Feature As Loewe comes to the Dubai Mall, Gemma Champ speaks to the creative director Stuart Vevers about past successes and future hopes.
As Loewe comes to the Dubai Mall, Gemma Champ speaks to the creative director Stuart Vevers about past successes and future hopes.
What's in a name? For fans of Stuart Vevers, quite a lot, as it happens. The creative director at Loewe, which opened earlier this month in the Dubai Mall, Vevers is a designer whose name has become eminently droppable, usually as part of a constellation of fashion's other bright stars, positively, if unintentionally, embodying fashion's obsession with names, labels and logos.
So let's get that CV out of the way. Since graduating in 1996, Vevers has designed accessories for the biggest names in fashion - Calvin Klein, Bottega Veneta, Luella Bartley, Givenchy, Louis Vuitton and, most recently, Mulberry, where he also designed prêt-à-porter for the first time. He is responsible for some of the decade's most popular It-bags, including the Gisele for Luella, the Roxanne and the Bayswater for Mulberry and the Pumpkin for Givenchy (always with those catchy names, the choosing of which he is said to agonise over). He parties and works with London's hippest hipsters: the designer Giles Deacon, the ubiquitous fashion celebrity Henry Holland, the super-stylist Katie Grand and the hot shoe designer (who is incidentally his cousin) Jonathan Kelsey - the latter two having followed in his well-crafted footsteps to collaborate with Mulberry. Names, names, names.
All of which makes it ironic that his latest role is as creative director of accessories, womenswear and menswear at a company whose moniker is unpronounceable to all but an in-the-know few. The venerable Spanish label Loewe (that's Lo-way-vay, just in case you weren't sure) has been around since 1846, and has pretty much the same status in Spain as its close contemporary Hermès has in France (another brand that is often mispronounced). Established in Madrid by a group of master-craftsmen, the workshop received its name when the German craftsman Enrique Loewe Rossberg joined them, bringing with him the Teutonic precision that differentiated Loewe from Spain's many other excellent leatherworkers. Vevers' view is that this craftsmanship is what will attract buyers in the Emirates to the new store, which will have the biggest range of womenswear and accessories of its Dubai stores (smaller branches exist in BurJuman and Mall of the Emirates). "It's that attention to detail, and the combination of classic luxury and modern attitude," he says simply.
Considering Vevers' associations with the too-cool-for-school London crowd and his reputation as the man who never fails to produce the It-bag of the season, it might seem odd that his career thus far has been weighted more towards relatively traditional brands such as Mulberry, Louis Vuitton and Loewe, than young, hip brands like Luella. But the one thing each of these companies has had in common has been a willingness and ability to embrace innovation and chase fashion credibility, while retaining their old-school reputations for quality. Naturally, no young designer worth his salt (and Vevers is only 35) would turn down the chance to work with the fashion giants, but that they discerned the potential in a lively young designer and amateur DJ from the north of England is unusually perceptive.
Still, considering Vevers' brief outing designing his own accessories - a wacky collection of Eightes-inspired bags, including one shaped like a boombox - one might wonder whether all this tradition is cramping his youthful, fun-loving style somewhat. He insists not: "I love working with a brand heritage, pulling out the best of what they are, the true know-how, authority and soul. I think my respect for the roots of a brand combined with a desire to make it work for now may be why I've been hired by these brands."
Of course, his track record won't have done him any harm either. Born in Carlisle, in the far north-west of England, the young Vevers always knew he wanted to pursue a career in the visual arts, but claims no particular ambitions in fashion. "I was always really interested in art. I drew a lot as a child and it was natural for me to move into the creative field as a career," he says. He studied fashion design at the University of Westminster, in London - he's not one of the Central Saint Martins mafia, but his course's alumni include Vivienne Westwood and Christopher Bailey. It wasn't until he left university, though, that he discovered his aptitude for accessories.
"It was initially by chance," he explains. "The first job I was offered after college, at Calvin Klein, was in accessories. I loved it, so it became a really important part of my career. I love the attention to detail and over the years I've learned how to work with the leather, constructions and hardware." He can afford to be modest about his ambitions. His talent is less an aptitude than a Midas touch: every bag he designs turns to retail gold. And while he has often said that the days of the It-bag are over, his uncanny ability to feed the public's post-logo appetite for status, while remaining critically acclaimed by the style press for his individualist vision, makes him a valuable commodity for any brand - but especially for one in the process of consolidating its global brand, such as Loewe.
It's a lot for someone in his mid-thirties to live up to, but Vevers denies that the weight of his reputation is oppressive. "I work hard and I genuinely love what I do. A certain amount of pressure is good - it gets you up in the morning." Certainly he seems to remain unintimidated by the prospect of good hard slog to achieve what he wants - the twice-weekly Spanish lessons he took on moving to the company's headquarters in Madrid earlier this year would have been enough to put some people off, especially when simultaneously having to design the entire autumn/winter collection in just seven weeks.
That short deadline may have been the making of the womenswear and accessories collections. With no time to panic, ponder or mess around, Vevers simply plunged straight into the 162 years of design history, pulling pieces out of the archives and reworking them on the spot with his own modern sensibility. The result of his whirlwind tour of the Loewe archives is striking, dark and combines high-luxury fabrics, such as nappa leather, fox fur, silks and cashmere, with feminine lines - slender shoulders, waisted dresses, demure hemlines - cut through with masculine details like riding boots, heavy coats and parka shapes.
Made up of just 20 outfits - which were displayed at the Opéra Comique in Paris on bespoke wooden mannequins with Paloma Picasso-inspired red lips, rather than in the traditional catwalk show - the collection is influenced by the Seventies heyday of the label, when Karl Lagerfeld designed the first womenswear collections, as well as Catherine Deneuve's glamorously pulled-together character in the early Eighties horror film The Hunger. But his interests change daily, he says. "Sometimes it's a friend, sometime a celebrity. I'm often inspired by characters in films. Right now I'd love to dress the English actress Charlotte Rampling."
He has also subverted some of the icons of the company - the padlock, which he turned into a giant coloured perspex version on the Lola and the Calle bags; the equestrian silk scarf, which he patched together into a dress, pleated, then overprinted in black; the fine leather (Napa 7000, the best in the world), which he turned into an evening gown. "For me the collection was about a rediscovery of what Loewe represents and stands for: elegance, classic luxury, a bold opulence - but all living in the 21st century," says Vevers. "Loewe itself was by far the biggest inspiration. The masculine elements, like the hardware store references, were there to bring an element of surprise, something you might not expect to find at Loewe."
Those industrial references - the surreal light bulb shoes, the do-it-yourself nuts-and-bolts jewellery - are Vevers' calling card, the proof that he is not merely achieving a clever and commercially viable rehash of the Loewe tradition but can innovate and bring his own ideas to the pattern-cutting table. Pieces like this, and the petit-bourgeois looks of the pre-collection that will trickle into the store from mid-January, are reminiscent of the wackier moments of the apparently invincible Marc Jacobs (with whom Vevers worked on accessories at Louis Vuitton), and Loewe must be aware of the parallels. Could it be that, with a few of those collaborations that both creative directors are known for (Mulberry's bags featuring prints by the artist Julie Verhoeven were a huge success for Vevers), the British designer can replicate Jacobs' success at Louis Vuitton and bring a similar level of cutting-edge credibility to this already revered company?
Vevers' name and starry connections are no guarantee of success, whatever his past glories. But he doesn't need them to be: his designs promise enough. firstname.lastname@example.org