Designer Christopher John Rogers Is Changing American Fashion—And Fast

Photographer Emmanuel Monsalve


Designer Christopher John Rogers, among his many talents, possesses a remarkably self-assured point of view. It’s something that stars like Whoopi Goldberg, Michelle Obama, Kacey Musgraves, Cardi B, and Lizzo have been drawn to, and it’s something that distinguishes his aesthetic from his contemporaries. “For me there’s something so pure about the joy of the thing adjacent to glamour,” he tells COOLS over blueberry pancakes at Williamsburg’s Juliette restaurant.

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“It’s fashion, so yes, it’s art, but it’s also a product,” he continues. “At least for me, I’m interested in people wearing the crazy thing. Not even crazy…the emotional thing, or the thing that takes up space. In a world where people bump into each other, and are in cars, it’s not that glamour doesn’t make sense. It’s how do you make it make sense. How do you convince people to take time out of their day in the morning to try and make it make sense?”

 

Much of our conversation centers around Rogers’ obsession with the area between high and low. For instance, his early obsession with Project Runway, which he first discovered during the show’s debut season in 2004. “What is this lo-fi, high-glam moment? What’s happening?” he asks himself. This duality informs much of the prism through which Rogers sees the world.

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“Glamour, sparkle, shine, yeah. But to me, an expensive sequin and a discarded candy wrapper are the same thing,” he says. “A fully decked out mid-century apartment is the same as a Little Debbie cake with rainbow frosting. The rainbow frosting and the red mid-century sofa…it’s the energy that those two things have.” He takes this ethos to his design process. “When I feel something that feels so adjacent to what I have in my head or in my heart or in my aura, I have to express it. I might not be able to say it, but I can show you.”

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Emmanuelle Monsalve for COOLS

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At just 25-years-old, Rogers is among the youngest designers to show at New York Fashion Week. The son of a medical technologist mother and director of technology at an agriculture center father, Rogers grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “I was always like an art kid,” he says, describing his obsessions with anime and Pokemon. “I wanted to be a comic book illustrator or some kind of graphic novelist. A lot of my graphic contrasts and bright saturations of color might stem from that.”

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Through outlets like LiveJournal and Tumblr, he began to discover fashion as early as fifth grade. “I was sketching all of the time and watching fashion shows during breaks,” he says. “People would go into recess and I would go into the computer lab, look at a show and sketch the looks. I was obsessed.” By senior year of high school, he was creating full-blown collections, the last of which, a 25-look offering, showed at New Orleans Fashion Week. “Fashion design as a practice isn’t just sketching and making clothes all day,” he adds. “It’s organizing your life, organizing what you want to say. And when you have limited resources, you can only really say so many things clearly at once.”

 

A scholarship allowed him to attend school at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Three months after graduation he moved to New York, but things didn’t go immediately as desired. “The original plan was to have a sickening senior collection, get picked up by a store, and then have the normal trajectory for an emerging designer,” he says. “That didn’t happen, obviously.” Instead, he started waiting tables at a Nigerian restaurant in Bed-Stuy while applying for design jobs.

 

Finally, he got a break when Diane von Furstenberg reached out. “It was so inspiring, especially working with Jonathan [Saunders],” he reflects. “He was somebody I had always looked up to, and when his brand shuddered I was really disappointed, because I thought he had such a point of view. Working under him [at DVF] was a dream job. I think I learned a lot from my two-and-a-half years there: what to do and what not to do,” he says fondly.

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After leaving DVF to go solo in March 2019, he made his New York Fashion Week debut that fall. “In light of the fact that the majority of Rogers’s contemporaries (he’s the ripe old age of 25) are more inclined toward streetwear, the formal and unapologetically fun creations he set forth felt like a breath of fresh air,” wrote Vogue of the collection.

 

The momentum quickly grew. In an industry ripe with newcomers favoring what we’ve come to call streetwear, Rogers forged a path all his own with an aesthetic rooted in an encyclopedic knowledge of the fashions that came before him. And by doing that, he’s further zeroed in on what he really wants his clothes to say.

 

“I think there are several things that I’m interested in talking about…the development of clothing, the process, how much it costs and the resources people need to do certain things. I guess I could say…” I see the eye roll beginning to form, aware of how many designers of color are inched toward making diversity their number one talking point in conversations of this nature. “I hate…” he pauses. “I feel like diversity, inclusion…those words are everywhere. It feels very tokenist. Instead of having the conversation, just hire the person or work with the person. We all know the answer to the problem. For me, when I speak about diversity, it’s not just race and size. It is aesthetic, it is point of view, it is background, it is life experience.”

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