Before showcasing his graduate collection in London, American designer Chet Lo had interned at renowned brands such as Proenza Schouler and Maison Margiela. This designer merges influences from Japanese Comics, the fifties, and Barbarella, creating a futuristic aesthetic and elegant yet enticing feminine shapes. He takes knitwear design to the 21st century by mixing vibrant colours, transparency, and unusual cuts using different types of technology and techniques. Having dressed people like actress and writer Michaela Coel, and musicians Lava la Rue and Raveena, Chet Lo is unstoppable, his unique contemporary take pushes the limits of what we think that knitwear is.
You studied Knitwear Design at Central Saint Martins. What fascinates you the most about knitwear?
The thing that I love about knitwear the most is the idea that it is so much math. It is a lot more complicated than people think. I love the juxtaposition of the idea of jumpers knitted by grandmas and this heritage concept but at the same time, there is this element of technology and mathematics behind everything. It gets really interesting, and you can work the way that people perceive it. So, it's no longer just a normal jumper.
Everyone thinks knitwear is an Argyle or cable knit jumper. That's not what it solely is because it can be something completely crazy as well. If you learn everything about the techniques, anything you couldn't think of before is possible to engineer. I’m really excited about that.
You are originally from New York, why did you choose to leave your hometown and study in London?
Honestly, because New York is so expensive. The schools in London are so much cheaper but, also, it was so much more prestigious and I appreciated the atmosphere in London a lot. I really resonated with the people who graduated there, especially from CSM. I thought it would be a good learning experience as well to go abroad and see what that life is like. Then, I fell in love with London and felt the need to stay here.
As you said before, knitwear often gets associated with heavy fabric and traditional cuts and shapes. How did you approach breaking these traditional perceptions?
When I was at university, I was really obsessed with crazy silhouettes, techniques, and just crazy things in general. These pieces were really unrelated to everyday wear and I just felt people weren't able to fully resonate with the garments. After I graduated, I looked at the things I made and really liked the techniques I used, but I wasn’t able to wear or use them because all I was thinking about was the final show and the concept.
I was very tired after graduating and I just wanted to be able to wear the clothes made. So, I designed myself a jumper and started playing around for a bit. After experimenting for some time, I thought I could sell some pieces or post them as a separate collection. Then, it all kind of whirl winded and avalanched itself. It was very bold and basically a big accident. I started selling it on my own website and it was doing quite well immediately. The reaction I got was a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be initially.
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Do you have a specific memory of your first encounter with the fashion world?
Project Runway literally changed my life. I was really young when that show came out and it was so dramatic and crazy. Obviously, the way they perceive fashion, and the way they broadcast is very different from what it is in real life. But I thought this is sick, I want to do this.
You've interned at Maison Margiela under John Galliano. A lot of design students dream of an internship like that. How did that experience influence your way of designing and working in general?
John is an incredible person to work around. He just spews energy and specifically creative energy wherever he goes. It was crazy and beautiful to watch this process. By watching the whole procedure, I learned a lot about how to design a collection, how a collection is conceived, and how the development from the initial idea evolves to a finished garment.
Plus, he wouldn't tell us the whole story at first, so we just got a part of it and watched. We were all so confused and didn’t really know what was going on, but we just went with it. Then, in the last week, all of a sudden, it all pieces together, and everything clicks. It was so genius. The set, the garments, the construction and the prints were all tied together and it was so beautiful in the way that it all melted. I'm very, very happy to be part of that experience.
Did you incorporate that appreciation of the process into your own work?
When I first started designing my graduate collection, I thought this is how my process should be, and I was very into that. I think only a selected kind of people are like that, and everyone works differently. Like I said before when I graduated, I had this beautiful, intellectual concept, and I did really complicated things. Then, all of a sudden, I just wanted to make clothes for myself. That aspect of wearability wasn't something that I appreciated before. I was always very concept-based and thought that was the most important part. I forgot that fashion is made for people to wear clothes at the end of the day. It just changed my perspective a little differently.
I tried to make my garments a bit more relatable to people in general. In that way, I guess the process changed slightly. I've definitely learned a lot about how to work from there creatively, but I've tried to turn it into a way that makes sense for me personally.
