Fashion's Next Big Designer Still Has a Day Job
It’s three weeks before New York Fashion Week and Christopher John Rogers is still working a full-time job at Diane von Furstenberg as an associate designer, in addition to putting the finishing touches on his eponymous ready-to-wear collection.
“I don’t have the luxury of making stuff and knowing that money will continually come to me,” the 24-year-old tells me over coffee in New York City. “Things have to have an intention.”
Despite the line not yet being his main source of income, Rogers' pieces have already been seen on some of the hottest female celebrities, including Cardi B and SZA. Taking in the mix of '80s, glam-meets-punk street clothes, brightly colored pantsuits fit for work, and (my personal favorite) a jaguar rainbow printed skirt and top, the intention seems pretty clear: to create happiness.
Rogers, poised to be this season’s break-out designer has worked with the likes of Tanya Taylor, Rosie Assoulin, and Chris Benz. But it’s his childhood memories of drawing and sketching clothing for comic book characters that really have informed his work. “In fifth grade I started looking up fashion schools: Parsons, FIT, and Central Saint Martins,” he says. Rogers ended up attending The Savannah College of Art and Design. “I’ve always been interested in anything visually stimulating, anything overtly flavorful or really intense.”
Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in a uniquely diverse area of the South, Rogers was lucky enough to have parents that celebrated his interests. They enrolled him in arts programs, supported him in hosting local fashion shows, and encouraged his love of drawing. “But my dad was always like, “Do you want to draw basketball players or animals?”
He didn’t. He was more interested in imagining fantastical outfits for invented comic book characters.
“I was literally just taking fabric from a store, and wrapping it around a form, and trying to figure out how to make patterns without ever even knowing what a pattern looked like,” he says. “I would take garbage bags and tape them to the form. I was just trying to figure out a way to make it happen.” To this day, Rogerss design process, like himself, is under development and not necessarily the most formal. “Normally, I just kind of make shit, I really, really like,” he says. This season marks the first time he will show his collection to retailers and bring it to market, but that doesn't mean he's changing his design M.O.
"I found fashion design to be one of the most complete ways for me to express myself visually, while relating to the sociability and personality of other people," he says of his decision at such a young age to embark on a career in fashion. "Experimenting with proportions of color on the human form, encouraging people to take up space, and realizing that these shapes we're creating are kinetic forms that are always interacting with the body continues to keep me interested in this medium."
This season's inspiration comes from a number of sources rather than one single theme. "I really like to allow my mind to wander," he says. For this collection, he drew from things as wide ranging as 1930s French couture and 1970s West African photography; early Isaac Mizrahi and Eames furniture.
“I think my customer is someone who just really likes to explore the idea of clothing as a vehicle for expression and not worrying about what other people think — as cliché as that seems. It’s always a person, whether they identify as male or female or whatever, a person that is really attracted to ostentatious expressions of femininity that don’t minimize their intellect or their sense of humor or their assertiveness of the world.”
The designer has always been aware of the fact that other people didn’t have the same opportunities as he did to express himself growing up. He knew other artistic black men. He knew other gay black man. “I didn’t even realize the disparity between races until I was much older,” he tells me. “Now, I see the racial and size disparity, the way people can perform or express gender to identify and how that can be challenging. For me, it’s never really been an issue in terms of including them in my work.”
This sense of innate inclusiveness may not be a big deal to Rogers, but it's part of what makes me so certain he'll be a big deal before this fashion week ends. My guess? He won't have that day job much longer.