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SPOTLIGHT ON… Chopova Lowena

The label’s unique handmade kilts have garnered a fervent following from fashion insiders. The Style Report meets the design duo to talk about their new pieces, exclusive to MATCHESFASHION.COM.

Words by Lauren Milligan.
Photographs by Trent McMinn. Fashion by Alessia Simpson.

‘It had only been done once before us, by Marques’Almeida,’ Emma Chopova explains of her decision – taken with Laura Lowena – to study for their Central Saint Martins MA in fashion as a duo. ‘We thought that we’d have to really fight for it, but actually CSM were alright with us doing it… Marques’Almeida were the pioneers! Even in the BA, when we were separate, we worked together in the same way. I don’t know how other duos work, but that constant filtering of ideas, feeding off another person, is what works for us.’

Over the course of their studies and in the two short years since their graduation, the duo have found a comfortable way of coexisting creatively; dividing duties that make the most of their skills and challenging each other to take ideas to the next level – all approached with a friendly spirit of collaboration and contradiction.

‘When we were on the MA together, we’d show up with a stack of research that didn’t make sense, and our tutor advised us to put our images side by side and try to match it up as if it’s having a conversation – and that’s how we start everything now,’ Chopova explains. ‘Rather than trying to make one thing out of two people, it makes so much more sense to actually have two things and put them together.’

Emma Breschi, model and activist

'The creative result of this is a visual melting pot of old and new, serious and funny, pop culture and obscure: think traditional Bulgarian national dress – inspired by Chopova’s Bulgarian roots – meets 1980s rock climbing; or Surva (an ancient Bulgarian winter folk festival where locals dress as monsters to ward away evil spirits and encourage a bountiful harvest) meets wrestling culture. Practically, there is another advantage of the power of two.'

‘Emma does a lot of the draping and drawing, whereas I do collaging, more flat patterns, the jackets and tailoring pieces,’ says Lowena. ‘We’ll design everything together and go back and forwards and figure out what we like from both. We do divide and conquer, and in doing that it’s just smarter to play to each other’s strengths.’

Playing to these strengths is perhaps most obvious when it comes to sourcing the fabrics used to construct their signature handmade kilts: ‘I have this Bulgarian messenger app, which is sort of a cross between eBay and WhatsApp, and that’s where I source all the fabrics,’ Chopova explains. ‘I receive pictures all the time of fabrics that have been found in house clearances or unearthed somewhere and I buy them direct. Luckily I do speak Bulgarian!’

Natalie Kingham, fashion and buying director, MATCHESFASHION.COM

Chopova Lowena’s designs are such an easy statement piece to wear,’ says Natalie Kingham, MATCHESFASHION.COM’s fashion and buying director. ‘The uniqueness of the traditional upcycled fabrics brings something special to your wardrobe to wear all day to night. I wear mine with the simplest pieces – just a plain shirt or sweater – and the mix of folk with a sportswear edge just feels so fresh and modern.’

Kingham is not the duo’s only fashion-industry fan; a host of stylish bloggers and editors have also been won over by the label’s unique aesthetic. ‘On the surface of it, they’re not what you’d call commercial, but I think there’s a real return to that desire for pieces that have a touch of the hand,’ says Susie Lau, writer and founder of blog Style Bubble. ‘They’re traditional but modern at the same time. I’ve worn mine with quite full-on pieces, so it plays up the patchwork aspect of the skirts, but other times I’d wear it with a black polo neck or just a plain body.’

The designers have worked to build a loyal group of creatives who make their pieces – from a factory in Bulgaria, where it has taken two years to train artisans how to build the intricate leather belt and carabiner-fastened kilts, to Chopova’s mother, who has learned how to encase pressed flowers in clear resin to make the keyrings that adorn the pieces. ‘We like to work with the people who have the skills within local communities,’ Lowena explains. ‘This season we’re looking at sourcing more fabrics from Britain – lots of checks and tartans from Scotland, and beautiful embroidered cottons from England.’

Emma Chopova (left) and Laura Lowena

This thoughtful approach to production – teamed with the upcycled aspect of the fabric – has seen the brand lauded for its conscious approach. ‘I think young designers now have to be very aware of it. We are the generation that really has to change and really slow down the industry,’ Lowena adds. ‘We want to make clothes, but we can do that by reusing fabrics that already exist.’

‘I’m really into sustainable fashion and I love to see people who are doing interesting things and approaching things differently,’ says model and activist Emma Breschi. ‘What they teach us about sustainability by sourcing these amazing fabrics is that if you’re a talented designer you can make something beautiful out of anything. If a small brand like this can be sustainable and still make their brand work, then all luxury houses can learn from that. Quality is what luxury is about.’

Writer Susie Lau



The Style Report
The Style Report