Not every designer can say they got Paris Hilton to close their first-ever runway show. And most designers don't have the "balls" (as Hilton put it) to use their debut collection to talk politics. Neon-haired, British expat Christian Cowan did both at his fall 2017 show yesterday, using likely and unlikely figures to play both roles. NYFW has just kicked off, to be fair, but so far, designers are joining the political conversation in ambiguous ways. Cowan seems to have already found his voice — glitter, sequins, assless chaps, and all.
Cowan's approach to both design and the current cultural climate is rooted in positivity. And if you can look beyond the twinkle of his larger-than-life paillettes, you'll see how his whimsical nature pairs perfectly with a pop culture icon like Hilton. "We're in a time where everyone needs to be cheered up; everyone needs a bit of joy in their life, so I always seek to do that in my clothes," he told Refinery29. "I don't typically design to visual references — more so to moods or personalities — so I told all of the models before they walked out: 'You're in the early '80s, in Miami on Ocean Drive, and you're going out with your girlfriends, but you're in a full-blown editorial at the same time."
But, on a more serious note, Cowan opted to feature Caitlyn Jenner on the collection's only cocktail dress: "I think Caitlyn got a lot of flack for coming out and doing what she did, but she brought the conversation to households across America and the world," Cowan explained. "That just wasn't something that was being talked about before, and it had a positive impact. I wanted to celebrate that." As for why he put the word 'free' in caps on the back of the look: "Well, when I was watching her coming out, she used that word a lot," Cowan said. "And it's true — she's finally free. It was freeing for so many other people in the same position."
When asked about Jenner's unabashed belief in President Trump, Cowan thinks it's better to include those with opposing viewpoints than our own in the conversation instead of simply leaving them out. "I definitely don't support what [Trump] stands for. [People do] things that I agree with, and things that I don't agree with," Cowan said. "But by coming out, Caitlyn did such a service to so many transgender children around the world — and older transgender people who felt like their moment was lost — and that's what's important to me."
Something tells us that Cowan is shaping up to be one of the very few designers who are making American fashion fun again. (Sorry, we couldn't help getting at least one political pun in the mix.) The designer's broken-down, torn inside out, completely and amazingly fucked up to the nth degree, glitter-speckled, rhinestone-dipped aesthetic is sure to make Cowan the next king of street style. The last time we saw anything similar was back in Hilton's heyday, when Heatherette was the highlight of NYFW, and the runway was basically devoid of politics, streakers, and headache-inducing EDM. (For the record, Cowan closed his showed with "Freedom! '90" by the late George Michael, which had the most iconic, supermodel-packed music video.)
Certain pieces of Cowan's collection reminded us of Jean Paul Gaultier and the days of the supers, both icons who made attending a fashion show more like watching an improv performance in a theater. So, when you're in the market for looks that say "Hey, wanna dance?" and less "Hey, look at me," add Cowan to the top of your list. But in the midst of our dark current political climate, that second idea might not be so bad either.