At just 26-years-old, Christopher John Rogers is a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winner; has dressed the likes of former First Lady Michelle Obama, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Cardi B; and has shown critically acclaimed collections at New York Fashion Week twice, presenting his third collection tonight. More impressive than that? He accomplished most of that (and more) while balancing a full-time job.
I met Rogers before New York Fashion Week to celebrate being chosen as one of IMG’s “New Faces of Fashion,” a program where the company, alongside BMW, champions people who take the "road less travelled" in their careers. For it, he participated in a panel put on by BMW, the official partner of NYFW, and moderated by GQ’s deputy fashion director Nikki Ogunnaike. With his autumn ‘20 runway show just days away, it was a testament to the Baton Rouge-born SCAD graduate’s ability to juggle a hundred things at once. Of course, you’ll learn to be graceful under fire when your boss only gives you a week off to put on your own NYFW presentation, when most designers spend half the year planning the event. (More on that later…)
Like most designers, Rogers discovered that he was interested in fashion design as a kid. “Growing up in Louisiana, I didn't always feel empowered to be myself. So, escaping or somehow squeezing myself into a space where I could release all the things that I wanted to release was a dream of mine,” he said.
Rogers took on his first big design project when he was in elementary school, drawing costumes for his favourite comic book and anime characters that began when his friend asked why Superman always wore the same thing. From that moment, Rogers began relating fashionable clothing to “having superpowers.” CJR collections have been described as over-the-top, yet wearable, and full of joie de vivre. In other words, he’s designing clothing that makes women feel mighty, heroic, and capable of anything.
After graduating, Rogers moved to NYC and got a job straight away. “I was working at DVF, but I knew that I had a really strong point of view, and I wanted people to see my look in person.” So, he went for the big leagues, and applied for an official spot on the CFDA’s calendar, without an established brand.
No one, Rogers included, thought that the brand would get a spot on the exclusive schedule. So when they did, in fact, make the cut, it was a race to the finish line to get things ready for fashion week. “All of us basically took a week off of work,” said Rogers. “Luckily, my boss at the time was very understanding and supportive, even though he didn’t have to be."
His premiere collection, shown in a Chinatown gallery, was an immediate hit. Overnight, Christopher John Rogers was the must-see designer for Fashion Week attendees, with photos of his fantastical pieces appearing on every influencer and editor’s Instagram feeds. “Fashion isn't always fun, which is fine because no job is always fun, but I got into fashion because of the fantasy.” Despite the success, Rogers wasn’t yet selling any of his designs, nor turning a profit. To manufacture samples alone would’ve cost as much as his entire year’s salary at DVF, so instead, he sewed them all by hand.
Making financial matters worse, Rogers was laid off from DVF following the presentation of his first collection. But he decided to take it as an opportunity to fully dedicate his time and energy to his namesake brand, present his sophomore collection to rave reviews, and win the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award. With the $400,000 (£309,760) prize, he was able to actually manufacture his spring ‘20 collection that initially won him the award. “I'm able to execute the ideas that are in my head. I don't have to make concessions, I don't have to settle.”
All this culminated in tonight’s show, his most impressive collection to date, drawing a massive crowd (Spring Studios even brought out two extra rows of seating to accommodate the larger attendance). Old-Hollywood-meets-Space-Age suits and gowns, including a dazzling floor-length highlighter-orange number, were paired with oversized earrings to match, and perfectly executed pin curls. The vibrant orange hue continued throughout the collection, showing up in bigger, more voluminous silhouettes as the show went on. The most impressive piece of the night, though, a cap-sleeved gown the width of a small car, was designed in the designer’s signature colour: an iridescent Kermit-green. Rogers, himself, emerged from backstage, twirling and glowing from the inside out. He danced to the beat of a standing ovation.
But don’t let that grand exit fool you. Christopher John Rogers has humble plans for what’s next. "The next big goal for the brand is to continue to exist!”