Hamilton-Born Designer Charles Lu Is One to Watch Out For

Photography courtesy of Charles Lu

Lu gets candid about his time on Netflix’s “Next in Fashion,” working abroad and his newest collection.

They say what’s meant to be, will be — and Charles Lu is a testament to that. When his career serendipitously kicked off after an unfortunate snub, Lu proved to the world that regardless of any setback, he’s destined to rise to success. From starring in the inaugural season of Netflix’s Next in Fashion to launching his eponymous label and having a runway show at Fashion Art Toronto’s annual spring showcase earlier this year, there’s no slowing down. Nicknamed “Panda,” Lu has established a signature black, white and grey palette on some of the most distinct silhouettes in the game.

For FASHION’s Winter issue, Lu spoke to us about how he got his start designing clothes, the hurdles faced along the way and the icons he dreams of dressing.

You were born in Hamilton, Ont., but your parents are from Vietnam. How has your background influenced your relationship with fashion?

“My parents came to Canada because of the Vietnam War and literally left everything behind. So I always remind myself to be fearless, and when I say fearless, I mean it’s OK to be scared — you just can’t let that fear paralyze you. But I’ve always been the dreamer of the family, and I took a very non-traditional route. I had to prove to my parents what I was capable of, and I said, ‘If I’m going to go into fashion, I’m going to succeed.’”

Is it true that your first fashion show was at age 12?

“Eleven or 12. When I was a kid, my mom never let me use her sewing machine, and I was like, ‘If you’re not going to let me use it, then I’m going to make clothes out of recycled materials.’ So in Grade 6, I proposed doing a stand-alone fashion show at my school and made dresses out of plastic bags, pop cans, tape and things like that.”

You’ve previously said that the fashion world wasn’t very kind to you when you were in London, England. Can you expand on that?

“During my time in London, I worked for a brand where I designed the collection as a full creative director. But before the show, I was demoted to a ghost designer and they took credit for everything I made. The company even took my sketchbook — the whole thing was crazy! Serendipitously, a couture buyer who attended that show started following my career and years later passed along my name to Netflix for its new reality competition series Next in Fashion.”

Charles Lu
Photography courtesy of Charles Lu

With a second season of Netflix’s Next in Fashion on its way, what advice would you give to the new contestants?

“Be willing to adapt, and keep everything honest. Remember that it’s a TV show first and a competition second.”

Where does your love of black and white come from?

“The first black-and-white piece I made was while I was studying at Istituto Marangoni in London. I was 21, and something just clicked that day. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I really love this.’ Now it’s what I’m known for — also because I only wear black and white in my personal life, which is why my nickname is ‘Panda.’”

What was the inspiration behind your latest collection?

“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.”

What’s next for Charles Lu?

“I want these looks to be available to the public, so eventually I’d love to set up e-commerce and a physical store with the help of a business partner and financial backer. In the meantime, I’ll probably do a few mini releases. The next collection is almost entirely designed in my head. It would just be a continuation of this one as I love the direction I’m heading in.”

Charles Lu shares three celebrities he would love to see in his latest looks:

This article first appeared in FASHION’s Winter issue. Find out more here.

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