The designer duo inspired by Bulgarian folklore creates traditional garb for women who don’t care what you think.
Laura Lowena and Emma Chopova’s lives converged on their very first day at Central Saint Martins. While in school, jealousy and deep admiration for each other’s work fueled every garment until they decided to join forces to create their namesake brand, Chopova Lowena. Inspired by the traditional dress of both Laura’s english upbringing and Emma’s bulgarian heritage, their skirts, in particular, have become an instant classic. Their leather waisted kilts pierced with carabiners created a ripple through the fashion world. Document’s Senior Fashion Editor Shawn Lakin sat down with the duo while they discussed their inspiration; the archetypes of womanhood including craft, weaving, and traditional costumes juxtaposed, in an exclusive editorial, with the punk, goth, and alternative women of New York City.
Shawn Lakin—Congrats on the new campaign. It looks so good.
Shawn—Do you want to introduce yourselves to our readership?
Emma Chopova—So, we are a duo; we’re Laura Lowena and Emma Chopova. I’m originally Bulgarian but I grew up in New Jersey.
Laura Lowena—I’m Laura and I’m from the southwest of England.
Emma—We met on the BA at St. Martin’s when I started, and we did the MA as a duo, and that’s kind of how the brand started.
Shawn—Do you remember the day that you met?
Emma—Yeah, yeah, we talk about it all the time. It was—we were kind of the first ones that we spoke to on our first day in womenswear, when you kind of all gather around and wait for the tutor. So, we spoke, then it took us a little while to become really good friends, which we did and then, towards the end of the BA, we both really wanted to have brands, and we just liked exactly the same things and decided to apply to the MA together as a duo, which was a risky move since we’d never really worked together before, but it really worked out.
Shawn—And what was the commonality that made you guys want to work together?
Laura—We always were really inspired by each other’s work, and we’d always go to each other for advice when we got a bit stuck and our final project. When they would be lined up in the class, they would always look similar or look like they’re from the same collection.
Emma—A lot of similar references, or Laura would look at a lot of art and photography and I would look a lot of traditional dress or a lot of fashion references, and we would always be kind of jealous of each other’s research and like each other’s thing more. So, that’s kind of how it started, giving advice would be the first thing we would do, and then we would help each other to make our projects better. But we also really loved traditional dress; that was the kind of the thing we both loved and was a really big common interest.
Laura—As well as craft and textiles.
Shawn—Can you expand on what you mean by traditional dress?
Emma—Yeah, since I am from Bulgaria, I look to a lot of historic costumes from Bulgaria and Laura looks at a lot of English costumes and different—
Laura—Like weaving and smocking and knitting and different techniques that have been passed down through each of our heritages which ended up looking very stellar.
Emma—But also, we looked at a lot of Victorian research and English Victorian dress—we like the same thing in that way.
Shawn—So what would you say the ethos of your most recent collection is? Or the brand as a whole?
Emma—The brand as a whole, I think that we’re always really inspired by traditional dress. That is a common theme but in our new upcoming season, that we’re working on now, we’re slightly going away from Eastern Europe, but we still source all of our vintage textiles from Bulgaria, and traditional dress is still a very strong identity.
Laura—We did have the two things—
Emma—Yeah, we have two things: we have the traditional dress and we have the, sort of, sportswear reference to modernize the folklore element. So we pick a lot of offbeat, strange sports that have either interesting hardware or interesting fabric. Yeah, a lot of utilitarian sort of clothes.
Laura—They’re sort of like uniforms.
Shawn—What are the sports that you guys reference?
Emma—It changes every season, so this season we’re looking at flying sports.
Laura—This season is really equestrian vaulting.
Shawn—Nice. I read in a book that the wool is used in your skirt because of folklore about ovary warming? Could you guys recite in your own words the actual story around it?
Emma—Basically, the pleated skirt started from traditional Bulgarian skirts. In a traditional Bulgarian costume, you have a long shirt made out of cotton, which is usually embroidered, and all of the embroideries are in places where they mean things. They’re usually on the chest for protection or on the sleeve for protection. It’s all about health and protection, basically, and fertility. Then you have an apron in the front, and you have a pleated skirt—it’s wool so it’s very heavy. It’s meant to keep your back and your ovaries warm during the winter when you are out on the field. So, that’s where it comes from. But also there are a lot of these references when you start looking into how this folklore costume is actually put together and where it comes from.
Shawn—I know what you mean. Like, traditional responsibilities, even, of a woman.
Emma—Exactly. They’re very old, so it’s all about warming yourself, having babies, being healthy. That’s kind of it.
Shawn—But your collection also lends really well to punk culture with the leather and the piercing of the leather with the carabiners. Did that inspire you at all?
Emma—I think it was something that we always liked, but we didn’t start with it in mind. It was because our first collection out of the MA was about rock climbing. So it was a good offset to the very traditional fabric and very crafty nature of it. So ,through the combination of things, it did start to look very punk. Maybe it was a subconscious thing because it’s something that we really like.
Shawn—And also it could just be also a part of the more British side of it, right?
Emma—Yeah exactly. Like you love like kilts and Scottish things and—
Laura—Yeah, I collect kilts, so I kind of enter the punk kind of era.
Shawn— I was going to ask if you could see one person, living or deceased, in your clothes, who would it be?
Laura—Oh, tough one.
Emma—That is such a hard question. Laura’s definitely going to say Kathleen Hanna but I think—
Laura —You would say—
Emma—I would say Bianca Casady.
Shawn—Wow, I love those answers.
Laura—But also Bikini Kill, Cocorosie. It’s our roots.
Emma—It’s our roots. It’s where we came from.
Laura—It’s where we go when we need help.
Models Lauren Steinmeyer, Sirat Saraon, Mannat Saraon, Lisa Hernandez, Cypress Bates, Gaby Ordóñez. Fashion Assistants Julia Tarantino and Jolee Benard. Casting Director Abi Schwinck.