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Ryan Lo archive show Southbank Centre Dazed
Ryan Lo archive showPhotography Lillie Eiger

Ryan Lo on his sugar-sweet retrospective show

With an archive runway at London’s Southbank Centre last weekend, the designer put on a greatest hits of his wonderfully girly designs

With fuzzy cat ears, princess dresses, and lots and lots of pink, this weekend designer Ryan Lo’s archive came alive in two retrospective runway shows at London’s Southbank Centre. To music including Celine Dion (“she’s trending!”) and “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen, a sweet-as-pie girl gang took to the runway in designs from Lo’s last eight seasons, all mixed up together. Divided into three themes (Florals! Bunnies! Fairies!) you could spot AW13’s faux fur, the cowgirl knitwear of AW14, a crochet floral cape from SS14, and the mermaid inspired lurex of SS15 – but despite the differences between collections, they all came together perfectly. “Some of the looks had like four or five collections in, and somehow it looked intentional, it all goes together,” Lo shared post-show. “It was really surprising.”

After all, with his embrace of all things feminine and fanciful, Lo is a designer whose world is easy to identify. From Sex and the City to Sylvanian Families, Abba to Glee, his references are unashamedly pop – and at a time when designers are often found citing postmodernist theory in their press notes, his embrace of trash TV and unabashed girlishness feels more refreshing (and rebellious) than ever. “Part of it is my childhood memories, but it’s always about past and current pop culture, TV…” he says of his inspirations. “I was never a designer getting inspired by ‘architecture’ – it was about a mood, a character, a personality.”

“I was never a designer getting inspired by ‘architecture’ – it was about a mood, a character, a personality” – Ryan Lo

Lo’s world is pink and fluffy, sure – but it also packs a punch. Although his girls may look like butter wouldn’t melt, they’re not to be underestimated. “My work is obviously sugar-sweet and very girly, but actually, I think she’s a strong woman,” explains Lo. If Tumblr has reappropriated the likes of stickers, baby pink and girlishness from the cultural trashcan of teen girl bad taste, Lo has made layers of tulle, princess dresses and animal sweaters into a kind of power dressing – for women who are as multilayered as their outfits.