If there is one designer that holds the power to influence the future of Canadian fashion, it is Charles Lu, popularly known as ‘Panda.’ His passion for black and white attire is just a glimpse of his impeccable creativity in fashion. 

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Lu has created a niche for himself with his remarkable designs and construction in women’s wear, luxury leisure apparel, and divine evening couture. His designs are nothing short of breathtaking, and it is time that the West Coast and the world were introduced to this game-changing designer. 

“My design and work is a physical manifestation of my own beliefs at a specific place in a specific moment in time. I used to be inspired by just myths, stories, and concepts and felt my designs were detached, meaning I could not identify or relate to them. 

“Now, I look inward before seeking energy elsewhere. My best work comes from when I start with ‘me’ and interpret how I understand the world.” 

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Charles Lu’s story is a testament to the strength of the human spirit. Born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario, he is the son of refugees who fled their homeland due to the ongoing Vietnam War (1955-1975). 

Despite facing numerous challenges throughout his life, Charles never let his circumstances dictate his future. He pursued his dreams relentlessly, even when those closest to him did not always understand his career path. Charles’ journey is a reminder that anything is possible with perseverance and determination. 

At 13, he presented his first fashion collection as part of a school fundraiser for the Dominican Republic. His pieces were unique and created conversations—given that Lu’s chosen materials were sourced from recycled and unconventional materials from his father’s appliance store and workshop. 

Lu’s parents taught him resilience and perseverance because of the hardships of fleeing their home country and culture because of war. 

Speaking of his parents and the hardship endured, Lu shares, “Our stories often parallel, such as being in a new space and country and experiencing loss, all while trying to craft an identity that makes sense. I’ve failed and struggled many times and lost more times than I have won, but having beliefs rooted in respect, the importance of family, selflessness, and the indelible spirit are all things that come from growing up in a Vietnamese household.” 

He learned early on that dealing with racism on top of being bullied for being gay and effeminate teaches tough lessons in holding on to identity. 

“When you grasp on tightly onto who you are and do not lose or assimilate along the way, you end up with something that is special and unique; something that has grown and evolved, weathering through pain only to become stronger.” 

Lu was able to take all of these cornerstone beliefs and fully infuse them into his eponymous ‘Charles Lu’ brand, presenting to the fashion world an unapologetic commitment to self-expression. 

From 2017 to early 2020, Lu worked abroad for a design house in Dubai, designing couture collections for socialites and the extremely well-heeled. Over the years, a multitude of gorgeous gowns were inspired by the biomorphic shapes of iconic architect Zaha Hadid, Japanese minimalism, art deco architecture, the ancient art of Kintsugi, and an exceptional and unapologetic flirtation with gemstone colours. 

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In 2020, Lu participated in the inaugural season of Netflix’s Next in Fashion, which offered the opportunity to win $200,000 and debut a collection on the luxury fashion retailer website Net-a-Porter. 

The reality television series, hosted by influencer Alexa Chung and Queer Eye’s Tan France, came on the heels of the success of Project Runway and the public’s thirst for all things ‘reality’ and ‘fashion.’ 

In the 10-episode fashion design competition series, contestants were paired up, compelling two different designers to work together to produce a cohesive look to present. As the sole Canadian competition, Lu and his American partner Angelo Cruciani won the first challenge—Red Carpet. Unfortunately, the duo were eliminated in Episode 8 in the 5th/6th place. 

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After filming in Los Angeles, Lu returned to Dubai to settle affairs with his lawyer after the design house collapsed. 

With the employer fleeing to France and not honouring a significant judgement in Lu’s favour, he found himself in a dark place. 

“I poured everything of myself into a thankless brand and had nothing to show for it. I vowed to never work for anyone again,” said Charles. “I didn’t even know what it meant to be an entrepreneur because it was so far away from my understanding of what I could be and what my brand could be.” 

In that moment I became fearless and stopped making excuses. The fear of failure and even fear in itself can hinder growth. The most daunting thing is to start because it’s just a big black hole of possibility.” 


With many collections behind him and collaborations with Swarovsky, Bentley Motors, Ruwaya Jewellery, and Mercedes-Benz, Lu’s latest collection is named [1.]. 

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“My new eponymous brand is unapologetically me, and I am very much still in the early stages, but it is rejuvenating and thrilling. I am truly exhausted but have never been more fulfilled knowing everything I do is for me and belongs to me because only when it is honest can I share it with the world.” 

[1.] was showcased in 2022 at Fashion Art Toronto (FAT) as part of a three-day in-person event at Design Exchange. 

At the time, Lu shared more about the support surrounding him during his rebuilding. “This collection and brand debut would not be made possible without the support and generosity of those around me. My sister, Suzanne Lu, is my rock and has supported me on this lengthy and arduous journey since elementary school.” 

“My production lead is my own high school best friend, Dom Zingaro. The music even plays such a huge role in the show and sits firmly as its heartbeat. The anthology of music is a collaboration with Andrew Cristiani, the music producer of CAMP and a dear personal friend, whom I’ve spent countless nights perfecting the track to be an extension of the collection.” 

With the [1.] collection, Lu wishes to erode societal constructs of what casual means and fuse the world of ‘casual and couture,’ a rebellion against what is considered classically beautiful. 

“The [1.] collection stands as two worlds I have inhabited and kept separate converging into something uniquely me, highlighting how I first started in fashion and where I am now.” 

“This collection was all about lines. If you’re creating clean lines, you can’t hide behind anything — they have to be perfect. So, really, it was the ultimate flex of my skill. I also wanted to marry the worlds of couture and streetwear, so I took utilitarian fabrics, like parachute nylon, and made them look more classically beautiful.” 


Inspired by antique estate portraiture with a contemporary flair, the debut collection campaign featured his parents as models alongside two West Highland white terriers belonging to Lu’s eldest sister, adding a playful touch to the family tableau. 

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Lu reflects, “Growing up, my parents were strict with my sisters and me, my designs and passions often led me far away from my heritage and upbringing.” 

“As I grew older, I learned to embrace the parts of me woven into the foundations of who I am. I wanted to feature my parents in my work, highlighting our growth and our journey together.” 

“Beyond the fabric and frames, the shoot resonates deeply with our heritage—an homage to resilience and our intertwined histories.” 

Lu’s looks have appeared in editorials for Canada’s Globe and Mail and Fashion Magazine, internationally in L’Officiel Austria, Clin d’oeil Magazine, and worn by celebrities including R’n’B sensation Ciara, The Queen Priyanka and Miss Fieraclicious (RuPaul’s Drag Race Canada), and recording artists Chloe Bailey, Liyah Katana, and Savannah Ré. 

Charles Lu is a true visionary whose latest work is only beginning to touch upon the wealth of talent and experience this Canadian designer brings to the industry.


Author Profile

Helen Siwak, Luxury Lifestyle Observer
Helen Siwak, Luxury Lifestyle Observer
Helen Siwak is the founder of EcoLuxLuv Marketing & Communications Inc and publisher of Folio.YVR Luxury Lifestyle Magazine, PORTFOLIOY.YVR Business & Entrepreneurs Magazine, and digital women's lifestyle magazine EcoLuxLifestyle.co. She is a prolific content creator, consultant, and marketing and media strategist within the ecoluxury lifestyle niche. Post-pandemic, she has worked with many small to mid-sized plant-based/vegan brands to build their digital foundations and strategize content creation and business development. Helen is the west coast correspondent to Canada’s top-read industry magazine Retail-Insider, holds a vast freelance portfolio, and consults with many of the world’s luxury heritage brands. Always seeking new opportunities and challenges, you can email her at helen@ecoluxluv.com.
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