Chet Lo never set out to create a phenomenon. In fact, the 24-year-old, London-based designer never intended to start a label at all. “I wanted the stability of a nine-to-five job, but then I realized there wasn’t enough drama,” he tells Vogue over Zoom from the confines of his east London studio.
A twist of fate brought the Asian-American creative to the United Kingdom in 2015, where he embarked on the BA knitwear course at the prestigious Central Saint Martins. At the heart of Lo’s designs is a “nostalgic Asian influence” spurred on by his fascination with “old Japanese comics and the Godzilla and Ultraman [Japanese film series] visuals.” Between interning for luxury heavyweights Maison Margiela and Proenza Schouler, the New York native is becoming a force to be reckoned with.
A futuristic graduate collection followed; titled Cnidaria’s Wife, it received rave reviews. Soon Lo was creating bespoke pieces for Kylie Jenner. By the start of 2021, he launched a new collection inspired by rebellious amorphous angels. You probably also saw Lo’s “dream girls,” as he describes them, Doja Cat and SZA strut in custom blush-pink designs for the video that accompanied their smash-hit single, “Kiss Me More.”
Vogue caught up with the designer to discuss his whirlwind year, the importance of honoring Asian culture within his designs, and why making women feel good is at the forefront of his label.Erika Kamano
Vogue: What has the past year looked like for you and your label?
Chet Lo: I haven’t stopped working. I graduated last year during a global pandemic, which was stressful. Then I thought, “Oh, I don't want to stop.” Working during the pandemic taught me how to be super independent and think quickly on my feet.
How did you first get into creating knitwear?
A friend encouraged me to apply to London’s Central Saint Martins after taking pre-college courses at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons School of Design in 2013. It snowballed from there. One of my tutors at CSM noticed I had a knack for textiles. Knitwear made perfect sense as it allowed me to create this ideal combination of textures and play with elegant shapes. Textiles inform shape. I start with textiles, then I consider how it will work and bounce off of the body, and what shapes derive from it.Erika Kamano
What has been your experience of the past year?
I’m trying to raise as much awareness as I can about this wave of Asian hate crimes. Everything feels super disheartening. I’m worried for my family, particularly my parents who live in New York. My mother is a school teacher and she still walks to school. She recently told me that someone screamed and spat at her for the first time in 30 years. I recently generated a raffle with one of my dresses as the prize and donated the proceeds from ticket sales to Stop AAPI Hate [a nonprofit organization].
You interned at Proenza Schouler and Maison Margiela. What valuable lessons have stuck with you?
I was working at Maison Margiela with the artisanal team, so it was hands-on—I was able to understand how [John] Galliano works. I remember the early stages of making a collection with the team felt confusing and then suddenly everything was so beautifully curated, and it affirmed the importance of storytelling and piecing it all together. Everyone says Galliano is a genius and it’s true.
During my time at Proenza, I learned how to be assertive, technical, and [the importance of] industry intel and the significance of professionality.Erika Kamano
What do you envision the Chet Lo woman to be like?
I love my Chet Lo ladies—they’re sexy, fearless, super scandalous, and futuristic. I want to eliminate fear around clothing. We’ve all gone through so much, especially the past few years, so I’m just trying to brighten everyone’s day [with my designs].
Your “2nd generation” collection is based on fallen angels severing ties between heaven and Earth. What was on the mood board for the shoot?
I was obsessed with Neon Genesis Evangelion, and I thought the visuals were beautiful. I was toying with different ideas for my second collection and it all fell into place. The vibe was all about beautiful, robotic-like angels who came down to Earth. I like to touch on great vintage Japanese references and make them integral to my visuals. It’s incredibly important to me—that’s who I am. It’s been present in my work since I was in university.
The photographer Erika [Kamano] and stylist Ella [Lucia] saw one of the looks on a model and immediately said, “I want that,” and that reaffirmed that it’s all about making pieces that stir up excitement.Erika Kamano
A-listers including Doja Cat, SZA, and Kylie Jenner are all fans of your designs. How do they embody the core of your aesthetic? And who would you love to dress next?
It’s great when anyone compliments you on your work. It’s validating and keeps you going. Doja Cat’s stylist approached me and asked to borrow some garments for a potential shoot and then all of a sudden it became four custom bodysuits and a top. I’m happy I was able to dress her and SZA. When [actor and screenwriter] Michaela Coel wore one of my tops, I felt so emotional because I May Destroy You is such a fucking inspiring TV show. I also love Lucy Liu, and I’d love to see her and Kelsey Lu in my pieces.
What can we look forward to next?
I’m in the early stages of my next collection—the mood is very, very sexy. It’ll be available in September, and I’m so excited to show more of the Chet Lo world.