Chet Lo gets lost in New York
A new shoot by Zach Apo-Tsang and Charlotte Roberts sees the Fashion East family member’s spiky knitwear land in a cartoon-y version of Manhattan’s bustling streets
London-based knitwear designer Chet Lo discovered what would become his signature spiky aesthetic rather serendipitously during his time at Central Saint Martins. Weaving together a celebration of his Hong Kong heritage, inspired by the classic silhouettes of 1950s cheongsams, and drawing influence from contemporary ‘Western’ nouveau textures, the 24-year-old stumbled upon his technique while researching unusual textiles, and through hours of experimenting with fishing wire on a knitting machine, configuring the right tension, and endless spools unwound through trial and error, his distinctive pieces were born.
Spiky, serrated, and skin-like in composition, his creations are oxymoronic in their rebranding of knitwear as sexy. Chet Lo’s playful marriage of cultural identity and ingenuity are perhaps best epitomised in his bright fuschia Rambutan evening gown, an off-shoulder highlight from his otherworldly graduate collection Cnidaria’s Wife. Since debuting his marvellously haptic SS22 collection Splash as part of Lulu Kennedy’s Fashion East incubator, Lo’s pieces have found fans in countless celebrities. Doja Cat, SZA, Michaela Coel, Willow Smith, Kylie Jenner, and Bimini Bon Boulash are but a few names slipping into looks by the Asian-American designer.
“I grew up with a lot of different influences,” Lo explains over the phone, recounting his upbringing in New York. “From a young age, I really liked art – I was still in an academic high school when I started going to short courses at FIT and Parsons. I ended up falling in love with fashion.” Keen to put his mathematical prowess to the test, Lo’s gamble in locating the sweet spot between his talents paid off. “I felt like it was a good mix of the two, where you get to creatively try new things, but also logistically have to figure out how to achieve what you want. So that’s how I got into this whole crazy world,” he says.
Moving to London in 2015 to attend CSM with the encouragement of a friend (despite thinking it “a pipe dream” initially), Lo found his footing on the Knitwear BA programme. “It was everything that I wanted to believe in; instead of straight up commerce, what I liked about CSM was that they completely broke down the barriers between art and fashion, shaping you to become aware of your pieces.” But landing this trajectory was the result of an explorative learning curve. “When I first started, it was womenswear, womenswear, womenswear – I think most kids are like that when they first join,” Lo recalls. “The foundation tutors were like, ‘You have a good knack for tangible, textural things!’ And I really do love these elements, like embroidery.”
Faced with the decision of selecting a specific textile, Lo’s choice in knitwear design would ultimately spark his thunderous career. “It’s perfect. I love when I’m designing something – starting from scratch, picking out the yarn, then picking out the colour selection and engineering an entire look completely. It’s a bitch and a half,” he adds, “Because there’s so much work to do than just cutting fabrics!” Those familiar with Lo’s figure-cinching, visceral, and striking ensembles may be quick to draw comparisons with the unapologetic spikiness of the durian fruit (a nod to his Asian heritage), or perhaps the scales and bumps of aquatic creatures – the likenesses of which Lo maintains are purely coincidental. With all creations, Lo’s research begins with an appreciation of retro-futurism.
“I’ve always wanted to have an all-Asian cast. I’ve had a lot of excuses: ‘Oh, there’s no Asian models’, ‘Oh, there’s no one here available’. But this time, they just made it happen. And I’m just thinking, ‘Thank fuck. Finally!’” – Chet Lo
“It’s the juxtaposition of looking back to look forwards. I always notice the work ends up looking really aquatic accidentally – I don’t mean for that to happen, but it does! It’s really funny actually, because when I was young my mum went to see a psychic – an old monk in Taiwan,” he shares. “She asked him, ‘What are my kids gonna do when they grow up?’ The monk said, ‘One of your sons will be a doctor’” – which did materialise – “‘And the other one’s future will be based on aquatic life, like very underwater,’” Lo continues. “I was like, “That sounds stupid!” But cut to now, where everyone’s commenting, ‘It all looks like a jellyfish’. God fucking dammit!” he says with a laugh.
Now, those ‘jellyfish’-like garments get their own editorial and short film, as photographer Zach Apo-Tsang captures Lo’s SS22 collection. Neighbourhood Stroll seeks to explore the idea of ‘East meets West’, and juxtaposes an NYC-inspired set with the designer’s latest offering, as styled by Charlotte Roberts. “Growing up with a Tibetan father and British mother living in London, I was always aware of contrasting cultures and how they can influence each other for the better – a notion I knew resonated with Chet too, with him growing up with a Chinese culture in NYC,” Apo-Tsang says. There is a touch of Wonderland to the whole thing, too, as models shrink and grow large against the backdrop and the creatives play with proportions.
Notably, the cast of this shoot were all Asian, which imbued the project with a unifying poignancy. “Everything aligned on this one,” Apo-Tsang explains. “When I wrote the creative, it was key for me to celebrate an Asian cast and have fun with it! It’s rare to see this in Western publications.” Lo echoes these sentiments: “I’m so happy that (Apo-Tsang) invited me to do this. It was so amazing to see such a large production. Carrying a message to people where they can actually resonate with, and want to work with me – it’s insane,” he adds. “I’ve always wanted to have an all-Asian cast. I’ve had a lot of excuses: ‘Oh, there’s no Asian models’, ‘Oh, there’s no one here available’. I’m like, ‘Okay, okay,’” Lo adds. “But this time, they just made it happen. And I’m just thinking, “Thank fuck. Finally!”
Watch the film below and click through the editorial in the gallery above.