Here, Laura Lowena and Emma Chopova talk to AnOther about their A/W19 collection and accompanying campaign, which stars Great Britain’s equestrian vaulting team
The sport of equestrian vaulting – where riders leap, flip and perform various contortions on moving horses – dates back two millennia, to ancient Crete, where depictions remain of acrobats hurdling over marauding bulls. “It’s incredible,” says designer Laura Lowena, one half of London-based label Chopova Lowena, whose latest collection and accompanying compaign find inspiration in the little-known pastime. “It’s gymnastics on horses: very showy, with these gravity-defying moves and flashy costumes.”
Chopova Lowena was founded, alongside Emma Chopova, upon the pair’s graduation from Central Saint Martins: there, they showed a joint final collection, which melded 1980s rock climbing equipment – initially inspired by a photograph of French mountaineer Catherine Destivelle in a pink swimsuit and harness – with the centuries-old handcraft of Chopova’s native Bulgaria. Such disparate references have become commonplace in their work: one recent collection saw them mix up the luminously toned singlets of 1980s wrestlers with the ritual costumes of Bulgaria’s winter folk festivals.
This season, they looked towards the aforementioned pageantry of equestrian vaulting, opposing it with the traditional costume of Albania. It marks a subtle shift in focus for the pair; a gentle movement away from Bulgaria, the country which has defined their prior collections. “Heritage is generally a big part of our work,” says Lowena. “Bulgaria continues to be an amazing source of textiles, but we are looking broader. It will always continue to be a part of what we do, but this upcoming season we are changing it up.”
The opposition proved particularly fertile ground for the Autumn/Winter 2019 collection, which was recently revealed on Chopova Lowena’s Instagram account. “We dissected and combined the research, and found a lot of details which became real inspirations for garments,” says Lowena. “The saddles of the vaulters inspired our ‘saddle dress’; the handkerchiefs hanging from the belts of traditional [Albanian] women inspired our ‘pleated hankie dress’. We were also inspired by blurred prints we found on vintage blankets that reminded us of the movement of the equestrian vaulters.”
The idea for the campaign – where the collection is photographed, in movement, on the Great Britain 2019 equestrian vaulting team – came from photographer Charlotte Wales, who the designers have worked with the previous three seasons, alongside AnOther’s senior fashion editor Agata Belcen and Dazed’s art director Jamie Andrew Reid. An accompanying ‘flick book’, which moves as the reader flips through the pages, will be launched at Matches Fashion’s 5 Carlos Place on July 16. “[The book] was shot while the horse was moving in a circle and the gymnasts were vaulting,” says Lowena. “The vaulters were so skilled and they kept on going the whole day and were so willing to wear the clothing during the moves. They were really amazing.”
Since founding their label, Chopova and Lowena have eschewed the typical runway show or presentation, favouring such small-run publications and lookbooks (previously, they published a book titled Kukeri, whereby their work was photographed among Bulgaria’s Surva masquerade festival). “I think books and lookbooks give us the opportunity to tell a story,” says Lowena. “We can capture the clothes in their own world and communicate what the brand is about. We like that books are longer lasting – they are something you can keep, treasure and always go back to.”
The book, alongside the first drop of Chopova Lowena’s A/W19 collection, will launch at Matches Fashion’s 5 Carlos Place on July 16, 2019.