It’s 5:00pm on a particularly dreary Saturday in New York, but you wouldn’t know that from the energy buzzing in Gallery I at TriBeCa’s Spring Studios. Christopher John Rogers, the 26-year-old designer who just won the prestigious CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award in November, starts his Fall/Winter 2020 ready-to-wear show in a half hour or so, and there’s a palpable sense of anticipation for what we’re all about to witness.
After all, with the recent departure of big-name designers like Jeremy Scott, Telfar, and Pyer Moss from the CFDA New York Fashion Week calendar, Rogers has easily risen to the top of the heap as one of the most anticipated shows of the season.
I speak to Rogers backstage after the show, and his professed inspiration for the collection surprises me: “Garbage bags, trash bags, carryout bags, electrical tape on the street, debris, etcetera.” Initially, I had trouble connecting that inspiration with what ultimately ended up on the runway, as the stunning clothes were anything but trashy. Instead, they were the epitome of glamour, the kinds of garments you can imagine celebrities immediately calling their stylists to be dressed in. (And Rogers is no stranger to dressing celebrities. In the past few months alone, he’s dressed everyone from Gabrielle Union to Rowan Blanchard to Lil Nas X.) The more I thought about it, the more it started to make sense: the silhouettes were big; dresses came in crinkled fabrics and artfully draped the body, like a periwinkle top with sleeves that ballooned around the arm or an iridescent gown that gathered at the waist. I understood the inspiration even more when Rogers also cited the work of Alexander Barton, a visual artist who has made a career out of turning debris into art. Suddenly, it all became clear: Rogers had turned trash to treasure.
And what a treasure it was. Though he experienced some difficulties while designing the collection — “A lot of the muslins for these looks came back from the factory completely f***ed up. It was a mess,” he told me — you would be hard-pressed to figure as much.
At several moments, there were even garments that literally dazzled on the runway. Through a partnership with Swarovski, Rogers had accented a number of items — a strapless gown, a shirt-and-pant set, a dress — with glistening precious crystals. It brought an added dose of high-end allure to his collection, something Rogers was enjoyably playful about. When I mentioned that his CFDA win had clearly shot certain elements of his clothes into a new stratosphere, he yelled back, “Exactly!” while stifling some laughter. “The coins!”
As to whether this elevated platform stressed the designer out at all, he says no. “I knew that it was there, but I tried not to feel it,” he tells me. “I know that people liked what I did before, so I was just going to continue to do that thing.”
“That thing” has mostly been about color. In a world of neutrals, Rogers’ designs have always stood out, with many garments coming in fanciful shades of pink, purple, orange, and yellow. Which is why one of the most notable aspects of this collection was the introduction of a few neutral-colored pieces. Of course, this is still Rogers we’re talking about, so they mostly came accented with the bold hues for which he’s known. A big-shouldered black cropped suit was offset by a bright green silk shirt worn underneath. A black gown had thousands of teal-colored crystals zig-zagging across its surface. His philosophy for this particular detail of his clothes is simple: “Black is a color. Grey is a color. Hot pink is a color. Wear the thing! Stop being scared.”
Yet all in all, what amazed me most was the free-wheeling spirit pouring from the models on the runway. On at least three different occasions, a model took a dramatic twirl in the middle of the catwalk. It was a callback to the fashion shows of yore, back when “supermodels” still reigned supreme, when editors and buyers came out for the clothes just as much as they did to see Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss entertain the attendees. It’s a tradition that has since mostly been abandoned.
Now, models are encouraged to stoically traipse down the runway with deadpan faces — the understanding being that, at fashion shows, the clothes should be the primary focus, and model antics should not distract from that. But when your clothes are as naturally attention-grabbing as Rogers’ are, you don’t really have to worry about a model distracting from the garments. When Nikita M’Bouroukounda took her spin as SOPHIE’s remix of Sonikku and Liz’s “Sweat” blared from the speakers, the audience immediately erupted into cheers, but just as many mouths were agape over the garment itself — a sprawling plaid pink long-sleeve taffeta gown that cascaded down the runway as she glided by.
Rogers indulged some himself, too. After his diverse crew of models took their final lap down the runway, the designer, like many before him, came outside to take his final bow. But while most in his position would settle for a short walk, barely taking a few steps past the curtain, Rogers emerged in a full strut. With a deliberately dramatic gait and a playful swish, the CFDA winner sashayed down the catwalk to rapturous applause. His hands waved around and his feet, which were inside a pair of cream-colored heeled Maison Margiela Tabi boots, stomped down the runway. It was a show in and of itself. I thought back to this moment when, at the end of our backstage chat, Rogers offered an answer to my question about what message he hopes his shows can send to the CFDA now that so many other designers have left. Without thinking twice, he looked at me and simply said, “That you guys need to be putting people that do actual shows on the calendar. Period.”
And if anyone knows how to give a capital-S Show in 2020, it’s Christopher John Rogers.
By Michael Cuby Special Contributor