‘Kukeri’, a rhythmic, witty kind of word, is the name of the men dressed up as monsters for Surva, an ancient Bulgarian Winter folk festivaI. Wearing handmade masks, embroidered and beaded clothing and heavy belts of bells, the Kukeri dance along the streets to ward away evil spirits. Plus! Surva is about encouraging bountiful harvests and celebrating the coming-of-a age of a community's young men. All-in-all, it’s an important, centuries-long tradition that has largely paid no heed to the shifting sands of time (the costumes are often kept in the family and handed down through generations. Although one thing has changed: in recent times, women have begun to participate in the festival as Kukeri, too).
For their most recent collection, fashion designer duo Chopova Lowena (Emma Chopova from Bulgaria/US + Laura Lowena from the UK) crashed together two strands of inspiration: 1) the Bulgarian Kukeri and 2) 1980s wrestling culture, seeing connections between these two types of orchestrated ritual—both involve DIY costumes and over the top performance.
For the limited edition book, photographer Charlotte Wales travelled with Chopova Lowena to Pernik, Bulgaria, in January 2018 to document this year’s festival. Not stopping there, Wales also shot the new Chopova Lowena collection on location in Bulgaria and in a London studio, too. The result is Kukeri, the book—part fashion catalogue, part documentary...
A central activity of Chopova Lowena's research process is the ‘exquisite corpse' method of collaging together two images from disparate sources, so that the figures in them join up and create new characters. They say: ‘We basically start with two opposing themes and find connections and mirroring qualities In the imagery. We pair them up sometimes aesthetically for colour, pattern texture etc but mostly we try find relationshIps between the people and the mood. The pairings also help us create new characters, separate from either reference by seeing the imagery in context with each other.’ The lookbook pays homage to Chopova Lowena's exquisite corpse technique with split pages that produce countless wiId identity mash-up and character swaps, melding folklore costume with fantastical athletic personae.