Dua Lipa’s worn it. Madonna’s worn it. Director Janicza Bravo and model Ella Emhoff have worn it, and it has whipped the street style set into a frenzy. I’m talking, of course, about Chopova Lowena’s enormous pleated taffeta skirt, attached by carabiners (yes, the mountain climbing clips) to a beefy leather belt.
These pleated wonders, made out of 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 a breathless few moments between show planning earlier this week, of the skirt’s virality. “I don’t understand it!”
“I don’t know how it happened, really,” adds Laura Lowena.
“It’s kind of a ‘classic,’ where it reminds you of a kilt, or a skirt that’s just kind of different,” Chopova suggests. “That’s a lot of what we like doing, actually. We like things that [you feel] you know what they look like, but we’re mixing up some of the elements.”
“I like that lots of people see different things in the skirts, as well,” adds Lowena. “The uniform-ness, a school girliness, or a kilt, or something really traditional.”
“It’s also full,” says Chopova. “Really, like loads of fabric, which feels luxurious.”
That mix of the strange and the luxurious 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, the fans feel, a sense of joy the clothes impart.“ On the walk over to the show venue, every stranger’s head snapped to look at my skirt and kids came up to tousle its pleats,” says Steff Yotka, a writer and editor who’s been a cheerleader for the brand since its launch. (She was even helping the women set up the show.) “Emma and Laura design from a place of warmth and soulfulness, it bleeds right into every garment. It’s tough and radical and pretty—a costume for the woman I want to be.”
Women indeed want to make a statement with their clothing, but so much of what is 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 an excellent fleece jacket—are the kind of thing you might forget you have on until a passerby grins at your wild outfit. And, crucially, the quality of the construction is impressive. The carabiners on a skirt I bought last year are kept neatly in place along the top of the taffeta by little pale pink rubber rings; the brand’s voluminous dresses, which appear tent-like on the hanger, reveal a subtle, 1940s-inspired columnal couture shape when slipped on the body.
What Chopova Lowena proposes instead is that keepsake clothes can be sources of riotous pleasure.
Chopova Lowena didn’t set out to make a luxury item, per se. “In the beginning, it was really challenging to even find someone to manufacture the clothes because they’re extremely complicated,” says Chopova. “And that was really hard in the beginning. I think we weren’t super obsessed with the quality, and we got lucky in a way that our factories were okay.” But the company quickly outgrew that setup, and when making their last collection, they decided to find a factory that might make the skirts, which retail between $800 and $1500, with more polish. “We want things to be made well. We want things to last, and especially the skirts. We’ve gone back and improved them.”
They obsess over the details of their pieces, like buttons, ribbons, and closures, to ensure they have as much manic sophistication as the rest of the item. “We don’t want to make clothes that are just throwaway clothing,” adds Lowena .
This is an exciting and aesthetically radical idea to hear. (Especially from designers based in London, where fast fashion has a chokehold on women’s wallets and minds.) Luxury has become too fixed in our minds as something subdued, muted, and minimalist. What Chopova Lowena proposes instead is that keepsake clothes, the kinds of pieces women swoon over now in vintage stores, can instead be sources of riotous pleasure. And if you look at what’s available on 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 larger ambitions than a lookbook might allow; and while their clothes already encourage movement, the designers tell me they’re exaggerating and elevating more of their details, and working in a rich narrative about the Bulgarian Rose Festival (Chopova was born in the United States, to Bulgarian parents, while Lowena is a United Kingdom native). From an industry point of view, it is notable that the designers have both a distinct sensibility—imparting happiness through things that women want to keep forever—and a design signature. Very few emerging designers have both, and it suggests they can build a sustainable business even without the backing or support of an appointment at a larger fashion house. Perhaps today’s show will bring a new swath of women their next keepsake.
Rachel Tashjian is the Fashion News Director at Harper’s Bazaarworking across print and digital platforms. Previously, she was GQ‘s first fashion critic, and worked as deputy editor of GARAGE and as a writer at Vanity Fair. She has written for publications including Bookforum and Artforumand is the creator of the invitation-only newsletter Opulent Tips.