To many, the Laurence & Chico Café off Robson Street was their first invitation into the insane world that Laurence Li and Chico Wang created for themselves. Rubber ducks proliferate and oogly octopus tentacles abound, mop-top stools beckon, grotesque eyeballs roll, and exaggerated mannequins with giant wigs oversee all. The space is so fantastic that the simple act of opening of this tea and dessert shop was covered in Vogue Italia!
To celebrities like Cardi B, Bjork, the Clermont Twins, Lady Gaga, and the Man Repeller herself, Leandra Medine, the married couple behind the label are all about fashion. Outrageous, over-the-top, grandiose, and yet beautifully elegant and sophisticated when styled with deft restraint.
MODERN TWIST ON TRADITIONAL LOVE
The spark that created the Laurence & Chico brand began in New York City at a market stall in artsy Soho. Two young Vancouverites were studying at the Parsons School of Design; Laurence skilled in illustration and Chico drawn to fashion. While a dating app may have pulled them together, it was a confluence of talents that tied them together.
Collaboration on illustrative postcards turned into a run of branded t-shirts, and soon the two students had a desire to create, not only a life but a design business together. The latter proving to be a visual wonderland—an exciting mélange of textures and patterns—that is other-worldly and wow-inspiring in an industry set on recycling and deft appropriation.
Along the journey, their studies fell by the wayside. Although Chico was a Fashion Design major and had enviably worked at Givenchy, Miu Miu, and McQueen, and Laurence majored in Fashion Marketing and worked in Barney’s Buying Department, the world was beckoning, and the two veered off onto a creative tangent. This proved a detour that jump-started the Laurence & Chico label and has allowed them to pull ahead of their peers.
Laurence and Chico’s creative process is unique in that illustrator Laurence begins by drawing surreal kaleidoscopic images that reflect the world around him. Each of these drawings contributes the first step to a visual journey filled with playful symbolism. Chico then takes the reins and brings the sketches and palettes to life as garments buoyed by cartoonish enthusiasm.
Yaletown’s Leisure Center and Kokko in Richmond were the first to showcase and sell Laurence & Chico. The owners of both, Mason Wu and MuYun Li, were early patrons of the designers and agreed to stock their first pieces before the duo had even formally registered their brand and presenting the trunk show was a natural extension of the relationship.
Leisure Center began with a trunk show of 150 mind-blowing ready-to-wear pieces, 20 pieces of insane accessories, as well as various pieces of furniture in a 3-day hometown début. The collection presented was a robust and vivid evolution from Laurence & Chico’s early designs
The evening attendees were agog as the minimalist space turned into a maximalist fantasy featuring looks with layers upon layers of flamboyant ruffles, bulging quilted checks, shredded tweed, oversized droopy velvet bows, plush faux-fur, all corralled with rope after rope of pearls. While the styling would have been considered heavy-handed on any other collection—tiny hats perched upon reach-the-sky wigs which enveloped faces painted with vibrant animalian eye make-up and pasted-on pearls—seemed oddly balanced and completely natural.
Laurence and Chico are visionaries who see their designs extending far beyond apparel. In 2015, they had a vision of morphing into a ‘lifestyle brand,’ which included opening a series of cafés where those who admire and covet their couture have the opportunity to buy a t-shirt, a coffee, and other knick-knacks with signature eye-catching packaging. This vision was realized in 2018 and the following year; the café was nominated in the Best Restroom in Canada contest sponsored by Cintas.
Their first show was in New York in 2015, and it explored themes of flight, make-up, sea creatures, and pets. Each brought to life with bold, vibrant accoutrements such as gigantic coloured wigs, exaggerated make-up, super-sized silhouettes, rows of ruffles, reams of pearls, glitter, and big bows.
Laurence & Chico’s 2018 collection explores the relationship between people and their pets, addressing that oft-blurred line that exists within the ‘companion animal’ dynamic.
No doubt inspired by their two French Bulldogs, Pearl and Button, the dresses and headpieces were adorned with their signature over-abundance of pearls and ruffles, faux fur, as well as embellished with statements of “GROOM ME,” “WALK ME,” and “PET ME.” With painstaking attention to detail, each completed look is layered into a silhouette that portrays a fantastical impression of the most over-indulged and pampered pooch.
Fast forward to the 2019 and 2020 collections, and the Laurence & Chico runway shows at Paris and New York Fashion Weeks are well-attended and excitedly received. The looks are more approachable than the earlier collections, with their ruffled denim, pearls, and tweed fabrics aligned with style and textures of the historic luxury houses of Chanel and Balenciaga. WWD stated “Backstage before the show, Li attributed the season’s thread of heightened wearability to a desire to open a brick-and-mortar store in the future.” In a recent conversation with us, Laurence shared that the brand has indeed expanded to wholesale distribution in China and will be adding online retail in both China and North America.
The couple live and travel between Vancouver, Shenzhen, and New York and with the expansion of their brand into China, they can forget about vacations, and, likely, Vancouverites will not see them dining at their favourite restaurant – Elisa in Yaletown.
One thing that is unique about the duo (like they need to be MORE unique!) is that they do not wear their designs exclusively, as many designers do, when asked where they shop, Laurence excitedly says, “Everywhere! Online, offline, specialty boutiques, consignment stores, department stores. In Paris – Le Bon Marche, New York – Opening Ceremony, Bergdorf’s.”
Meanwhile, devotees can purchase online at Moda Operandi and Luisa Via Roma, and shop in person at 3NY in New York, 14 locations in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.
- Helen Siwak is the founder of EcoLuxLuv Communications, publisher of Folio.YVR Luxury Lifestyle Magazine, and multiple digital lifestyle blogs. She is a content creator, consultant, and marketing and media strategist in the luxury lifestyle niche. She is a regular content contributor to Retail-Insider and has a vast freelance portfolio including Boulevard English & Chinese editions, Indulge, and Montecristo Magazine. When not attending high-profile events in Vancouver's 'Luxury Zone’ or on assignment abroad, she is honing her plant-based cooking skills and caring for her rescues. firstname.lastname@example.org
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