Achieving viral success and maintaining relevance in an oversaturated landscape like fashion is more often than not a struggle. Hype usually fizzles out as quickly as it starts. And in an industry where flash in the pan success stories are plenty, London-based, New York-born designer Chet Lo’s rapid ascent and career trajectory is an optimistic anomaly.
Lo rose to prominence in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. The fresh graduate from Central Saint Martins released a line of acid-coloured, rave-inspired sweaters constructed from an eye-catching spiky knit textile—now a signature of his eponymous line—to immediate fanfare. Lo’s work was quickly picked up by Fashion East, a prominent talent incubator in London for emerging designers and a cult following which counts celebrities such as SZA and Doja Cat as fans developed soon after. Today, he is widely recognised as a rising star in the London fashion circuit, having been announced as a recipient of the British Fashion Council (BFC) NewGen initiative.
We meet in Hong Kong, a city dear to Lo’s heart and where his family emigrated from, to discuss his latest venture: a six piece capsule collection with Singaporean accessories brand Charles & Keith that sees Lo translating his eclectic and sensual brand of cool through three shoe styles, two bags and a headband. Six of Charles & Keith’s most popular styles have been reimagined in an iteration of Lo’s signature spiky knit textile and each comes in black, fuschia and red. The collection drops officially on 15 January on Charles & Keith’s and Chet Lo’s respective e-commerce sites, offering a chic and fashion forward proposition for the upcoming Chinese New Year. Charles & Keith will also carry a selection of Lo’s pieces from his spring/summer 2024 collection online in tandem, allowing shoppers to purchase a full Chet Lo look easily.
Here, Lo talks about his start in fashion, how this collaboration marks a shift towards growth and expansion as well as what’s next for his brand.
What first piqued your interest in fashion?
When I was a kid I wanted to be an artist, ballet dancer, musician—basically anything that had a role in the arts. I was obsessed with Project Runway, so I told my mum that I wanted to be a fashion designer and she took me to all these pre-college courses at Parsons and FIT. After that, I discovered Central Saint Martins and decided to move to London, pursue a career there, and then accidentally started my own brand. Things just took off from there.
Given that you’re from New York, which is also incredible for fashion, what drew you to London?
Yes, it definitely is. And I’m from there, so I should love it. I think it’s one of those things where when you’re from the city, you just don’t appreciate it as much as you should. I got too used to New York. And it’s a little too hectic for me. There’s such a nice rebellious culture and spirit that you see in creatives in London. London also champions young designers. You can’t really find the kind of support you’d receive in London anywhere else in the world. It’s my home for now.
Why did you decide to start your own brand?
Accident—pure accident! I didn’t mean for it to happen. When I was in university, I promised myself that I’d never start my own brand. I wanted to work in a big fashion house, make all the money I could and then cash out. But the pandemic happened and there were no job prospects. I needed to make rent so I started posting about my jumpers from my final collection. And things blew up. It was picked up by magazines and then SZA and Doja Cat were wearing it. I was also working at Burberry at that point and would come home, knit, and work seven days a week. Eventually I decided I had to start my own brand.
“I also love that spikes can mean so many different things. It could refer to durians or an armour.”
How did the 3D, spiky knit that you’ve become so well known for come about?
When I was in university, I discovered this technique in a really old knitting book for grandmothers. And so I perfected it. It takes a lot of math and now we use a yarn that is thinner than hair to structuralise the fabric. Everything is integrally knitted so the spikes come off the machine and you can wash it with no issues. I also love that spikes can mean so many different things. It could refer to durians, which is culturally so significant for me. At the same time, it could also refer to armour and protecting yourself. So the accident became my signature.
How have your references changed as you’ve grown your brand?
I’ve grown up in that span of time. I’m now 26, although I look 30 and feel 50! I was young and dumb when I first started out and excited about everything and you can see it in the collections–everything was so colourful. I’m not so naive about the world anymore and now I want to convey something more important to people. I’ve touched on things like my Buddhist upbringing, my depression and Asian representation in pornography. There are so many different things I want to say with my work aside from making people look chic. My work has changed aesthetically too–things have gotten darker, more mature and more palatable too into an actual wardrobe. I’m very, very happy with where I’ve gotten to at this point.
How did this collaboration with Charles & Keith come about?
Charles & Keith have been really supportive over the past two to three seasons with accessories for my runway collections, so when they approached me about doing a capsule, it felt very organic. It was like a match made in heaven to be able to collaborate with an Asian brand. I am Chinese but I grew up in America and there’s so much to learn about the Asian market. I got to connect more with my Asian heritage too in the process which is an important aspect of my work.
Tell us more about the eventual line up of products.
I envisioned a shoe for everybody, essentially. There’s an elegant slingback pump that you could wear on a night out, a platform clog for when you want to do something more casual and a really cute ballet flat for maybe a first date. I pictured these different moments, which is why we’ve done three very different styles. Then you have a cute handbag with a metal handle or a normal carry on with a detachable spiky chain and a cute, edgy headband. I thought a lot about the customer and about their life.
What was the ideation process like with Charles & Keith?
It was super quick. I think we started discussing this collaboration immediately after the spring/summer 2024 show. So we’ve been working on this since March 2023. And I knew exactly what I wanted with the fabrics and the spiked block heel of the pump and wanting it to be translucent. So we were able to achieve this because it was such an easy collaboration. Nothing felt forced.
Is the spiky knit in this collaboration different from your main line?
Yes, it’s slightly different in the way it was produced. It’s a lot stiffer and better suited for accessories. The fabrics in our main line are softer and more stretchy.
Is the colour palette significant in any way?
I wanted to touch on where I’ve been and where I would like to go if that makes sense. With the bright pink, you have a reflection of who I was with that raver-girl aesthetic I started with. Black is my go-to colour now. And there is also this beautiful red which connects to my Asian heritage. We are also launching coincidentally in time for Chinese New Year, so the colours were very much considered.
How is this collaboration significant to the growth of your brand?
I want to reach as many different people as possible and make a difference. I understand that we sell our product at a certain price point, but it’s not because we want to be a luxury brand. Chet Lo is a small brand and we don’t have the facilities to mass produce and offer our pieces at accessible price points for a lot of people. I want to be in as many people’s wardrobes as possible. And make them feel chic and sexy.
What can we expect from Chet Lo in the next five years?
More shoes, more bags, more spiky balls–I might start a demolition company. I definitely want to infiltrate people’s lives a bit more. I’m redecorating my home right now. So homeware is something that I really want to go into as well. And I think there are a lot of different areas of art and design that I’d love to break into. So a lot is going to be happening in the next five years.