Interviewing anyone in the middle of a pandemic is tough—on top of the stress of being in lockdown, you’ve got to cope with anxiety, figure out your next move, and wonder if things will ever go back to “normal”. It is late May when I interview Christopher John Rogers, and the world is right in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic with global borders closing, infection rates soaring and panic rising. But speaking to the American designer, albeit through email, you practically feel the positivity radiate through. Having just returned from his brand’s first market appointments in Paris, he tells me that his team immediately went into quarantine. Nonetheless, while sheltering in place in Brooklyn, he says, “It’s been interesting to have the time to decompress and think more about life and friendships and family, and see how that influences the work that we do at CJR.”
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Rogers is part of a crop of exciting new designers reviving New York’s fashion industry, and has garnered praise from every corner of the press corp. “He is the fashion industry’s latest obsession,” declared The Washington Post’s Robin Givhan. The Cut‘s Cathy Horyn called him “pure oxygen” and “the best thing to come along in American fashion in a while.” Celebrities such as Michelle Obama, Tracee Ellis Ross, Zendaya and Lady Gaga have all worn his creations at major red carpet events and award shows. On top of that, he’s also won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in 2019, the American Emerging Designer of the Year Award at the CFDA Fashion Awards 2020, and many more accolades from the industry since. It’s the sort of glowing praise that can quickly go to anyone’s head, but Rogers is set on keeping his feet firmly grounded.
Here, the designer talks to us about his love dramatic gestures, early style icons and why emotional, special clothes are at the heart of his brand.
What is your design ethos?
Emotional, sensitive, and transformational clothes with an emphasis on pragmatic glamour.
What are the qualities that your ideal Christopher John Rogers woman possesses?
She’s passionate, sensitive, witty, loving, and has an amazing sense of humour.
Bold colour, glamour, volume and tailoring are hallmarks of your design, it seems. What draws you to these dramatic gestures?
I have a genuine interest in encouraging people to take up space and providing them with tools to express themselves in intentional ways. Injecting unexpected colours and volume into separates is an interesting, modern way of doing that.
Growing up, were there any women or style icons that you looked up to?
My best friend growing up loved to mix truncated thrifted prom gowns with jeans and heeled boots for algebra class one day, and wear a sequinned jacket and t-shirt for chemistry class the next. She dressed for herself and only herself, and didn’t feel that experimenting with fashion forced her to sacrifice any of her intellect.
Was there a particular moment you remember that made you realise you wanted to be a fashion designer?
Drawing comic book characters with my friends in elementary school.
Is there a particular piece of advice that you have been given, that still sticks with you today?
Follow your gut.
What was the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund journey like for you?
It was a wonderful opportunity that allowed me to refine my vision on my own terms, and focus on where I wanted to take my business in the next 2-5 years. I also made some amazing friends in the process!
You’ve definitely come a long way since then! The COVID-19 crisis has affected the fashion industry in profound ways—how has it impacted your business?
It’s allowed us to double-down on the fact that we’re in this business to provide our clients with emotional, special clothes. They don’t need to be for everyone, and we don’t need to sell 5000 units of anything to feel validated in the work that we do. The world needs more art and more intention, not just more stuff.
Read the full feature on Christopher John Rogers in our autumn/winter issue, out on newsstands now.