When they go low, Ryan Lo goes sugar high. It's tough times for young designers what with the realities posed by Brexit and the more abstract concerns sparked by Trump. Really, there’s two paths to take - pursue a semi dystopian agenda to suggest anger and urgency, as many of the London crew at the recent menswear shoes did, or embrace light relief and kill them with kindness. Rebellious optimism. Is there such a thing? I thought of artist Matthew Stone, who recently took part in Somerset House’s Utopian Voices exhibition, and is committed to the notion of 'Optimism as Cultural Rebellion'. Lo is certainly a utopian voice - he dreams of a world of cartoon princesses and teen idols falling in love and living happily ever after. Indeed, the invite for today’s A/W 17 show read, 'Yes, all we’re looking for is LOVE from someone else!', a nod to another moment of light relief from this year, hit film La La Land. To quote Judy Garland, 'forget your troubles, come on get happy.'
It’s tough for fashion to know what agenda to push right now. Attempts at political messaging had mixed results at the menswear and New York womenswear shows that just passed. It’s hard to seem sincere in your calls for justice and equality when you’re pushing £1000 items of clothing on stick-thin mostly white women. That’s why most of the bigger brands are promoting freedom, dreaming, carefree spirit and party times. A similar strategy works for Lo, even though he’s a young label - for A/W 17 he celebrated his tenth season - because his world has always been one of pop, pink and lightness. In fact, his agenda of escapism feels all the more authentic and appealing given he’s still a small business.
I wouldn’t call Lo a political designer, but there was a strange punch to this collection, despite all the cartoon Harajuku girl hair and bubblegum hues. It made me think of the late great Joe Bates of Sibling, who said to me in an interview for SHOWstudio’s In Fashion series, 'it doesn’t have to be bleak to be deep.' Lo’s tireless pursuit of love - every season his girl is looking for her prince - feels radical today rather than regressive or clichéd. Affection and adoration is what the world is missing right now - we need love in this cold climate.
Pieces were almost forcefully sweet and sugary. His signature knits, a savvy commercial aspect to the collection, came with childish giant stars, while his familiar prom dresses were layered with ruffles. A collaboration with Hello Kitty could have come across as facile, but an edge was supplied to the collection via Lo’s references to Japanese street style - bootleg garb and past work by Bape, X Girl and the like - and his focus on irreverent girl tribes hanging out around Tokyo or Bangkok. He’d meshed all these territories and tribes together to create one unified flavour - sugary, sure, but it had a strange kick that lingered.