Ubiquitous is the use of black and white as a medium for chic, and designer Charles Lu heeds that ubiquity in spades, as he debuts his eponymous brand’s first runway collection. Shown at Toronto’s Design Exchange for Fashion Art Toronto’s OPENHAUS May 2022 fashion weekend, Lu speaks in greyscale language, with winter sports, femme fatales and a dialogue between couture and high streetwear in mind. Stylized as Charles Lu’s collection [1.], he interpolates FW2022 in chic greyscale. Though not his first foray into the fashion space (Lu’s fashion career spans over a decade, plus a stint on the Netflix fashion design reality competition Next In Fashion in 2020), Lu officially debuts with a classic black-and-white colour palette, while riffing on the finer details of couture construction through a streetwear lens. This is no simple athleisure.
Monochromatic looks and colour palettes can communicate a subtle je n’ais se quoi; maison Chanel’s intrinsic aspirational quality come to mind. Black-and-white, if used eloquently, can also build cinematic visual styles, influencing decades of auteur films (see: all of director Akira Kurosawa’s work, pre-1970’s). But to truly be heard above the ocean of black-and-white designs and collections, sensei-level mastery of the medium must be achieved. Kurosawa’s work explores the details of possibility in greyscale, through saturation, motion and liminal space in film; Lu’s debut collection mirrors a similar principle, expressed through volume, sportswear, and a couturier’s eye for exorbitant details.
A black-and-white filter or colour scheme is no easy feat to maneuver within; any artist understands that greyscale also means the lack the emotion and visual stimuli colour brings. In Sucker Punch Productions’ 2020 samurai open-world videogame Ghost of Tsushima, a black-and-white Kurosawa mode can be activated any time by the player, transforming a brilliantly coloured feudal Japan into a playable vintage samurai film, complete with metallic, 50’s-style audio modifications. Kurosawa mode is a visual feast for any connoisseur of Japanese media, and a must for any gamer dicking around in photo mode. But, for someone who experienced 70% of my Tsushima playtime in black-and-white, it’s apparent Kurosawa mode is not the optimal way of play. With dodgy dialogue and diegetic audio mixing, colour-specific questlines and combat cues, and cinematic monotony due to the sheer length of open-world games, simply adding a black-and-white filter as a novelty can’t fully accomplish what Kurosawa’s films or Lu’s collections do – a flex on the mastery of the craft.
Lu’s debut collection doesn’t take the easy route with a black-and-white colour palette – instead, fully formed femme fatales storm the runway, as architectural sleeves, capes and drapes are cinched into corsets and bodices, heavily referencing winter sports gear. Extra-long drawstrings abound, adding movement to otherwise structural sporty garments. A deconstructed collegiate letterman jacket is fashioned into a corset and midi jacket with voluminous satin sleeves. A black cropped hoodie shimmers with a crystalline décolletage, the scuba knit material a subtle nod to modern streetwear’s athleisure roots. What can only be described as hockey evening gloves in medic white are unquestionably Canadian feminine; an accessory for a female Winter Soldier. Lu’s clientele will likely lean into the bad bitch aesthetic – CL, Rihanna, Megan Thee Stallion; though it’d be quite patriotic to see post-Love Sux Avril Lavigne in a Lu dress. Unlike Sucker Punch Productions’ light attempt at digitizing greyscale in Tsushima, Lu constructs within the confines, amalgamating buttons, drawstrings and high-volume drapery for the baddest of them all.
If this debut collection is any indication of Charles Lu’s design career, the Canadian fashion industry will experience thoughtful couture for the millenial soul. Lu demonstrates skilled craftsmanship in Next in Fashion, but his inclusion in the show was surely no fluke. Though tainted by bad business dealings, Lu’s pre-reality show backlog collection for Arushi Couture is a kaleidoscope of luxury house influences, Japanese design and concepts, revealing an exacting fashion philosophy: the details will never be damned. Akira Kurosawa found his devil in the details, building a legacy that runs deep in the cultural film zeitgeist (1950’s Rashomon comes highly recommended) – it is this unsparing eye that elevates black-and-white to the heavens. Sucker Punch Productions, take note of Lu’s own Kurosawa mode for the next Ghost of Tsushima – it is a spectacle.
“A commentary on Toronto Fashion Week FW2022” for Windhill Journal
“Five Designers That Stood Out at Fashion Art Toronto” by Natalie Michie, for FASHION Magazine
“I Love Ghost of Tsushima’s ‘Kurosawa Mode,’ But It’s Not For Everybody” by Jeff Cork, for Game Informer
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