Faces.
Chopova Lowena
Spring/Summer 2023.

Following the brand’s debut show at London Fashion Week, Good Catch founder Sarah Small takes System through her casting process.

By Dominic Cadogan

Following the brand’s debut show at London Fashion Week, Good Catch founder Sarah Small takes System through her casting process.

It’s difficult to remember a time when Chopova Lowena’s carabiner skirts weren’t a street style staple at fashion week. They’re a joy to admire and even more fun to wear; clashing Bulgarian prints, punky carabiner clips, and an explosion of concertina pleats.

Yet, despite this, the brand itself has been notably missing from the show schedule, an extravagance the design duo, Emma Chopova and Laura Lowena, couldn’t afford without funding from the British Fashion Council’s NEWGEN initiative.

For Spring/Summer 2023, Chopova Lowena made its long overdue runway debut at London Fashion Week, with Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose – a collection inspired by the Bulgarian Rose Festival. Angsty and riotous, the electrifying debut was a shot of adrenaline during a sombre season, an invigorating energy that LFW has been missing for a while.

Marching down the runway to the screams of Disturbed’s “Down With the Sickness”, the label’s models appeared in staple’s we’ve come to know and love – mismatched Bulgarian prints, cartoon motifs, and their signature skirt – as well as new future favourites like the fuzzy booties that looked as if the model’s legs were bound in tinsel.

Who better to model said clothes than family and friends of the brand? Alongside artists and musicians from the Chopova Lowena community, the cast also included Lowena’s brother, jewellery designer and previous collaborator Georgia Kemball, Gut magazine’s Ami Evelyn Hughes, and i-D’s fashion features editor Mahoro Seward who inspired the audience to cheer on their compatriot.

The name behind the debut’s faces is Sarah Small – founder of Good Catch – who has previously collaborated with the brand on its lookbooks. Here, System speaks with the casting director about her entry into the industry, her collaborative process with Chopova Lowena and casting for the brand’s runway debut.

Faces. Chopova Lowena Spring/Summer 2023. - © System Magazine
Faces. Chopova Lowena Spring/Summer 2023. - © System Magazine
Faces. Chopova Lowena Spring/Summer 2023. - © System Magazine
Faces. Chopova Lowena Spring/Summer 2023. - © System Magazine
Faces. Chopova Lowena Spring/Summer 2023. - © System Magazine
Faces. Chopova Lowena Spring/Summer 2023. - © System Magazine

I feel like a good place to start is to ask what it was that initially got your interested in casting? Was it always something that you wanted to do?

Sarah Small: I stumbled into it when I was at university. I was doing a placement and I had a friend that worked with Maddie Østlie at AAMØ and I went in and loved it. Working with someone like Madde who genuinely loves her job and is an incredible businesswoman, I was awestruck by the whole thing.

In hindsight, it makes sense that I ended up in casting because what I was really interested in at university was documentary film and photography and what made it so endearing to me was looking at the people in those film and photography projects and appreciating how special and individual they felt. I’ve always been someone who is more of a watcher and listener than someone who has a crazy loud voice. Even thinking back to summer holidays when I was a kid, most of what I liked to do was people watching and soaking it all in. It isn’t the reason that I’m in casting, but it makes sense that what I do is very people-focused.

What did you learn from working with Madde?

Sarah Small: I really got to grips with the casting process, getting the brief from a client and really understanding it through that person’s lens – what they want to achieve and the kind of person or people that they want to shoot. Madde is great and has a very distinctive style of working, seeing her go up to somebody at a party and being so confident was super interesting. As a naturally shy person, I had never done physical street casting, but you get what you give, it’s all about having a certain attitude. You have to invest in someone for a moment and make them feel comfortable, so that was a great thing to learn when I was assisting and Madde is such a force, so she was an incredible person to learn from.

I want to talk specifically about Chopova Lowena and how you first started collaborating with Laura and Emma.

Sarah Small: I owe that one to Jamie Reid, who I’d worked with a few times before. My friend I was living with at the time was interning with Chopova at the time and overheard a call with Jamie where my name was mentioned. Obviously, I thought it was amazing and really hoped they wanted to work with me. It was a very natural progression, having worked with Jamie before and done an editorial with Charlotte Wales who is a close collaborator of Chopova, it just made sense. I’m very grateful they’ve continued wanting to work with me because even before working with them, I had all their clothes and luckily it came together.

Faces. Chopova Lowena Spring/Summer 2023. - © System Magazine
Faces. Chopova Lowena Spring/Summer 2023. - © System Magazine
Faces. Chopova Lowena Spring/Summer 2023. - © System Magazine
Faces. Chopova Lowena Spring/Summer 2023. - © System Magazine
Faces. Chopova Lowena Spring/Summer 2023. - © System Magazine
Faces. Chopova Lowena Spring/Summer 2023. - © System Magazine

As a fan of the brand, what is the essence of Chopova Lowena to you?

