The cult label’s SS23 show took inspiration from the traditional rose festival pageantry of the Bulgarian village of Kazanlak, and crossed it with the exhilarating climax of a lacrosse game
“Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”, wrote Gertrude Stein in the 1913 poem Sacred Emily. It’s a famous line tossed around by society and culture, which has lost some of its meaning – it’s Stein’s true philosophy that inspired Chopova Lowenaspring-summer 2023 collection and first LFW fashion show.
“Today we think the quote means letting things be what they are, but I think it’s more about the strength of an image,” says Emma Chopova, alongside by Laura Lowena Irons. The rose is imbued with personal weight, cultural significance and an immediate multi-sensory experience. “The rose was a defining image of the Romantic period, which through literature gave people a visual and a scent – it’s so powerful,” Chopova continues. “We interpreted that with a collection that shifts images, styles and silhouettes – in tailored and formal dresses that take you somewhere, skirts with hoodies, subtle juxtaposition and surprising textures.”
“Letting it be” wouldn’t really be Chopova Lowena’s way. Since graduating from CSM with their MA 2017 collection, they’ve built their eponymous label on an allegiance to Bulgarian ancestry and folk craftsmanship, staying true to sustainable sensibilities with carefully selected, upcycled fabrics. , in collaboration with Bulgarian craftsmen and craftswomen. All mixed with total punk recklessness. It earned them a LVMH award nomination, sold-out Matches races and fans of Doua Lipa at Harry Styles. The dramatic pleated skirt with punky carabiners in a kaleidoscope of color and pattern is a much-photographed signature style.
The Chopova Lowena aesthetic is grounded in a playful mishmash of tradition and sport, with previous collections fusing medieval attire with ice hockey. SS23 finds us in the middle of the Bulgarian village pageantry of the traditional Kazanlak Rose Festival, and at the climax of a lacrosse match. “It was important for us to go back to our roots when we hit the track,” says Chopova. “The Rose Festival is all about its beauty and abundance. They name a pink queen and have a parade all over town in these clingy pink ballgowns.
“We’ve researched traditions and costumes over the years,” says Lowena-Irons. “We incorporated more textiles – even more than usual! – in new categories, such as denim and tailoring. I’m so excited for people to see our whole world in one place at once, its movement.
Personal stories run through the collection – the denim is inspired by Chopova’s parents’ experience under communism, buying jeans on ‘the black market in the back streets of Sofia’. The show is dedicated to Chopova’s two grandmothers, Emilia Minkova Ioveva and Antoaneta Kostova Shopova, who died recently.
“Sport inspires the vibe of the collection: the intensity of a schoolgirl, the primal competitiveness on a court,” adds Lowena-Irons.
We speak two days before the show at their studio in Deptford, south London, a ventricle of clothes rails. There are the wind-whipping kilts, the rose and swan clip buckles, the arcade machine charms and rattling carabiner clips, the pastoral and dense tapestry fabrics, the daisy-knit jerseys and the wedding dresses. ball in taffeta spray painted with doodles, denim flocked with roses and braided in chain, a fil coupé skirt that spells “CL” in Bulgarian. Sumptuous pinks and lacy bridal whites rub shoulders with Hot Topic-fuschias, reds, blacks. An accessories table features rows of reflective sunglasses reminiscent of lacrosse goggles, garland pocket shoes and macrame bags tied with healing crystals.
There’s a frenetic interplay of heritage and modernity, a sly take on uniforms from ballgown to sportswear, punctuated with the angst and rebellion of the teenagers they themselves knew well growing up in the 2000s as self-proclaimed “outsiders”. “That mood collides with the highs of a lacrosse game and the sticky pageantry is really exciting,” says Lowena-Irons.
The duo fizzes with apprehension, but there is also a sense of calm and assurance – all despite the hasty postponement, following the death of the British queen. We sit in the studio chatting, a cakestand of wobbly, colorful cakes on the table and Chopova’s gray-and-black spotted pug Jello tucked into the folds of Lowena-Irons’ skirt.
“We’re really lucky to have the team around us,” Lowena-Irons said. They credit casting director Sarah Small with bringing diversity to their street performers and well-known role models, including Lowena-Irons’ brother Harvey, designer and CSM mentor Louise Gray, artist Maggie Dunlap, and jeweler and collaborator SS21 Georgina Kemball. “It was important for us to have people walking on our show who have been there for us from the beginning, who have helped shape our identity. They all bring their own character and movement.
As the brand expands – from children’s clothing to more genderless designs – it is keen to remain both innovative and sustainable. “It’s hard to scale with dead animal tissue, truth be told,” Chopova says.
“And denim is notoriously polluting, indigo dye is the worst,” adds Lowena-Irons. The collection includes raw and vintage denim, as well as unsold fabrics purchased by Chopova’s mother – now a full-time employee – with connections on Bulgarian markets and auction sites. Rare fabrics sourced some time ago will make their debut.
Likewise, Chopova Lowena is committed to a customer who transcends gender, size and age. “It was so cool to see all kinds of people buying our clothes and incorporating it into their own sense of style. It’s so personal to us, so seeing how people relate to it is touching,” says Lowena-Irons . “We design for personalities more than anything.
“The only thing that differs when designing for different genders and bodies is the shape,” says Chopova. “We may be limited by retailer categories, but even that has changed so much since we started.”
The commitment to unity and community shines even more at night, which takes place in West London’s Porchester Hall – “it’s dark, David Lynch vibes, lots of fun”, says Lowena- Let’s go. The brand’s kilts and aprons are all the rage. It is an empyrean and ecstatic beginning. The models trample the labyrinthine track with the intensity of athletes ready to intimidate their opponents, to a soundtrack of Bulgarian choirs, death metal and lacrosse game dialogue and chants. The delectable details of each brooch, button and garland catch the light, the carabiners click a happy jingle.
“I really want to do this for we – I want us to have our dream fashion show,” Chopova says. “We’re so happy with the narrative we’re building.”
“We have the ability to have total control, and you don’t always get that,” Lowena-Irons says. “It’s a time where we have to curate and create the experience exactly how we want it.”
And where next – dog clothes? “If Jello can hold still!”
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