BY Sean Burns in Opinion | 28 JUN 23

Loewe’s Love Affair with Contemporary Art

A collaboration between designer Jonathan Anderson and sculptor Lynda Benglis raises questions about the role of art on the runway

BY Sean Burns in Opinion | 28 JUN 23

Art likes fashion, and – it transpires – fashion likes art, too. In fact, the two are becoming increasingly cosy bedfellows, with Spanish luxury fashion house Loewe, headed by creative director Jonathan Anderson, perhaps the most flirtatious with the art world. 

Anderson’s Spring/Summer 2024 menswear collection for Loewe launched during Paris Fashion Week in an indoor training paddock for police horses. In a moment of serendipitous choreography, resident birds flitted around the vaulted metal ceiling, supplying ambient chirps. Below, three shallow pools perforated the grey floor, with a work by sculptor Lynda Benglis in each: Knight Mer (2007–22), the smallest piece, emerged from the water like a craggy constellation of bronze nuggets. In contrast, the towering Bounty, Amber Waves, Fruited Plane (2021) reached towards the rafters like abstracted, neoclassical columns, with water spurting from their respective tips.

Loewe SS24
Loewe SS24 Menswear, Paris, 2023, featuring Lynda Benglis, Knight Mer, 2007–22, bronze. Courtesy: the artist, Loewe, Thomas Dane Gallery, Mendes Wood DM and Pace 

Benglis produced her first fountain, The Wave of World, in 1984 for the Louisiana World Exposition, a remodelled version of which completes the group in Paris (Crescendo, 1983–84/2014–15). These megaliths of metal are amongst her most hefty works: indeed, no easy feat to transport, install and animate here. In this event-based context – a show lasting just ten minutes – the sculptures become performative objects, seen first through the eyes of the guests (editors, celebrities, influencers, etc.), then forever after via photography and video posted online.

When Anderson’s garments appear, it is to a soundtrack of Benglis describing her experiences of SCUBA diving in the video Water Sources (2015). We see gorgeous trousers and shirts in blue mirror-ball fabric redolent of the surface of water; a voluminous checked overcoat like the one worn by Richard E. Grant in Withnail & I (1987); tight blazers with little pockets; Argyle jumpers with asymmetric patterns; oversized leather bags; and an exaggerated pink tabard pierced at the top by a giant needle like a pin-cushion.

Loewe SS24
Loewe SS24 Menswear, Paris, 2023, featuring Lynda Benglis, Bounty, Amber Waves, Fruited Plane, 2021, bronze. Courtesy: the artist, Loewe, Thomas Dane Gallery, Mendes Wood DM and Pace

According to the press material, Anderson conceived the collection as a play of proportions in dialogue with Benglis’s bulbous sculptures. (However, you still need to be rake-thin to get into these high-waisted trousers.) Bounty, Amber Waves, Fruited Plane dwarf the models as they traverse beneath them. On the one hand, Benglis’s artworks provide a generative context for the clothes, with water and scale a corresponding concern; on the other, you could consider the sculptures a backdrop to the show’s spectacle.

Loewe SS24
Loewe SS24 Menswear, Paris, 2023. Courtesy: Loewe

Seemingly, there is a hunger amongst artists and curators alike to participate in the chutzpah and glamour that luxury fashion purports to offer: Serpentine Galleries’ artistic director, Hans Ulrich Obrist, appeared in Loewe’s Fall/Winter 2023 pre-collection campaign, while Anthea Hamilton’s recumbent vegetable sculptures featured in Anderson’s Fall/Winter 2022 offering. Equally, designers – architectural, fashion, graphic – often want to be considered ‘artists’, perhaps for the field’s perceived intellectual discourse and freedom from functionality.

But semantics aside, the love affair between fashion and art isn’t new. Last year, for example, Kim Jones, artistic director of both Dior Men and Fendi Womenswear and Couture, unveiled a Dior collection inspired by artist Duncan Grant and Charleston Farmhouse, the Sussex bolthole of the Bloomsbury Group, an early 20th century coterie of artists, writers and intellectuals. Unlike Anderson’s recontextualization of contemporary works from the gallery to the catwalk, Jones absorbed the motifs of a historic cultural reference into his contemporary designs.

Loewe SS24
Hans Ulrich Obrist, Loewe’s Fall/Winter 2023 pre-collection campaign. Courtesy: Loewe

The week prior to the Paris show, Loewe teased its Spring/Summer 2024 collection at David Zwirner’s New York gallery in the video I Dreamt of LOEWE (2023), directed by Luca Guadagnino, in which models recline alongside or confront papier-mâché and plaster sculptures from Franz West’s ‘Echolalia’ series (2010). The kinetic nature of Benglis’s fountains, cascading with water, and the interactive conception of West’s sculptures provide the ideal – abstract, ambiguous, inoffensive – backdrop to this sleek commercial activation. 

Loewe SS24
Jonathan Anderson, Loewe SS24 Menswear, Paris, 2023. Courtesy: Loewe

In Paris, the relationship between Benglis’s sculptures and Anderson’s garments was oblique but complementary. Loewe has a tremendous reach, and Anderson’s collaborations with artists introduce new audiences to lesser-known practices. However, the framing of artwork in fashion contexts tends towards homage and celebration rather than criticality: practices that might be considered socio-politically challenging or provocative seldom feature. That said, should an invitation to appear in a glossy campaign come my way, would I accept? Of course, it’s fabulous!

Main image: Loewe SS24 Menswear, Paris, 2023, featuring Lynda Benglis, Crescendo (detail), 1983–84/2014–15, bronze. Courtesy: the artist, Loewe, Thomas Dane Gallery, Mendes Wood DM and Pace

Sean Burns is an artist, writer and assistant editor of frieze based in London, UK. His book Death (2023) is out now from Tate Publishing.