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Your graduate collection was called Cnidaria's Wife and was inspired by Japanese comics and the fifties. Can you explain a bit further what you wanted to express with your final project?
If you envision the future now, a lot of people say it will all end in doom and gloom. The world is going to end because of global warming, and other horrible things are happening all the time. But if you look at the way people perceived the future back in the fifties, they didn't realize the consequences of their actions. At the same time, there was such a romanticism within the perception of their future.
It's important to remain that mindset of keeping the hope alive because it's still possible to have this beautiful future for us. I love the idea of romanticism from that era, so I kind of juxtaposed the old and the new. I had the idea of old silhouettes and old perceptions, but with new techniques and new modern textiles.
What differentiates Cnidaria's Wife from your other collection Second generation?
I think Cnidaria's Wife was very playful, crazy and free. At university, I was kind of working in a bubble and super protected. So, I figured the collections I make now are much more relevant because it’s so important to me to make clothes people are actually going to wear.
I think it’s that element of the real-world kicking in. But I love that, I feel like it's maturity for me.
One of your signature characteristics is the spiky knit featured in most of your pieces. Your inspiration came from the durian fruit. Why did you choose the shape of a fruit as one of the main characteristics?
Personally, I hate durian. It's one of those things that people either love or hate. Since my second year, I was developing this technique I found. I was obsessed with it, but I didn't know what I was going to do with it because it was really difficult. Then, I found this yarn called monofilament, which was hard to work with as well. The thinness is similar to fishing wire, but I thought, why not take the hardest yarn you can use and the most difficult technique that I can think of and mix the two together.
After I was finished, everyone said it reminds them of a weird alien fruit, which I immediately associated with durian. In the end, durian was so apropos because it's got such deep roots in Asian cultures, and I really wanted to express and relate to my own culture. So, I thought it was a perfect mix.
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Your designs are very futuristic and playful, yet elegant and seductive, which contrasts with the current demand for loungewear due to the current situation. Do you think fashion will change towards a more bold and experimental direction regarding transparency, shapes, colours, and cuts after the pandemic ends?
I freaking hope so. I've always designed very sexy clothes in my head because that's the way I like to dress as well. A lot of the clothes I designed I would wear myself. Hopefully, when people are allowed to go out again, it would be amazing for them to wear very sexy clothes and go out clubbing because I know I will. Everyone is itching to go out, and everyone's itching to do more things once the pandemic is resolved. Hopefully, there will be an uptick in this kind of attire.
As a designer, it is crucial to network and showcase your pieces. How do you approach that during a pandemic?
I’m not sure if it’s really important; I think it’s important if you want to. I’ve always been very proud of my work and I’ve always wanted to show people as soon as I finished it. With a pandemic, I think it’s been easier since there’s nothing to do and you can take a lot more images all the time, especially if you have flatmates. I’m definitely a fan of the iPhone camera aesthetic as well.
Your pieces are seen on Michaela Coel, Lava la Rue and Raveena. How does it make you feel seeing these female role models wearing your designs?
I wanted to cry when I saw it. Michaela Coel is one of the most talented, multi-hyphenate women that I've seen. She is writing and directing her own beautiful story. It was one of the most powerful things I've ever watched. It’s such a relatable story to everybody in such a horrible yet beautiful way. It makes me so happy that there is a picture of her wearing my garments. She was the first person to wear it as well. I just couldn’t believe it because I've been watching her since she was doing Chewing Gum.
Also, I've been obsessed with Raveena and her music since I was a child. I remember I was listening to her album on repeat for maybe four months way before I even graduated. This was probably in the second year. Her music was the only thing that could really calm me down. To see her wearing my clothes was so crazy. When I saw the first picture, I dropped my phone and started screaming. She's also an Asian American singer, and in my opinion, representation is so important, and she was doing it. I was just very, very happy about all of that.
As a young upcoming designer, you have already achieved a lot. What are your goals for the future?
As I said before, this was all a happy accident. You can have plans for the future, but in the end, I just try to be very content with whatever comes my way. I have some things cooking at the moment, but I can’t talk about it yet. We'll see.
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