During a conversation with Christopher John Rogers, the seminal designer hammered home the importance of being blessed with a thorough point of view saying, 'Violet Chachki once said, 'know who you are and bring it to them every time.' But how does this apply to the designer's own work? Rogers knows precisely who he is by living this quote, making it his philosophy. Perhaps the world would be better if we all subscribed to the 'Rogers philosophy.' Rogers not only understands his place in society but responds to it, alongside the zeitgeist that his world revolves around. Here, he shares that story...
M-C Hill: Would you say you are a maximalist designer?
Christopher John Rogers: No, I don’t think so. What would you say?
M-C Hill: He’s a specific designer but no, he’s not a maximalist. There’s no foolishness.
CJR: That’s not what it’s about for me. Sometimes the thing is very minimal and straightforward. And there are times when it’s more abstract. Nothing is prosaic and nothing is Einstein-ian either.
M-C Hill: A word stood out from this collection’s show notes: ‘serendipity.’ Can you explain how your approach to colour communicates that discovery?
CJR: I’ve always been attracted to colour more than any concrete idea or theme. What motivates my work is colour and colour theory. I don’t know why, but it’s something that gets me going. I grew up always drawing on walls, sort of messing things up. My grandmother suggested I get tested for the art programme that had just come to Baton Rouge. The first thing you do in art class is draw with charcoal or pencil to render things in black and white. I always hated that part. Something about colour immediately triggers an emotion. As it relates to this collection, serendipity is something I’ve always had in my design work. Not being afraid of some random, outside source allowing the work to become more abstract from the original set of references.
Ever since I moved to New York, I’ve had this weird obsession with abject objects. Whether it’s a plastic carry-out bag or black garbage bags on the street with really colourful ties, that visual texture is something I wanted to investigate with intention this season. In past seasons, it was less about a grandiose gown rather than a big twisted shape, which was the garbage bag. Investigating that visual texture on a macro and micro level this season was really interesting to me.
M-C Hill: Thinking of the rainbow striped jumper from the 007 collection, you styled the hem to affect a peplum. It is a T-shirt, but it’s a fabulous T-shirt and if you blink, it becomes couture.
CJR: Yes exactly! Allowing for the person wearing it to make it whatever it is. Who’s to say it’s not the most amazing piece of clothing you ever owned? That is exciting.
M-C Hill: Your democracy considers everyone, but does not design for a caricature over character. What do you think?
CJR: Something I always bring into the work is considering different bodies, as opposed to how people identify. Our knitwear is very democratic in terms of body type regardless of how you identify. All of our button downs and tailoring button on the men’s side. Trying to de-binary the product to feel like someone can access it in a really abstract way.
In terms of cultural references, the idea of going to church and seeing someone in head-to-toe green, red or pink is burned in my brain. But the collections aren’t about that. The way I see colour and proportion is informed by those experiences. It is equally that and equally ‘Sailor Moon,’ biology textbook drawings and 1970s aspic jello dinners. All of those things inform the collections. That helps to make it open to interpretation.
M-C Hill: In life, we are all informed by a certain aesthetic common sense. What we know, we often attribute to the work. That’s reassuring and exciting to hear what it isn’t, but that it could be.
CJR: I also won’t reject those associations because those are exciting too.
M-C Hill: When meaning is concrete, like the 70’s jello moulds or the crayon scribbles from last season, is there a disconnect in the visual communication?
CJR: In the past maybe there has been. I am becoming more okay with presenting something not traditionally coherent. So in the past three seasons, I’ve been trying to world build. Revisiting motifs I enjoyed in past work to excavate it and create a world that is less associated with references, designers, art or fashion periods. It is about this world. So a trapeze dress can exist next to this bodycon, sexy thing. Everytime you see it, moving forward you think of CJR.
M-C Hill: Let’s discuss American versus European sensibilities. How does CJR world-building sit in these specific lands?
CJR: It sits in that ocean between both spaces. The work is informed by my experience as an American, as someone Southern, who had a certain relationship with fashion. This collection allows itself to familiarise that part more singularly. It’s also informed by my reverence for designers in Europe. Growing up looking at a Galliano, McQueen or Martine Sitbon show and being obsessed with the way fashion was about something other than product. But then also being an American surrounded by people who did not care about fashion. It was more about a certain sense of style, getting dressed, a certain fashion. Reconciling both sits comfortably in the liminal space between both ideas. It’s not investigating either, but it’s informed by both.
