at Paris Fashion Week in March.

The climax of the partnership is undoubtedly the Loewe-Watanabe limited-edition capsule collection unveiled this month and due to go on sale from August.

Key is the mixing of black leather and blue denim — a recurring theme among the trousers, skirts and bags — accessorized perfectly in the Spanish Embassy show with splashes of red tartan and polka dots from the Junya Watanabe Comme des Garcons’ archives and luscious shearling coats from Loewe’s Winter 2013 collection.

Describing his inspirations, Watanabe tells The Japan Times: “To tie together Loewe and Junya Watanabe, I came up with the idea of combining the essence of each of their icons: leather and denim. A combination of the luxurious and the casual.

“Our companies are different but Stuart and I understand each other very well because we have the same passion for creating things and for craftsmanship.”

He adds: “This is the first time I have collaborated with a specific designer at a brand so I was nervous at the beginning. But all along, [...] they have been really good to me. When I rather selfishly presented what I wanted to do, Stuart just said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ “

For Vevers, there is one standout item of which he is most proud: the iconic 1975 Amazona bag, whose signature rectangular form boasts original leather corners, handle and padlock — alongside a Watanabe-esque front panel of colored patchwork and a heavy double zip.

“It is a tougher version of the Amazona, one with more attitude. And it literally sums up our collaboration — the front panel was made by Junya in Japan and sent to the Madrid atelier where we used Spanish leather and Spanish craftsmanship to put it together. It really is a union of Japan and Spain.”

He adds: “This collection is a real milestone for me, a special moment, something I’m very proud of. I know I will have to take one of the pieces, because once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

And as the countdown begins for the collection’s summer sales launch, he is unlikely to be alone in coveting the ultimate bad-girl’s handbag.

The new collection launches at Dover Street Market Ginza at the end of August and worldwide in 40 Loewe stores and via www.loewe.com on Sept. 1.