Sarah Small: It made sense in a time where fashion, in my mind, was becoming very similar. There will always be movements in fashion, but there were just a lot of things that weren’t very exciting to me. So seeing Chopova Lowena come out with all of these patterns, colours, and textures really made me want to wear it. There’s just something about it that feels very authentic to them.

The clothes are so pleasing to the eye and it’s exciting but also feels very accessible and so many people look good in their clothes. I love seeing when they repost or share an Instagram Story of someone in their clothes, they always look good in it, which you can’t say about a lot of brands. You look at something like how iconic the carabiner skirt is, and on paper you’d think that maybe it wouldn’t look good on everyone, but it does.

Can you talk me through the usual process when you’re casting for the brand?

Sarah Small: Usually they’ll send over a creative deck which is already very well put together in Jamie’s hands, so everything else is almost filling in the gaps. They’re very open to collaboration, hearing my thoughts, and seeing my suggestions, first and foremost. Of course, like any client, they’ll have feedback, but given that their sample size is 10, I’m very aware of who I’m bringing to the table and who I think they want to see. It encourages being open and going down the route of street casting, rather than having to work to a size 6 sample size, which is such a blessing because it means that we get to involve all these different characters from different backgrounds and walks of life.

The thing that is really exciting is that it always feels natural, it’s never a discussion where we talk about a certain ethnic group or size person and saying, ‘we really need that,’ it happens very naturally and we’re all very open-minded and understanding people. Diversity and representation are such big topics of conversation, and it’s very much needed, but it feels great to work with people where there isn’t any tokenism involved. That’s such a disingenuous way to go, just box-ticking.

Chopova Lowena is about to have its first show at LFW, a really big moment for the brand! How is the process different from some of the other projects you’ve collaborated on?

Sarah Small: The show really feels like an expansion of the projects we’ve done before. There have been really specific briefs – the last campaign was Victorian portraits meets ice skating – and I love to emulate that. That’s a really wonderful part about being a casting director, when you have a specific brief and it gives you lines to work within.

I’ve worked with Chopova a few times and I feel like I can gauge what they’re really into and there’s always an emphasis on ‘real people’ and real characters. We’ve done two castings so far for London Fashion Week and someone can come in and be really awkward and have an awkward walk and while it might not work for the majority of catwalks, with Chopova, we see the beauty in different characteristics that are kind of against the norm. The process is very collaborative and Emma and Laura love working with their friends, which is amazing, it makes the whole thing feel very family-oriented and personal. It’s nice to look at a board like this and it feels like a random mix of people, but in a very good way.

Faces. Chopova Lowena Spring/Summer 2023. - © System Magazine
Faces. Chopova Lowena Spring/Summer 2023. - © System Magazine
Faces. Chopova Lowena Spring/Summer 2023. - © System Magazine
Faces. Chopova Lowena Spring/Summer 2023. - © System Magazine
Faces. Chopova Lowena Spring/Summer 2023. - © System Magazine
Faces. Chopova Lowena Spring/Summer 2023. - © System Magazine

Looking at some of the previous projects that you’ve worked on together, you can definitely see the family vibe you mentioned. It feels as if they’re friends, or friends of friends.

Sarah Small: There have been a few times when someone has come in to cast and they’ve looked at the board and known someone on there, which feels nice. I think all of us have an appreciation of people that are in a similar kind of world and equally those people can look at the brand, appreciate where they’ve come from, and how special their designs are. The funny thing about street casting is that it can literally be the case of picking someone off the street and plonking them into a scenario where they’re suddenly in a carabiner skirt, but it feels special when someone’s involved and they’ve followed the brand since it began. I will often talk to a street cast person and when I mention the brand, they will say that they love the clothes which feels like an investment is already there.

Lastly, what do you think the faces that you cast say about you?

Sarah Small: That’s the most difficult one! I think what I look for now and what I have looked for before when I first started casting is forever changing. I did my first commercial job when I was 22, so the pool of people that I knew were really young and I don’t think I cast anyone over the age of 25 for my first few jobs because my database was just the people around me and people I knew. Now, I have people from all backgrounds, all ages, everything.

I don’t know what it says about me though. I feel like I see so many people and I find it hard to choose who to go up to because I see something special in so many people and there won’t always be a project for them. Maybe I’ll never work with them, so is there a point in me going up to them? For me, of course, because I have this itch to do it, so I need to.

I would say you have a natural curiosity which is the thread that ties all the faces together.

Sarah Small: If you’re freelance and working in this industry and you’re not naturally curious, I feel like it’s a ticking time bomb. It might sound harsh, but maybe you shouldn’t be doing this because I think curiosity is what keeps people interested in life. It makes the stress and everything feel worth it.

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