Market Research: Loewe’s “Leather Slip-On Loafers”
Thora Siemsen On Wordplay And Whit Stillman
(And Shoes That Are Made For Walking And Talking)
- Text: Thora Siemsen
- Illustration: Camille Leblanc-Murray
In her debut novel Anagrams, Lorrie Moore tracks the fates of a pair of heterosexual friends, Benna Carpenter and Gerard Maines. Their first time having sex together feels “spastic and looped, doomed for failure.” Here, the anagrammatic arrangement of characters to make new words has been reinterpreted by the author as a rearrangement of “characters to make new worlds,” said Moore to the Times in 1986. It’s the perfect book to read while idling in uncertain relationships with men. It’s also good for outfit descriptions with backstories, including one which considers a character’s movement away from sneakers as he takes to a blue-lit dance floor: “He is wearing what my brother Louis used to call ‘hard shoes’––leather shoes.”
The shoebox containing my new pair of leather shoes—loafers—arrives in early April. The logotype on the box is not the company’s original, but a redesigned homage to the German calligrapher and typographer Berthold Wolpe. Loewe, it spells. Germanic. Pronounced ‘Loh-wev-eh’, and founded in 1846 by Spanish leather merchants, the group did not acquire the name until the German-born craftsman Enrique Loewe Roessberg joined them in 1876. Under Jonathan Anderson's creative direction since 2013, the design agency M/M (Paris) selected a typeface that would yoke the legacy of the two German émigrés. Depicted on a range of garments, from scarves to pompon sweaters, the logo is an Anagram; a quadruple-L insignia referencing the irons which were used to brand cattle and leather skins.
Moc-toed in buffed leather with tonal-stitching and a collapsible grained leather heel, my pair are on the simpler side of Loewe’s loafer offerings. Collapsible heels are somewhat of an Anderson favorite, a function of several pairs that he sent down the Paris runway for Fall 2019, part of a collection which left Vogue’s Sarah Mower thinking about the clothes as “tangential free association” and “the encouragement to look closely.” Anderson has also cleverly imagined variants of the loafer as calfskin ankle-high boots and croc-embossed sculptural heels with crystal-cut accents. Dressier versions of smoking shoes. Loewe’s packaging even arrives in an off-white color called Humo, Spanish for smoke, which recalls the company’s provenance as artisans of leather tobacco cases. The company states, per LVMH’s handy explainer, “A new language at Loewe,” that the color also “references the paper of elegant library tomes,” so I prop the Humo-hued shoebox against my bedroom bookcase.
My leather shoes do not bear Loewe’s Anagram insignia or any visible branding at all. They do feature a slotted leather strip across the vamp, which could host a coin. They are similar in make to penny loafers, a name whose popularity is said to have stuck during the 1930s, when the price for an emergency call could fit into the diamond slit on your shoe. It was 1936, after all, when the American G.H. Bass & Co. rolled out their Weejun loafer (short for Norwegian), the forebear to the collegiate staple. In a story for T Magazine, fashion journalist Nancy MacDonnell writes, “So many women were buying and wearing boys’ sizes that two years later Bass launched a feminine version that was a line for line copy of the original.”
My loafers come in a boys’ size, for reasons that don’t quite fit into this story. I wear them for the first time out one night mid-April with high-rise skinny black Levi’s and an open-back charcoal grey Marni sweater to a bookstore event for the Irish novelist Sally Rooney. I stand in the back of the crowd for the conversation, which focuses on Rooney’s latest novel, Normal People. The moderator remarks of the protagonist: “Marianne wears flat shoes. She’s considered ugly.” In the novel, it’s more that Marianne’s shoes are considered ugly. It’s not the first time I’ve identified with a fictional Marianne, though I’m thinking of a character more spastic, still timelessly looped in love: Jane Austen’s Ms. Dashwood. Who would not have worn loafers.
Who would, and did, wear loafers was a man in a story stranger than fiction, named Bernie Madoff. The Ponzi schemer’s favored choices were Belgian loafers, often distinguished from the Spanish version by bows on the front. Before beginning his 150 year sentence at a medium-security federal prison in Butner, North Carolina in 2009, Madoff is said to have owned over 300 pairs, fashioned from the skins of ostriches and crocodiles. Coincidentally, the Belgian style of loafer is having a street style renaissance (Chloë Sevigny looks great in them, as does fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, and also, Brendon Babenzien, the former creative director of Supreme and founder of the label Noah NYC), though reports say that Madoff is now employed at a commissary, which sells “sneakers, flip-flops to wear in the shower.”
To look closely at criminals is perhaps not so different from the attention required to build brilliant characters in novels, as is the case of the Australian writer Helen Garner, a recent addition to my bookshelves, who does both. Her judgements extend to personal style. In an interview last year, Garner said, “There are people I despise because of the shoes they wear, and I judge them unfavourably. And it’s not just an aesthetic judgement: it’s a judgement of … It’s some kind of moral judgement, some kind of moral quality of theirs which is enacted in their choice of shoe.”
Leather loafers are a versatile choice of shoe, not only evocative of the elite worlds of the Ivies and Wall Street but also show business. “I never thought there would be a day when I wouldn’t wear heels,” Beyoncé Knowles-Carter said in 2012, when she graced the cover of People’s World's Most Beautiful Woman issue. Known for practicing her choreography in heels, and requiring her dancers to do the same, the then 30-year-old new mother went on, “Now that I have a child...I’m buying loafers.” The greatest living entertainer chose pairs by Nicholas Kirkwood and Alexander McQueen for her downtime.
Loafers have a rich history in the movies, or at least look good in movies about rich people
Loafer savoir-faire is often a regional matter. In 2017, Gucci, whose loafers have been in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art since 1984, controversially reappropriated the street style of Dapper Dan, the Harlem designer long a step ahead of the fashion industry in his floral loafers. The Italian fashion house’s mea culpa resulted in a reopening of the Harlem couturier’s atelier, with materials provided by Gucci. In an interview last year with GQ celebrating the partnership, Dap said he’d long intimidated those with Ivy-League style (“those was the goody-two-shoes guys”), noting, “The hustler's style won out.”
On the other side of Central Park, my leather shoes accompany me on outings to fictional worlds. I wear them to the movies. Loafers have a rich history in the movies, or at least look good in movies about rich people. Stanley Kubrick admired the director Whit Stillman’s films, particularly Barcelona, as “a new way to have talk advance the narrative.” Stillman’s characters often walked the talk in loafers. His loose comedy of manners trilogy––Last Days of Disco, Metropolitan, and Barcelona––is thought of as his “doomed bourgeois in love series.” It was in 1994’s Barcelona that he perfectly captured the loafing woman, flamenco dancing in the afternoon on a terrace with friends in torn blue jeans and her black leather loafers. Photos of Jonathan Anderson’s conceptual flagship of Iberian limestone, the Casa Loewe in Madrid, look like a Stillman set. My pair of Loewe loafers are noisily cinematic, producing a foley artist’s idea of how shoes sound.
Mostly, I wear the loafers to work. They are Chelsea gallerina dress code appropriate, meaning they are black. In some ways, they are perfect for this point in my style, utilitarian, good for slipping in and out. Late in April, my friend David is walking me home from dinner. A man shouts, “I love your shoes.” He is addressing David, who is wearing teal leather boots with metal toe-caps from Raf Simon’s last collection for Calvin Klein. I’m suddenly grateful for my loafers and how they parry glances. Tonight, a strange man, no matter how kind, has not shouted anything at me.
Thora Siemsen is a writer living in New York City.
- Text: Thora Siemsen
- Illustration: Camille Leblanc-Murray