All Photography by Jamie Stoker for Yahoo Style
Ryan Lo’s is a saccharin world punctuated by pink and red. Inside the London designer’s studio, located in a Technicolor block on one of Hackney’s edgier back streets, he and his six-strong design team calmly finish work on his London Fashion Week collection (coincidentally the day I visit is also his twenty-fifth birthday). Heart-flecked fabrics drape curtain-like at the windows, and references to the show’s theatrical Marie Antoinette hair – and incredible rose embellished socks - are pinned to the walls. All nod to the girlish aesthetic that has won the Hong-Kong born designer the kind of acclaim that propels an up-and-comer into the stratosphere of the fashion establishment.
“Hello Kitty, strawberries and cream, and the blush gown worn by Disney’s Sleeping Beauty form some of my strongest childhood memories,” says Lo, who is wearing an oversize Ralph Lauren check shirt, jeans and tangerine Nikes that clash with his pale pink pony tail that he frequently plays with as he talks. For his Spring 2016 collection which he will show today, Lo riffs on a theme close to his heart: “It’s Valentines-meets-Halloween,” he tells me. “This season’s woman is sexy, foxy, naughty and sweet – but slightly sinister.”
Judging by the rails of clothes in the studio, this is a three act show: There are Hansel and Gretel houses and pumpkin-hued leopard prints that adhere to the witchy tone; a series of heavy, jacquard poufy numbers that are Lo’s version of everyday wear (even a hooded parka is pink and ruffled and sparkly, with a rosette at the sleeve). But the real showstoppers are the piñata-y dresses in sugary-pink. They have a fun feel, but some of these confections, which are comprised of panels of netting that have been carefully crocheted to create a ruffled effect, took almost a week to make.
Lo’s entrée into fashion came via Japanese teen magazines and Manga comics, and the Blythe dolls he’d lovingly customized with Band Aids. “They have a very specific aesthetic,” says Lo, as he takes a swig from a giant coke bottle (his other vice apparently is french fries). “It’s girlie. It’s sweet. There’s a nicety to it. It’s a constant source of inspiration.” But before he harbored design ambitions Lo dreamt of becoming a Cantonese pop star. Music is still the building block of his collections: “I think about the music first,” he says of his unorthodox process, which rarely involves sketching. “That’s what defines the mood of the girl. Then come the shoes, which dictate the silhouette and the posture. I’ll select very specific fabrics and the clothes follow on from there.” This season’s songs: ‘Be My Baby’ by Vanessa Paradis ‘All I Want For Christmas’ by Mariah Carey.
Lo was born to middle class parents - one a teacher, the other a government worker - who were unusually supportive of his unconventional career choice. It was his mother who taught him to knit at an early age (a skill he later re-learnt via YouTube). “I love the mathematical nature of knitting patterns,” he says. “It calms me. And the handmade feel of knits is still really special to me – it’s so casual and cozy.” These hand knits, macramé and machine knits have become something of a signature. “But it can’t just feel crafty,” he adds. There is an accomplished finish and an impressive level of craftsmanship in many of these pieces that elevates him from your run-of-the-mill East London designer. It’s perhaps that, and the fact that he caters to women beyond the long, lean and Western silhouette that so dominates fashion, that has caught the eye of everyone from Natalie Massenet, founder of Net-a-Porter to Fashion East director Lulu Kennedy, an early supporter who offered him a coveted place in her program.
“No one had even heard of me,” says Lo. “If Fashion East didn’t happen I wouldn’t have been able to start my label.” That’s not to say it has always been easy. Despite living in London for almost a decade, at times, he still finds the experience of being far from home disorientating. Though it’s this culture clash between East and West, high and low cultures that also enriches his work. “The Chinese have a saying: ‘You’ve already shampooed your hair, so you might as well go ahead and condition it’,” he says when I ask him what has motivated him to carry on. “I’ve put so much work into this – and now, sheer determination drives me on.”