Since 2019, fashion forecaster Mandy Lee has been on a hunt for a pleated skirt from o, the London-based brand founded by Emma Chopova and Laura Lowena in 2018. Three years later, Lee, who is also a TikTok fashion creator with over 300,000 followers, has amassed multiple pieces from the brand — including the signature skirt, characterised by safety pins holding the fabric to a thick leather belt and clashing prints — preaching her adoration for the pieces on TikTok.
Lee is one of the many creators who’ve helped the hashtag #chopovalowena grow over 11 million views on the app by posting videos discussing the brand’s punk schoolgirl aesthetic and story, as well as showing their hauls and sharing tips on how to score the best deals for their pieces, particularly their A-line skirts. Other users like Eve-Lily and Summer Rachel Warren have created videos breaking down ways to incorporate the avante-garde piece into their everyday wardrobes.
“I think people haven’t seen the clothes moving so much,” Laura Lowena tells Refinery29 when asked about the skirt’s popularity. “I think that maybe people have gotten really into it by seeing the movement and seeing people in it [on the app.]”
Inspired by folk dress from Bulgaria, where American-born Chopova’s parents are from, and ‘80s rock, the Chopova Lowena skirts are created with secondhand fabric sourced from markets in Bulgaria. Over the past year, celebrities like Dua Lipa, Olivia Rodrigo, and Emma Chamberlain have sported the popular style, giving the once-emerging designers an A-list approval. Despite the fact that they’re hard to find — not only are they expensive (some can retail between $1,500 and $2,000), but they’re almost always sold out — the skirts, which come in both mini and long versions, have become an “if you know, you know” must-have for fashion people on TikTok and IRL.
Writer and designer Kristen Bateman, who has been a longtime collector of Chopova Lowena pieces, has also fawned over the brand’s skirts on TikTok: “They're so different and they kind of look like costumes in a way,” she says. “I had never seen anything like it.” She is not alone; whenever Bateman wears them outside of New York City or a fashion setting, she says that “it's a very interesting experience,” referring to the looks she gets. Yet, Bateman thinks that it's that unique construction, that sparks both confusion and fascination, that has made the skirts so popular on TikTok. “People want something that stands out, even if it’s a little divisive,” she says. “There are not very many pieces in this era of maximalist fashion [that can] still shock.”
That said, it's still surprising that a skirt this expensive has gone viral on a platform more known more for fast-fashion hauls and affordable thrift finds than designer wares.
For both Bateman and Lee, this boils down to the aesthetic appeal: In an era when early 2000s aesthetics have given rise to skin-baring trends like thong pants and micro mini skirts, as well as collegiate trends like pleated skirts and Mary Janes, the Chopova Lowena skirts have cemented a space in the market for fashion fans who want to tap into these styles with an edge made for the “Weird Girl” aesthetic era. It’s an added bonus that the brand’s use of ‘80s and ‘90s rock as inspiration — seen through the use of leather belts, safety pins, studs, and DIY aesthetics — is in line with the recent reemergence of pop-punk fashion, which has made celebrities like Dua Lipa and Olivia Rodrigo — both TikTok darlings — A-list fans of the designer duo.
Lee says she’s had luck finding the skirts on Vestiaire Collective, an online secondhand marketplace, where she’s bought pieces that were, according to her, four times less expensive than the retail price. Bateman also sourced hers secondhand for much cheaper, albeit before the brand exploded in popularity.
While pricey and more of statement pieces, rather than something you could wear regularly, Bateman says the skirts are worth the tag. “Looking at fashion through TikTok is very different from actually touching the item, feeling the quality, and wearing it,” she says. “It’s definitely a conversation skirt.”