Christopher John Rogers talks about celebrities and future plans – WWD
In what was his first live interview, Christopher John Rogers discussed at the Met on Tuesday night his accelerated fame, celebrity dressing and future plans.
After holding its first showing in 2018 and winning the 2021 CFDA award for American Womenswear Designer of the Year, Rogers’ rise was somewhat accelerated by dressing celebrities such as Lizzo, Zendaya, Lil Nas X, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Michelle Obama.
During Tuesday’s hour-long chat, which was part of “The Atelier With Alina Cho” series, Rogers, 28, seemed to be looking forward as much as he was looking back. Speaking about her upcoming collection, Rogers said, “Lately I was just thinking about the mark my team and I are trying to leave on fashion and fashion history. More than any reference, it’s about energy, about all the things we’ve done before, and going deeper into them. Color is always the starting point for me.
Rogers said his reaction to winning the CFDA award last year was “disbelief”, adding that he “tries not to think too much about awards and accolades”. Going from cutting fabric for $5 a yard in her apartment kitchen with her team to winning a CFDA award was “just crazy,” the designer said.
“I am fully aware of the comings and goings of fashion darlings. I try my best not to dive into trends or look too much at what’s happening to the left or right of me, or even what’s happening to me. Some of my favorite designers like Isaac Mizrahi and Todd Oldham have come and gone. Some [have done so] for business reasons or because they just decided to cut it…which I understand,” he said. “I just try to keep my head down, focus on work and celebrate with people who are actually my friends. Go where I go and stay cute.
After graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2016, Rogers moved to Brooklyn, NY, waited tables for a year, then took a job with Diane von Furstenberg and started sewing her own designs at night. in his kitchen after work. Although he started his business in 2016, his first showing was at Martos Gallery in September 2018. Several retailers “tried to place orders, but we were hesitant to do so because we all had full-time jobs. at the time,” Rogers mentioned.
Highlighting the amount of hard work needed to succeed in fashion, Rogers said he was still working on jobs for others until early 2020. The arrival of his first check from his $400,000 CFDA win / Vogue Fashion Fund has changed that.
In late February, Rogers dressed Meghan Markle for the NAACP Image Awards in a one-shoulder “Cunningham blue” gown (a tribute to the New York Times street photographer’s favorite color). The former Duchess of Sussex emailed her out of the blue. “I was, like, ‘Is this really you?’ I googled all the details [on the email] and said okay. She got my details from Edward Enninful [of British Vogue]. She told me she really wanted to make a statement after having her last child. And she wanted to feel sexy and feel free.
The adjustments were made over Zoom with her tailor and in one case with the help of her husband Prince Harry, who held the phone and turned it on to say hello. “What I like — I like down-to-earth things,” Rogers said.
“You like down-to-earth princes,” Cho said with a laugh. “Me too.”
Dressing up Kamala Harris for her swearing in as Vice President of the United States was another memorable moment for Rogers and her team, who watched the inauguration while eating bagels in her Brooklyn apartment “hoping that ‘a rush of this color would flash on our screens’.
While “seeing the range of people who can find themselves at work and feeling at home” is the benefit of dressing like a celebrity, the designer said he gets more excited seeing “real people in the street wearing his clothes”.
Asked about the controversy Grammys organizers faced after they referred to Virgil Abloh as a hip-hop designer during this month’s awards, Rogers said, “I can relate to people who want to label you or reduce you to something, and stuff you in a neat style, merchant box. I’ve always rejected that…I try not to do anything about how others might see me or perceive me. I try to talk about the work itself.
Rogers recalled how kind Abloh was to him during last year’s LVMH Prize Final, offering his phone number and help if he needed it. Returning from Thanksgiving weekend in Louisiana, Rogers said he considered texting Abloh to see how he was doing and learned of his death the next day. The late Alber Elbaz is another designer that Rogers admired, largely because “you couldn’t really categorize his work, whether it was day, evening, or cocktail – the work spoke for itself…” .
Dressed in a baseball cap and black Dries Van Noten suit, Rogers said his obsession with the Belgian designer’s color-focused work began in 2007. Mizrahi, Oldham, Consuelo Castiglioni de Marni, Christian Lacroix and Alix Barton of Madame Gres are other favorite designers. Becoming the creative director of a European fashion house is one of Rogers’ dreams and goals, but he refused to identify the three to five he had in mind as dream jobs.
His candor provided some of the lightest moments, like the habit of interviewing each other in the shower imagining the questions reporters would ask. “I believe in protest and always want to be prepared. One of my favorite hobbies – still to this day – is watching interviews with designers from the archives. I love looking on YouTube and finding interviews with designers. archive with [Emanuel] Ungaro or [Karl] Lagerfeld, and to see how they used words to explain the unexplainable.
Watching those with “people like Rei Kawakubo, who rarely give interviews” was insightful, according to Rogers. How they allow “grey areas to be sufficient and comfortable in these small spaces” were among the takeaways, he said.
Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Rogers said a fourth-grade hobby of creating comics sparked an interest in fashion, after a friend noticed that female comic book characters never changed outfits. “We started drawing looks and thinking about color and proportion of a character,” he said.
Over the next three to five years, Rogers aims to create “a place where people can come to feel free, support themselves, offer ideas and have them listened to.” Noting how in the fashion industry, especially when it comes to design, people can feel pressured to act according to specific directions, Rogers, which has six full-time employees , wants to avoid this.
One of Rogers’ designs – a voluminous dress in bold stripes with texture inspired by trash bags – featured prominently in the first installment of the Costume Institute’s “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.” And a white poplin that was part of the exhibition’s recent refresh also has a prime location in the gallery.
Fans of the vibrant dress he designed for “Gossip Girl” actress Jordan Alexander for last fall’s Met Gala will be able to purchase two different versions of the skirt from his upcoming collection. When asked when it would debut, the designer replied, somewhat hesitantly, later this summer. Designs from Rogers’ spring 2021 collection have been featured on the HBO Max show and he has designed clothes for some cast members.
“What I always try to do with my work is to create something that combines a lot of different references so that it feels timeless or anti-temporal, if that makes sense,” Rogers said.
After Cardi B wore one of her coats to the 2017 BET Hip Hop Awards, Rogers said it was the first time he realized the power of Instagram. His base of 7,000 Instagram followers – at the time – gained 5,000 more in one day. (Rogers now has 261,000 Instagram followers.)
While his father, who works in tech, taught him the importance of using Instagram as a tool, and his late grandmother inspired his predilection for monochromatic ensembles, Rogers said he was inspired by many different things, including other designers, art, and music. He also said he wanted the work he released “to be unmistakably me and informed by all the different little nuances and idiosyncrasies and things that I love”.
His parents instilled in him the belief that “hard work will get you anywhere you want to go,” Rogers said. Noting how he envisioned creating an incredible senior collection that would be immediately picked up by stores, Rogers said, “That never happened.” Speaking about the importance of surrounding yourself with “people who can see your light and understand that you have something to offer,” Rogers said it was a friend who insisted he save his first paycheck. to buy an industrial sewing machine, “Who knows what would have happened [otherwise]?”
Asked about his zeal for color, the designer said it was his way of seeing the world. “I like to treat color as an object.” As for “Sesame Street” characters Ernie and Bert being among his style icons, Rogers explained that it’s due to “their sense of humor, their love for each other, and for stripes, color and crazy hair”.
But inspiration can spring from anywhere, noting how he once drew some from a piece of plastic he found on the floor. Post-it notes or even food stains could lead to color choices. “It’s leaving your mind and your eyes open to anything that can be inspired and not saying, ‘It has to be that picture or that sculpture.'”