If the word knitwear conjures up images of braided cable knit sweaters or DIY granny-chic cardigans for you, fashion designer Chet Lo completely flips this script. His pieces are sexy and intriguing with a hint of extraterrestrial energy. Spike-like details emerge from his garments like mountainous terrain on Mars and they come in an explosion of colors like neon yellow, watermelon hues, and cerulean blue. His clothes are rooted in wearable fantasy. They’re for the fashion adventurers, the individualists — the Hunter Schafers of the world.
“I would die if she and that whole cast of powerful women — Alexa Demie, Barbie Ferreira — [wore my designs],” he says over the phone. “The Chet Lo dresser is this really powerful, androgynous, super sexy person. I want them to feel absolutely hot [in my pieces]. I want them to be like, ‘Yeah, I’m wearing spikes and what about it?’ Then go to the bar and sit down for a drink while being their best self.”
The emerging designer developed this distinctive 3D aesthetic while he was a student at the prestigious London art school in 2015: Central Saint Martins. After internships at Maison Margiela and Proenza Schouler, Lo debuted his graduate collection titled “Cnidarias Wife,” featuring his now trademark spikes. “I was scrounging through all these old knit books for inspiration and then I found a really difficult technique, which was super mathematical and annoying to figure out. I decided to use this technique with the most difficult type of yarn I could find, which was a fine, almost hair-like yarn, to knit with,” he recalls. “I meshed the two different things together and the result was something I really loved. That’s kind of how this all got started.”
I remark that the lineup was very alien meets mer-people meets night club vibes, to which Lo responds: “Exactly. I was inspired by the ‘50s, kind of like The Jetsons, mixed with a super futuristic sci-fi world that they were set in.” His silhouettes were also a nod to the look of debutante ball gowns, hence the hip-protruding proportions and shoulder bows. The clothes looked like they were bathed under a technicolor disco ball.
Looking back, Lo admits that this collection went in many directions and that upon revisiting his early work, he said to himself: “Wait a minute, [I need to] calm the sh*t down.” Still, the presentation contained prototypes of what would eventually become his brand’s design DNA. In his “2nd generation” collection — which Lo created during lockdown in 2020 — crop tops, miniskirts, strapless dresses, and elbow gloves all received the same 3D texture treatment. Lo continued his use of vibrant hues via a color palette of fuchsia pink, brilliant violets, and grape juice purple.
This time, however, instead of looking to the ‘50s for inspiration, he dug deeper to draw from his own childhood and Asian American identity. (Lo is Chinese — his mother is from Shanghai while his father is from Hong Kong.) He cites his love for anime, in particular the ‘90s dystopian series Neon Genesis Evangelion and Ghost in Shell, for the robot-looking aesthetic in “2nd generation.” His socks and tights were named “Durian” — a nod to the contentious prickly shell Southeast Asian fruit that when cut open, releases a pungent smell.
“When I was making [the spikes], I was like ‘oh my god, this reminds me of durian,’ he says. “My mother is obsessed with durian and she even eats the ice cream version of it. This coupled with all the references to anime was my [way of incorporating an] Asian aesthetic [into my clothes].” The desire to represent, and celebrate, his heritage in “2nd generation” and in his following Spring 2022 “Splash” collection stemmed from Lo feeling othered while growing up, coupled with all the social unrest over the past years.
“Being surrounded by a white-orientated society, it really got to my head as a kid. You feel so insecure about yourself,” Lo shares. “Then in high school, I walked for the Black Lives Matter movement and that changed my life. It was so amazing to be around so many POCs [and seeing the community join together] made me feel validated. Like, ‘you know what, f*ck all the [naysayers], I am great.’ It was so powerful for me to witness that and it really helped me grow up,” he says.
This message of “be yourself and don’t apologize for it” is quite literally reflected in his sui generis knitwear via the spiky design and bright colors. You can’t help but feel bold in Lo’s creations. His expressive pieces have struck a cord with Hollywood’s free-spirits, too — Willow Smith, Kylie Jenner, and SZA have all worn his clothes.
The activism Lo experienced in high school would later come back into play once he launched his eponymous label in August 2020. After his mom experienced Anti-Asian hate in New York City during quarantine, Lo wanted to transform the helplessness he felt into action. He raffled off his Nirvana Gradient dress to generate money for Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that tracks incidents of hate and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. “As I was writing the Instagram caption, I was weeping because I was trying to tell the story of my mom and how important [this raffle] was. The fact that she couldn’t take the train or walk in the streets without feeling safe was hard on me emotionally,” he recalls.
When Lo discusses his future knitwear aesthetic, he stresses the importance of continuing to incorporate Asian elements into his collections. “I will always mix the different aesthetics of Western and Eastern cultures. This is my heritage and my history. I find it so rewarding,” he says. “I don’t like to create based off of something that doesn't relate to me at all, so this will always be my forever inspiration.” As for the 3D popcorn-esque detailing that first put his designs on the map? You can rest assured it will be a mainstay look in his future clothes and accessories. (Lo is working with Fashion East, a non-profit talent incubator that supports emerging designers, to refine and further explore this knitting technique.)
Look out for all the aforementioned details in Lo’s upcoming Fall/Winter 2022 collection, debuting during London Fashion Week. He’s currently busy working on the final touches to his lineup, which will be a strong nod to Asian culture, and catching up on the latest episode of Euphoria in his spare time. (Hunter Schafer, if you’re reading this, you need Lo’s fantastical knitwear.)
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