Real Dreams

Lau­rence & Chico's Lau­rence Li and Chico Wang are fash­ion­ing a psy­che­delic world out of daily life.

Fashion (Canada) - - People - By Joy Pac­knold

I think we’re very lit­eral,” says Lau­rence Li of Lau­rence & Chico, his la­bel with part­ner Chico Wang. “A lot of brands… when they talk about in­spi­ra­tion, it’s more the­ory based, but we’re very di­rect,” he says over the phone from their ate­lier in Shen­zhen, China. He cites their de­but Spring 2016 col­lec­tion as pri­mary ev­i­dence. “We were in­spired by our trip to the aquar­ium.”

The aquar­ium that in­spired jel­ly­fish prints and squid­like iri­des­cent fab­rics is in Van­cou­ver, where Li was raised, he and Wang got mar­ried in 2014 and they es­tab­lished the brand in 2015. But the Big Ap­ple is re­ally what started it all. “We met on a dat­ing app,” says Li, laugh­ing. “I was trav­el­ling in New York on va­ca­tion. Then I de­cided to move there.” Raised in In­ner Mon­go­lia, Wang was al­ready liv­ing there, by way of Bei­jing, after win­ning China’s ver­sion of Project Run­way landed him a fash­ion de­sign schol­ar­ship to Par­sons The New School. Li, who had stud­ied an­i­ma­tion at Van­cou­ver’s Emily Carr Univer­sity, en­rolled, too, but opted for fash­ion mar­ket­ing. Find­ing his course­work rel­a­tively easy, he used his free time to draw il­lus­tra­tions of their daily life—the first one de­pict­ing them gro­cery shop­ping. Wang saw an op­por­tu­nity, so Li drew more il­lus­tra­tions and printed them on postcards, which they sold in front of the old J.Crew store in SoHo. They made more than $1,000 the first day.

The postcards turned into T-shirts, sweat­shirts and scarves. When stock­ists, such as Kokko in Rich­mond, B.C., picked them up, Li and Wang dropped out of school and launched their brand. Li’s il­lus­tra­tions pro­vided the in­spi­ra­tion for Wang’s de­signs for their first col­lec­tion, aQuar­ium, and have done for ev­ery one since. For their Fall 2018 col­lec­tion, ti­tled “Doudou,” a French word for se­cu­rity blan­ket, they en­vi­sioned their fur­ni­ture as pets. “Groom me” or “Feed me” is em­bla­zoned on hats and some tops. “In our world, pets don’t shit; they’re very high-class,” says Li. But they have woven a deeper tale. “We drew a story about how the pet is liv­ing in its en­vi­ron­ment and how we tamed it,” says Li. “Later, it found an­other pet and mated, died and re­leased eggs. We put the eggs ev­ery­where in the world, and, de­pend­ing on the en­vi­ron­ment, they hatched into dif­fer­ent forms.”

Ac­tual fur­ni­ture was born out of the col­lec­tion, and it’s fea­tured and pur­chasable at the name­sake café Li and Wang opened in down­town Van­cou­ver this past June. Beaded and shaggy with uni­corn horns, the canopy chairs are an­other brand ex­ten­sion. There are cur­rently only six of these chairs, but 10 more are com­ing. “It will look like the mon­sters are hav­ing a meet­ing,” says Li. Aware that their cloth­ing isn’t ev­ery­one’s cup of tea (which they serve, along with cof­fee and pas­tries), they see the café as a way to in­vite peo­ple into their wild world.

A $3 cup of cof­fee is their most ac­ces­si­ble en­try point, but the pair con­sid­ers costs across the board. While there’s a $2,200 quilted denim coat em­broi­dered with hun­dreds of criss-cross­ing pearls, there’s also a $78 T-shirt and a hand­ful of ac­ces­sories un­der $200. “We have [staff] write down their per­cep­tive price,” says Li. “Of course, we have to cal­cu­late costs, and there’s a sys­tem to that, but we do think of af­ford­abil­ity as key to our brand.” On the de­sign side, he says that fab­ric ma­nip­u­la­tion, weav­ing and bold colours and prints are their trade­marks. “Also, the sur­prise el­e­ment— we don’t want peo­ple to get bored.”

LAU­RENCE LI (LEFT) AND CHICO WANG

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