• partnership

Chet Lo’s LFW show turns experiences of racism in the gay community into joyful expression

7 mins
18 Sep 2023
Chet Lo’s LFW show turns experiences of racism in the gay community into joyful expression

The designer discusses the SS24 collection, his changing relationship with colour and fashion as connection

words Sophie Lou Wilson

“This season we're really late,” says Chet Lo. It’s just a few weeks until his third solo London Fashion Week show and the designer is in a rush to finish the new collection. “We're probably going to finish close to a couple days before.” The 26-year-old has been lighting palo santo next to a crystal each night to cultivate a feeling of peace amid the chaos. “It’s very LA of me, even though I’m not from LA,” he jokes. “I always say a prayer to keep my spirit up. I think there’s something to be said about changing your headspace.”

Taking some time out of his hectic pre-fashion week schedule, Chet sits down with woo following a shoot where he showcased the outfit he made inspired by PopWorks’ Sweet and Salty popped corn crisps – a pale pink geometric intarsia knit skirt with a matching spiky knit top. These textured pieces reflect the fun and playfulness of PopWorks crisps, as both boast a unique texture and style. Chet is upending traditional knitwear conventions, just like PopWorks are breaking the binaries between traditional, tasty snacks and snacks that are more mindful when it comes to health.

For Chet, food and fashion have always gone hand in hand. His signature knits, known for their spiky silhouettes, daring colour palettes, It-girl stamp of approval and experimental sense of fun, are inspired by the spiky outer shell of the durian fruit. Native to South East Asia, it’s actually one that Chet happens to hate – “It stinks to high hell.”

During his fashion foundation course at Central Saint Martins, Chet worked with food more literally, crafting wildly experimental garments from chicken bones and anchovies. “I would weave them into nets,” he laughs. “It was so gross.” When a tutor picked up on his inclination to play around with textiles, he recommended that Chet pursue knitwear. Here, he was able to channel his exploratory ambition into more wearable pieces, without sacrificing on experimentation.

Chet’s rise is a thoroughly contemporary success story. The designer never planned to start his own brand and instead yearned for the stability of a 9-5 job. This all changed, however, when he graduated in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. There were no stable job opportunities available, so he had no choice but to make and sell clothes independently. During the pandemic, he started crafting his signature knits for friends, promoting them on Instagram. Soon, bespoke requests for his unique designs were coming in from Kylie Jenner, SZA and Doja Cat. “It made me feel really stressed because it was taking on its own life and becoming open to the public’s interpretation,” Chet says, reflecting on the time when his designs started blowing up on Instagram. “I had to learn to let go a little bit and not be too influenced by what other people think.”

"I wanted to hop onto the idea of internet culture and colour and oversaturation and busyness and craziness."
Chet Lo

Drawing from anime, his Asian heritage and personal experiences, Chet’s bubblegum hued knits made for the perfect viral Insta posts, but once he became known for them, he grew restless. “When I first started, I wanted to hop onto the idea of internet culture and colour and oversaturation and busyness and craziness and I loved it,” he says. “There were all these anime references and the colourfulness felt amazing. I felt really comfortable with it, but then I started feeling a bit too comfortable.”

you are missing out on some content here because you rejected our cookies. want to change that?

Recently, he has been thinking about how to balance the light with the dark. The vibrant colours he was working with before didn’t relate to his own wardrobe. Like many fashion designers, Chet often prefers to wear all black. “I wanted to expand and use lack of colour as a source of inspiration instead,” he says. Last season’s collection was a radical departure from the candy-coloured brights he had built his name on: head-to-toe black, goth adjacent gowns and gradient shades of red referenced the bioluminescence of deep sea creatures as well as Chet’s experiences of depression.

This season, he is tackling a similarly heavy theme. The collection he is finishing off right now is “about racism in the gay community, which is something I’ve had to face for a really long time,” he explains. “I wanted to take something that was so harsh and really dynamic as a topic and turn it into an elegant and beautiful collection rather than making it too literal.”

“I wanted to take something that was so harsh and really dynamic as a topic and turn it into an elegant and beautiful collection."
Chet Lo

These last two collections seem to signal a shift. Like the rest of the fashion industry, Chet is moving away from placing so much value on social media validation or the viral gimmick, instead focusing on the substance and authenticity of his clothes. While social media has been pivotal in his success, like many of us, he is trying to have a healthier relationship with it. “I used to count likes like currency,” he admits. “It’s very demoralising and it reduces people down to numbers. I think growing above that and actually looking at the work is more important.”

Designers are often pressured to give a personal component to their work, but for Chet, this happened instinctually. His creative process is a way to support his inner child, the kid who didn’t like the way he looked, but slowly learned to love his Asian American heritage. “When I was in high school, I was like, actually, you know what, I love being Asian,” he says. “From there, all my reference points have been based on my heritage. The feeling or the music will relate back to it and make me feel better about who I am.”

When it comes to process, Chet follows his nose, using instinct rather than mood boards or overplanning. If something feels too difficult, he just won’t do it. “If it's just freaking easy then I'm like, perfect, let's just go for it,” he says. “If it's something that requires too much labour, I don't know whether it's worth it. If I feel like it's a bit over-contrived then I can tell it's not going to be relatable to an audience.”

Relating to an audience is something Chet loves most about his work. He spent lockdown creating a community online then bringing it into the real world with his initial runway shows, first with talent incubator Fashion East and later on his own. When Chet experiences those periods of depression, something he says still happens fairly often, he finds joy in his “friends and doing what I love and inspiring people. It's really nice to be able to communicate an idea and have people believe in it and want to partake in it. This is why I do what I do.”

It all goes back to connection. Chet draws from many sources of inspiration and creativity, his experiences with depression or, for his upcoming SS24 collection, racism within the gay community. Fashion is constantly searching for the next buzzy, young designer, but those with longevity look beyond the Insta likes and celebrity hype to craft something authentic and full of feeling. Look closely at Chet Lo and it’s all there, a meticulous intuition guiding the sense of fun embodied by his high spirited spiky knits, similar to the bold flavours and textures of PopWorks crisps. “It’s very stressful, but I love it,” Chet concludes with a smile. And then he’s off to finish the SS24 collection, hoping to set off the chain of relatability and connection once more.

PopWorks – They just work! Try today

more stories

keep reading