To a concrete skatepark under the Westway for Chopova Lowena’s sophomore show, on a balmy Friday night one year on from a runway debut that many dubbed the highlight of London’s spring 2023 schedule. The duo behind the brand, Emma Chopova and Laura Lowena-Irons, could have been forgiven for feeling the nerves—expectations were running high after that joyful first outing. But these two are nothing if not prepared. Plus, as Chopova pointed out in a preview two days before the show: “It feels like maybe this collection is better than that one was, because we’ve grown or something.”
The designers took the eminently sensible decision at the outset to show on the runway once a year, in order to avoid the scenario that befell another of London’s bright young things, Dilara Findikoglu, earlier this week. Forced to cancel her presentation just days before it was scheduled to be staged, due to lack of funds, Findikoglu’s decision followed that of other buzzy talents Nensi Dojaka and S.S. Daley, both of whom opted out of showing this season. The British Fashion Council’s Caroline Rush cut to the chase: “I don’t think it has ever been more difficult to be an independent designer in London than it is at this moment.”
So: way to go, Chopova Lowena, a young brand stomping its way through a period of economic gloom, in a country severely hamstrung by the after-effects of Brexit and the pandemic, with good humour, common sense, and clever ideas. As the amount of CL-clad fans in the audience attested, this is a label that connects with its diverse, discerning audience. They found much to whoop about here, with a collection that blended Chopova Lowena’s weakness for folkloric whimsy with a streetwise swagger. Extra spice came courtesy of the casting, which took in friends, colleagues, acquaintances, plus mothers and brothers and boyfriends, resulting in a compelling line-up of characters you simply couldn’t take your eyes off.
The designers had chosen the skatepark as an homage to the “skater boy you love” (that’s Bulgaria-born, New Jersey-raised Chopova) “or the boy you want to be” (Somerset-raised tomboy Lowena-Irons). Tony Hawk made his presence felt in plaid pajama pants, graphic zip-up hoodies, board shorts and studded Ugg boots, part of a collaboration with the Aussie brand. The rest referenced the ancient Flora Day festival, held every May in the village of Helston in Cornwall, on England’s wild south-west coast. Comprising numerous processions and dances, including mermaids and maidens, angels and devils (this reporter was sat in the ‘Devil Girl Block,’ which makes a change from ‘Block C’), it manifested in hand-embroidered broderie anglaise dresses, thick leather belts and a pair of knickers adorned with hundreds of beads and charms, and a particularly fabulous jacket made of white crispy ribbons like those you’d see on draped across a wedding car.
Chopova and Lowena-Irons also took the opportunity to launch shoes and bags, produced in Portugal and Italy respectively, while the rest of their production continues apace in Bulgaria. The best was bowling bag shaped, with designated pockets for a comb, a notebook, a credit card, a house key, and a nail file, “so you can write down your thoughts, then brush your hair with a seahorse-shaped brush,” giggled Lowena-Irons. “We liked the survivalist girl handbag situation!”
Survivalism is an apt sentiment to tap into, faced with an industry increasingly dominated by megabrands with seemingly less and less space for independents. What do they struggle with most as young designers? “You have to do so many jobs—no one prepares you for that,” said Chopova. “The pit of things you have to face, it’s just never-ending.” Still, they’re fired up for the future. “This is further down the line, but we want to do homeware, childrenswear, dogwear…” Chopova continued, while Lowena-Irons added: “And be able to live life!”
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This article was first published on Vogue.