Dua Lipa wore it. Madonna is wearing it. Filmmaker Janicza Bravo and model Ella Emhoff wore it, and it ignited street style into a frenzy. I’m referring, of course, to Chopova Lowena’s giant pleated taffeta skirt, attached by carabiners (yes, mountain climbing clips) to a thick leather strap.
These pleated wonders, made from recycled taffeta, are the foundation of the London-based brand, which will stage its first runway show on Friday, the second day of London Fashion Week. “It’s so weird!” says Emma Chopova, speaking in breathless moments between planning the show earlier this week, about the skirt’s virality. “I don’t understand it!”
“I don’t know how it happened, really,” adds Laura Lowena.
“It’s kind of ‘classic’, where it reminds you of a dress or a skirt that’s just plain KIND differently”, suggests Chopova. “That’s a lot of what we like to do, actually. We like things that [you feel] you know what they look like, but we’re messing up some of the elements.”
“I like that a lot of people see different things in skirts too,” adds Lowena. “Uniform, a school girl, or a dress, or something really traditional.”
“It is too full“, says Çopova. “Really like the loads of fabric, which feels luxurious.”
This mix of whimsy and luxury is at the heart of what makes the brand so appealing to such a diverse group of women (plus Harry Styles). But there is also a sense of joy, as fans feel, with the clothes. “On the walk to the venue, every stranger popped their head to see my skirt and kids came up to stroke his pleats,” says Steff Yotka, a writer and editor who has been a cheerleader for the brand since its beginning. (She was even helping the women organize the show.) “Emma and Laura design from a place of warmth and soulfulness that bleeds into every garment. It’s fierce, radical and beautiful – a suit for the woman I want to be.”
Women really want to make a statement with their clothing, but a lot of what’s available to pull that lever is difficult to wear or, frankly, looks cheap. Chopova Lowena’s dresses and skirts—their hero products, though they also produce colorful leggings and a great fleece jacket—are the kind of thing you might forget you’re wearing until a passerby smiles at your outrageous outfit. And, most importantly, the build quality is impressive. The carabiners of a skirt I bought last year are held neatly in place along the top of the taffeta by tiny pale pink rubber rings; The brand’s voluminous dresses, which look like tents on hangers, reveal a subtle 1940s-inspired column-style shape as they slide down the body.
What Chopova Lowena proposes instead is that commemorative clothes can be a source of turbulent pleasure.
Chopova Lowena did not try to make a luxury item, per se. “In the beginning, it was really challenging to find someone to make the clothes because they are extremely complicated,” says Chopova. “And that was really hard at first. I think we weren’t too obsessed with quality and we were lucky in a way that our factories were OK.” But the company quickly outgrew that setup, and when they made their latest collection, they decided to find a factory that could make the skirts, which retail between $800 and $1,500, with more polish. “We they want things are done well. We want things to last, and especially skirts. We’ve gone back and improved them.”
They obsess over the details of their pieces, like buttons, straps and closures, to make sure they have as much manic sophistication as the rest of the item. “We don’t want to make clothes that are just throwaways,” adds Lowena.
This is an exciting and aesthetically radical idea to hear. (Especially from London-based designers, where fast fashion has a hold on women’s wallets and minds.) Luxury has become too fixed in our minds as subdued, muted, and minimalist. What Chopova Lowena proposes instead is that keepsake clothes, the kinds of pieces that women now shun in vintage stores, can be a source of tumultuous pleasure. And if you look at what’s available at 1stDibs or Vestaire, or agenda-setting vintage stores like James Veloria and Lily et Cie, it’s the expressive statement pieces that historically become collectible.
A runway debut is always a signal that a brand has bigger ambitions than a lookbook might allow; and while their clothes already encourage movement, the designers tell me they’re exaggerating and elevating their details more and working on a rich narrative for the Bulgarian Rose Festival (Chopova was born in the United States, to Bulgarian parents , while Lowena is a native of the United Kingdom). From an industry point of view, it is noted that designers have a special sensibility – giving happiness through things that women want to keep forever – and a design signature. Very few emerging designers have both, and this suggests that they can build a sustainable business even without the support or backing of an appointment at a larger fashion house. Perhaps today’s show will bring a new batch of women, their next memory.
Rachel Tashjian is the Fashion News Director at Harper’s Bazaar, working across print and digital platforms. Before, she was GQthe first fashion critic and worked as deputy editor of GARAGE and as a writer in Vanity Fair. She has written for publications including Book Forum AND Artforumand is the creator of the invitation-only Wealthy Tips newsletter.