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Womenswear designer Christopher John Rogers' debut collection is a journey — one that references a variety of artists and far-off locales. Just look at his Swarovski crystal-embellished shirtgowns with clashing zebra prints that bring to mind the wildlife of Zimbabwe, or his structured suits inspired by the black and white photography of Malick Sidibe's Malian disco dancers in the ‘60s.
The end result is a collection so over-the-top and glamorous, it looks like it was plucked right off of an ‘80s couture runway.
"This first collection was really just an exploration of the things that I've just always been really obsessed with, including indigenous cultures from around the globe," says Rogers at his home in Brooklyn.
He has a knack for taking materials and prints that don't necessarily go together and somehow making them work. Case in point: delicate tulle blouses embroidered with nickel hardware, colorful ostrich feathers, and fur.
These unexpected pairings — like his romantic pleat skirts printed with bold and colorful graphics — are definitely not for the color-shy minimalist. The majority of his designs draw inspiration from the high fashion glamour that designers like Christian Lacroix and Yves Saint Laurent popularized in the ‘80s.
Rogers, a 22-year-old Baton Rouge, Louisiana-native, studied fashion design at the Savannah College of Art and Design. New York became like a second home during his summers there, and he interned with some of today’s leading design talents, like Chris Benz at Bill Blass, Charles Harbison, and Azede Jean-Pierre.
"Every internship sort of informed my interest in a certain area of design," said Rogers. "When I went to the rack my first day interning with Azede and saw the way that she was cutting clothes, I noticed that even the removal of an arm seam or extending an inch of the neck can really elevate the luxury of a garment. Seeing the way she worked with fur and the way Charles treated tailoring was so essential to me."
The majority of the materials in his first collection — called Collection 001 — are everyday, utilitarian fabrics (like poplin cotton and denim), but are crafted in a way that's refined and luxurious.
"I don't look for things to be rough, I like things that are very polished with a little bit of a twist," said Rogers. "I guess that probably stems from my childhood in Louisiana when getting all dressed up for Church and special occasions was super important."
Perhaps what is most appealing about Rogers is his target customer — mature, working women in their early thirties to mid-fifties who are looking for something over-the-top to go with their everyday items. Recently the rapper Eve wore one of his metallic, cropped jackets with just a classic white tee and jeans.
"My girl is definitely someone with a sense of humor, but she realizes that the things she puts on her back matter. Not necessarily in a superficial sense, but in the way that she navigates through the world," says Rogers.
His dream celebrity client? "Definitely Solange. She's everything," says Rogers. "She gets fashion, but it's weird because it always looks like something you could take off of her and wear yourself. It's never a performance, it's never ‘look at me,' but she always looks amazing."