Emma Chopova and Laura Lowena love doing things in “a bit of an outsider way.”
The duo behind their namesake fashion label Chopova Lowena has made quite a name for themselves over the past few years, dressing some of the biggest stars of our time, including Dua Lipa, Olivia Rodrigo, and Harry Styles in their colorful, folkloric pleated skirts inspired by their shared Bulgarian heritage.
And they’ve never even staged a fashion show.
When the brand was shortlisted for the 2020 edition of the LVMH Prize for Young Designers, the pair told WWD they were more interested in presenting the brand with alternative forms of presentation, instead of “the old boring method” of doing a show.
With regard to that statement, Lowena confessed that at that time they simply “couldn’t afford to do a show.”
Unlike many of the brand’s fellow London designers who launched their careers with the help of talent support schemes like Fashion East and Newgen, Chopova Lowena was overlooked from the very beginning, despite applying for those programs multiple times.
“I do think those platforms do support brands. It’s just not our experience,” Chopova said. “I think it’s good for younger people coming into the industry to understand that there are so many different ways you can do it. We were really hard on ourselves when we didn’t get those platforms, and we just persevered and found our own way and it is working for us.”
The turning point came in 2018, one year after they both graduated from Central Saint Martins, they received a 30-piece order from Matchesfashion, which saved them from winding up the brand.
Now, the brand is selling to more than 60 stockists worldwide, including Ssense, Nordstrom, Dover Street Market, LN-CC, and 10 Corso Como, and its output tripled in the past year, according to Chopova.
While the industry offered little help at the beginning, their family members stepped in and provided much-needed professional advice on business management, bookkeeping and sourcing.
“We were extremely lucky because we were in the perfect situation where both of our parents had sort of retired,” Lowena said. “Laura’s mom used to run small family businesses and my dad was in big businesses throughout his career. So both of them had amazing insight, and can help us with all of that stuff that you just don’t know how to do.”
Chopova added that “It’s really hard to understand when you’re taught for seven years on fashion design and you’re suddenly thrown into numbers and cash flows. The truth is that when you’re young, it’s hard to trust people with that kind of thing because not everyone always has your best interest. And family definitely does.”
With a stabilizing financial situation, the brand is set to make its runway debut and present its spring 2023 collection at Porchester Hall near Paddington Station on Friday at 8 p.m, which is four days earlier than originally planned. As reported, all shows happening on the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral Monday had to be rearranged, according to the British Fashion Council.
“Thanks to your amazing PR on busting their butts trying to secure a slot for us as soon as they heard about the arrangement,” Chopova said, adding she was grateful that the venue was kind enough to not charge them extra for moving dates.
The new collection, titled, “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose,” which is a quote from a Gertrude Stein poem, will be a celebration of their Bulgarian roots.
“It’s about the Rose Festival, which is from the part of Bulgaria where my ancestry is from and it’s a festival to celebrate the rose and the beauty of the rose,” explained Lowena, who grew up in Somerset, England. “Every year a rose queen from the town is nominated. So it’s about the tackiness and the beauty, and the pink and the straightforward kind of references of that.
“Also, the traditional references of Bulgarian traditional folklore and other Bulgarian things that come from my side, like the denim are inspired by how hard it was for my parents to own jeans, as it was illegal during the Communist era,” Lowena added.
There will also be a sporty side to the collection, Chopova interjected, which will feed into the mood of the collection.
“We mic’d up lacrosse players over the top of Bulgarian folkloric music and metal. So it’s gonna be intense music. And there’s a lot of sportswear and uniform references. We have these knitted tinsel lacrosse jerseys and lacrosse stick bags,” said Chopova, who was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, and who had lived in New Jersey from the age of seven.
The new collection will showcase a much broader offering beyond the brand’s signature skirts. There will be “attention-grabbing fun clothes,” but also tailored pieces for formal occasions, as the pair found out from engaging with their online community that Chopova Lowena is speaking to a much wider range of people, transcending age and gender, than it had anticipated.
The founders first met in 2011 when they were studying for bachelor’s degrees in womenswear design at Central Saint Martins, and they soon become close friends because they were the only two in the class who lived in South London at the time.
“I lived in Peckham, and she lived in Brockley. And we traveled south together. We would get on the train at 10 o’clock at night together going back home from King’s Cross,” Lowena recalled.
“Further into our relationship, we realized that we work together really well. At the end of our BA, we couldn’t alone produce collections we were happy with because it was just too one-directional. It wasn’t interesting enough on its own. When we come together, we know how to balance things out,” Chopova said.
In 2015, the two applied for a joint master’s degree in fashion design at Central Saint Martins.
Chopova still remembered the day they went for a chat with Fabio Piras, course director of MA Fashion at Central St Martins.
“He grilled us to the point of like ‘is this something you really thought about?’ Or is this like ‘we’re best friends and we want to make clothes together.’ He also asked ‘what will the future of the business look like,’ and ‘you’re gonna get one degree where you make a collection together. Are you going to be OK with that?’ And we’re like, ‘We’ve thought about it. This is what we want to do.’ And then we left and then we got an acceptance letter and that was it,” she added.
Olya Kuryshchuk, founder and editor in chief of 1 Granary, who has known the Chopova and Lowena for almost a decade and who has been consulting the brand from the very beginning, said she is glad to witness the duo growing into “brilliant businesswomen whilst being undeniably visionary designers.”
“They put in the time and hard work to perfect their products and develop a design language. They are also working with the same people since Day One and never stopped being hungry for their feedback,” said Kuryshchuk. “When everyone around them could not believe they can make a business out of such a distinct product and aesthetic, they had the confidence and intelligence to go ahead, take on advice and bravely take hard decisions to build a healthy company. The fact that this is their first show says so much about who Chopova Lowena are and how they are carving their own path.”