Fashion's typically allergic response to the saccharine sweet didn't stop designer Ryan Lo from sending down a collection that he described as "optimistic". Lo's Spring/Summer '14 collection, titled "I Want a Complete Set of Sylvanian Families," was rich with kawaii options featuring vibrant granny knits, some laden with kitschy strawberries. A bold departure from the usually somber-cool tone on most catwalks, the show certainly paid off when it closed to a robust applause from the audience.
The twenty-four year-old is one of the few to have graduated from the Fashion East rite of passage that has catapulted many design talents into the limelight since its conception. This includes Jonathan Saunders, Gareth Pugh and Meadham Kirchhoff, many of whom have gone on to become household names internationally and won coveted industry awards. Director of Fashion East, Lulu Kennedy MBE, supports such emerging designers with a complete starter pack that entails a free bursary, PR, a complimentary venue and even catwalk show production, usually up to three seasons. Its impressive alumni and tangible support have made it one of the most highly sought after programs, rivaling its counterparts like the Vogue Fashion Fund.
This Spring/Summer '14 collection is Lo's last show with Fashion East. His superior knitwear and a refreshing take on women's dressing bode well for the designer. NOWFASHION speaks with the emerging talent as he does away with his training wheels and moves onward into a promising future.
The foreword for your SS14 show described the Ryan Lo girl as a kawaii romantic "in search of the L word". How did you arrive to this character?
“As you may or may not know, I am a massive fan of Sex and the City. In the past few seasons, every collection I did was about love. SS13 collection, ‘In the Mood’ was inspired by Wong Kar Wai's cinematic slow romance. The AW13 collection ‘I Push Doors that Clearly Say Pull’ was about lonely workaholics like Ally McBeal and Miranda Hobbes who were desperately fighting for love, which was very cynical. For my SS14 ‘I Want a Complete Set of Sylvanian Families’ collection, my last showing under the Fashion East umbrella, I wanted to do something optimistic and hopeful. It's un-confusing, very straight forward and happy - the idea of girls preparing themselves as home makers before they meet that special someone.”
Your knitwear is outstanding. Would you say this is your strong suit?
“Yes! Part of our brand DNA is knitwear. Of course we have other signature stuff too, such as the candy skirt suits, tulle dresses… But I particularly love the DIY approach to knitwear. Granny handmade crochet takes time, love and patience; it is traditional craftsmanship. At the same time, the idea of machine knits, creating a unique fabric from yarns is also something quite magical. You should see the workmanship on the inside of some of the intarsia [knit] we have this season. It's incredible.”
Cute is never too cute - would you agree?
“No, sometimes cute is too cute for a young adult. This is why we have some granny, mumsy cardigan and blazer in the show matched with converse flat shoes to balance it up.”
How did you come to know Susie Bubble?
“Honestly, I didn't know Susie in person before Fashion East. She approached me just before my first show; she loved my early work and wanted to do a preview feature for Spring Summer 2013. She has supported me from the beginning and she wore my clothes to the British Fashion Award (2012). Also, her family was originally from Hong Kong, the same place I grew up. We speak the same language and have the same cultural references, such as Pocky Pink snack, Japanese Lolita anime and 80s, 90s Hong Kong films. She understands our generation of girls very well (the girls I am designing for)!”
Despite being at the start of your career you have had quite a journey. Were you discouraged when you didn't make it to Central Saint Martins?
“Yes, it was very sad and lonely but it opened my eyes. Now I realize I didn't belong there and they didn't need me. What I have been doing is just not CSM at all. I am where I am today, so I'm fine. I am not a cookie cutter graduate."
What were your initial thoughts when Lulu Kennedy agreed to work with you on Fashion East?
“Great! I approached Lulu and Fashion East around 18 months ago. I have always wanted to do Fashion East while I was in college. Till this day, I still can't believe it. I thought it was quite a gamble for Lulu to choose Claire [Barrow] and me - two BA students - to join Maarten [van der Horst] that season as they usually pick graduates from the CSM MA course. Also, Lulu was quite keen on us creating our own sets and inviting people into our universe, which was a super big risk. But I'm also super grateful for what she did for us. [I] wouldn't [sic] be here without Lulu.”
Word on the street is that you are receiving wonderful response for your work, from press and buyers alike. What is keeping you busy at the moment?
“Thank you! Yes, my tiny team and I are really busy, especially since our PR, sales and designs are all done in-house. We just finished our show in September and we had a showroom in Paris right after. Now it's production time. We have also started working on AW14 as we are creating a shoe line with Six London (http://www.sixlondon.com) for next season. This weekend, I am styling a shoot for a very cutting-edge magazine with Brett Lloyd. I am also dressing the Ever After High Dolls (Mattel) for Selfridges and co-hosting the party, just to name a few - busy, busy lives.”
What is the biggest challenge you face as an emerging designer?
“The financial and business side for sure, because it's not just about creating clothes. I think most young designers have a similar problem. Traditionally, we come from Art schools so we tend to be clueless about cash flow, costing, sales, and production... You can't learn these things, if not from first-hand experience. Even with Fashion East, BFC and CFE's mentoring, it's still really hard.”
You give women (and some boys) a lot of options to play with. But what would you never put on your customer?
“Women in Flip Flops! NEVER!”
What would you say to those who might shy away from your collections for fear of wearing their femininity on their sleeves?
“Wear some trainers and flats! They will help you dress down a bit. Also, maybe pants underneath dresses and gowns or an oversized t-shirt or jumper. Keep it easy and cool.”