Meeting Laura Lowena and Emma Chopova for the first time is a remarkably calming experience. There is a striking balance between the two – a symbiotic relationship. One complements the other, even in speech.
Saying that might make it sound a bit over the top, but it’s not. One is humbled and impressed as they talk about their work and achievements. From the intensive research that went into their final collection, which included a trip to Bulgaria, to the preparations for the Central Saint Martins MA Fashion show in February – Laura and Emma have had an intensive year. I remember spotting Emma’s traditional Bulgarian dress around the MA Fashion studios and feel covertly ashamed I never got to compliment her on the choice (being Bulgarian myself).
Exploring the juxtaposing ideas of 80s rock climbing and Bulgarian national costume, Emma and Laura combine the world of sportswear fluidity with an avant-garde take on folklore. The duo is the second in the history of the MA Fashion course to enroll as a creative entity, after Marques’Almeida. Originally from Somerset, Laura came to London after completing a degree in textiles; Emma was the first person she spoke to on the BA.
Emma’s journey started in Bulgaria, where she lived until the age of 7. Moving to New York and growing up in New Jersey shaped her perspective and inspired her to go back to her creative roots. Her interest in fashion started with her mom and developed through Parsons’ CFD scholarship, which she turned down to accept an offer from Central Saint Martins. Ending up in class with Laura was the beginning of their creative symbiosis. “I‘d make something and she’d always make it better,” said Laura. Finding inspiration by yourself can be hard and Laura feels lucky they balance each other out. Even if it can be “double the downer and double the upper.”
Their fascination with juxtaposing technically challenging elements started with a project for Chloé. They used lace and mixed it with 1970s ski materials. It all started with a black and white image of a rock climber from the 50s or 60s, overloaded with hardware. They immediately matched the idea with the bright coloured Bulgarian costumes, which compliment the 1980s aesthetics, “because it’s really synthetic, neon, visually rich.”
According to Laura, the two ideas match perfectly because the folk costumes are feminine, while the rock climbing is quite masculine. Both themes also explore “weird self-discovery.” Emma added that people who do rock climbing are doing it alone and test themselves in search of freedom.
Following the collection’s main inspiration, the two took a trip to Bulgaria where they visited a folklore festival on a tiny little hill in the middle of nowhere. While Laura was admiring the richness of the different regions’ costumes, for Emma it was very interesting to observe how people were merging old and new by wearing sneakers with the folklore costumes. ”We went to an antique store in Plovdiv where we bought loads of fabrics,” and inspirational memorabilia.
The pleats in the skirts are inspired by an element of Bulgarian traditional clothing called bruchnici. Traditionally they were pleated between wood, and it would be wet and dried a 100 times. However, recreating the process felt too time-consuming and the girls used the help of Ciment pleating, one of the oldest pleating companies in the country.
“The best thing were the aprons. Women used to weave six at a time and if something happened they would leave them on a roll. That’s why we managed to get really long skirts, really long fabric, never cut apart. And it was all done in people’s attics.” The socks and the gloves they bought were all sewn together referring to another Bulgarian tradition: in the Rodopi mountains, a girl spends the first 16 years of her life knitting, weaving and making clothes for everyone in the village, until she gets married.
Their dream is to set up a studio in Bulgaria and employ talented and passionate craftswomen. “One day, if we have enough money they could weave samples on these machines, and we can digitalize the process and reproduce it.” Working with local communities in Somerset – famed for the production of wool and collaborating with a local firm like the Foxes Brothers – would be their tribute to that tradition and heritage folklore represents.
Receiving solid support from those around them, the duo is on a mission to establish their business, but they’ll “take their time.” While looking for funding, sponsors and scholarships, the girls promise to try to build a responsible and ethical brand that will progress naturally and, hopefully, explore more folklore traditions around the world.
Words Desislava Todorovs Images courtesy of Laura Lowena and Emma Chopova