Returning to Milan Design Week for the fifth year running, Spanish luxury brand Loewe is exploring worldwide traditions of basketry, using its signature leather to elevate the likes of woven containers from South African collective Design Afrika, and baskets made from homegrown willow by Irish craftsman Joe Hogan. Among the 11-strong roster of talents are two of Japan’s foremost bamboo artists, Jiro Yonezawa and Hafu Matsumoto. They have been asked to swap their usual strips of bamboo for natural dyed Loewe leather, and see just where their creativity takes them. The resulting seven pieces are an exquisite marriage of technique and material.

Yonezawa’s three pieces are cocoons of leather interwoven with almost white strips of thin bamboo into various ornamental shapes. The twisting and turning kamakiri (Japanese for mantis) stands out for its organic shape, but his jizo, mimicking the small stone bodhisattva statues found throughout all of Japan and kaseki (fossil), a large softly curving stone-shape, are just as beautifully executed. ‘Unlike bamboo, leather is very soft and pliable, so I made cores from Styrofoam, wood and paper for integrity,’ he explains. All three pieces are snugly woven around these cores, giving the pieces a sculptural quality not usually associated with any weaving technique.

Jiro Yonezawa creating Kaseki
Jiro Yonezawa creating Kaseki
Jiro Yonezawa crafting kaseki. Courtesy of Loewe

In his early twenties, Yonezawa lived next to a small bamboo forest and often thought he would one day like to make something out of the beautiful, tall bamboo. At 24, he spent a year at the Beppu vocational arts training centre learning the basics of traditional bamboo weaving, and then trained under master craftsman Masakazu Ono. After nearly two decades in the United States, he is now based in Saiki in the north of Kyushu, Japan.

Hafu Matsumoto, meanwhile took a more circuitous path to basketry. He aspired to become a photographer before he met and trained under Iizuka Shōkansai, a bamboo weaving genius and living national treasure of Japan. Matsumoto is now known for his mastery of the noshitake technique, which involves flattering whole pieces of bamboo into wide strips, heating them in warm water, and then twisting them into organic shapes. He has exhibited internationally, including at Ippodo Gallery in New York, where his work caught the attention of Loewe creative director Jonathan Anderson.

Hafu Matsumoto crafting Creel
Hafu Matsumoto working on Creel. Courtesy of Loewe

Matsumoto’s contribution to Loewe’s collection takes the form of four spectacular baskets made of wide strips of leather and varying kinds of bamboo. ‘It was my first time working with leather, but I am used to working with wide strips of bamboo so, the actual weaving process wasn’t that much different,’ Matsumoto explains. Like Yonezawa, he has used bamboo to structure and reinforce his pieces, but it is the leather that plays the leading role. His four pieces employ bamboo differently and vary in their expression, but his masterly integration of the two materials and superior technique are bound to make his baskets one of the main attractions when the ‘Loewe Baskets’ exhibition opens in Milan on 9 April. §