“I thought it was time to celebrate him, the Loewe way,” says creative director Jonathan Anderson
Yesterday, Spanish house Loewe announced news of a collection and online exhibition celebrating 70s drag iconoclast Divine. Playfully known as the “filthiest person alive”, the pop culture icon was born Harris Glenn Milstead in 1940s Baltimore to a conservative middle-class family. After developing a fascination with drag through hairdressing in his Maryland hometown, Milstead quickly immersed himself in Baltimore’s countercultural scene, where he first met filmmaker and longtime collaborator John Waters, who reportedly gave Divine his drag name, as well as the epithet of “the most beautiful woman in the world, almost”.
Divine broke boundaries of drag and cinema, starring in experimental and now-cult features such as Waters’ Pink Flamingos and Hairspray, and Paul Bartel’s Lust in The Dust, and in plays like The Neon Woman. “He pre-empted the glorification of trash, the mix of high and low, the fantastic erasure of gender barriers,” says Loewe’s creative director Jonathan Anderson. “I thought it was time to celebrate him, the Loewe way.” Such celebrations arrive amid an unusual Pride month, with coronavirus-induced lockdowns being gradually lifted, protests continuing around the globe, and LGBTQ+ Pride celebrations recalibrating in lieu of physical events and parades. In light of these times, Loewe’s Divine exhibition will take place online instead of in the house’s Madrid flagship store, where its PhotoEspaña exhibition typically takes place.
Bursting with “colour, trash, fantasy, outrage, glamour, and freedom”, the virtual exhibition features an array of remarkable Divine memorabilia and photographs shot by photographer Greg Gorman, who is best known for lensing pop royalty. The treasure trove of memorabilia includes Divine’s infamous white dress, a mechanic tool-like vanity case, a world tour jacket, posters, a signed record and magazine covers. The accompanying capsule collection – Anderson describes it as “the collection that never was”, since the pandemic has postponed most of its production – seeks to capture the spirit of Divine’s fabulously filthy archive, featuring a joyful combination of patent platform pumps, swathes of colourful feathers, prints of Divine’s face on dresses and felt bags, and playful T-shirts which read: “Is this ‘woman’ the filthiest person alive?”
Due to the halt in production, Loewe is only making a streamlined selection of pieces from the collection available to buy for now: three T-shirts and a felt ‘cushion’ tote bag. 15 per cent of proceeds of the collection will go to Visual Aids, an art-led organisation which fights HIV/Aids by provoking dialogue, supporting artists living with HIV, and preserving history and legacy. (Anderson’s namesake label JW Anderson is also supporting Visual Aids, with proceeds from the brand’s recent collaboration with the estate of David Wojnarowicz going to the organisation.) Additionally, Loewe’s Divine collection will support black-led LGBTQ+ celebration, Baltimore Pride. “This project has been an exciting creative challenge,” says Anderson. “It is a celebration of creative freedom and challenging the world order. That’s what Divine was all about: creating his own incredible world, no matter what. Now more than ever, that’s what we all should do.”
Loewe’s Divine Limited Collection and digital exhibition launch on June 25, 2020.