I grew up in Louisiana and studied fashion in Savannah, Georgia. I used to not want to talk about Southern references for fear of being pigeonholed. Someone brings up church dressing every season. It is that, but it’s not about that at all.
M-C Hill: You tend to beat a dead horse if you keep going back to the church. Those hats in looks 6 and 46, yes, our aunts and grandmothers wore those bloody hats. But it’s not like you’re writing an ode to grandma every season.
CJR: [Laughs] Exactly.
M-C Hill: Let’s talk about the colour palette in 009. It’s soft, but it’s loud too. What was your colour strategy this season?
CJR: I keep a folder on my desktop of things I like regardless of theme for three to six months. I’ll print those out to find the colour commonalities and then find those colours as standards. Whether a Post-It, a highlighter or a plastic thing, that thing is the colour standard.
This season, having that tension investigating the very bright and the very wearable, the discreet…I love to wear colour but don’t always wear it. So how do I create something that feels on brand, but doesn’t have to be trapped in my own branded idioms? If I was to do beige, mushroom grey or a mostly black something, how do I make it CJR?
M-C Hill: There were several girls wearing the Target stuff during NYFW. What feedback did you get from that collection?
CJR: Target is incredibly democratic. I was okay with making certain concessions, but I was completely blown away by seeing them make what I wanted happen. I wanted it to feel like what someone who maybe isn’t in a cosmopolitan setting wants fashion to feel like. I also didn’t need to push this idea of the garments being for anybody. Regardless of size or identification, they found themselves in the pieces. There were so many gender non-conforming folk who said this was their first dress. They didn’t feel like they had to perform femininity in any way, which aligns with the way I see myself. In that collection, I tried not to place any traditional bust darts or princess seams. I wanted gathers and fullness so you felt free and less…conformed by how your body should look. I didn’t even like talking about that because I wanted the narrative to be ‘these are good clothes, if you like them, buy them.’
M-C Hill: Let’s go back to liminal space and that nether region of your instinctive approach to things you know versus what people attach. One thing we share is our psychotic abidance to Róisín Murphy.
M-C Hill: And the new collection, by communicating emotion through the clothes, you literally give us what ‘Footprints’ and ‘Sunshine’ look like. Although it’s a tactile process, you have such a hand with communicating emotion. Did that start from being a kid creating around the house?
CJR: Growing up I thought, ‘Maybe I can’t express this part of myself.’ Not because I felt restricted by other people’s expectations but because of access. If I wanted a certain cut of trouser, growing up in Baton Rouge, there wasn’t access to me being able to get that trouser. I had to go to Pacsun for a skinny jean, I had to figure it out. Or if I wanted a pet, my mom said I couldn’t have any pets. So I think it’s me always reaching back to the parts of myself, or experiences I had that I couldn’t investigate. I am informed by the failures or the lack of an ability to investigate what I wanted to at a certain time.
M-C Hill: The wish fulfilment of without.
M-C Hill: Talk about the humour of those Versace/Avedon campaigns and how they weirdly reflect your work.
CJR: People in their industries who act like they don’t like the subjects—like chefs who don’t love food or actors who don’t really love movies or television. Well I do. I am always looking back and thinking about the way people have carved out their own paths. When you see a Versace/Avedon image, you know what that is. I think that’s why I am persistent in creating my own world that pulls from all references that make me happy about what I do. There was no need to perform for the fashion industry at large in those images. They were for the Versace customer.
I don’t really care if an image performs on Instagram or if we are in 75 editorials. If celebrities wear the clothes, I’m not going to pretend that’s not exciting. But the real goal is to create work for myself, my team and my customers—the fans of the work that we do as opposed to perform for something.
M-C Hill: That’s the funny thing about the metaverse and virtual worlds. We are all nervous and/or excited in questioning what this will mean. It is interesting you brought up the performative nature of Instagram. You seem to want something visceral that is bought, worn and loved. People tend to forget that. You don’t have to sell out, but it goes back to your pragmatism. You see the importance in it, but you would rather get the applause elsewhere.
CJR: Exactly! I am doing it for people like me, who want clothes they can wear and have for 20 or 30 years. I want to make work that allows people to incorporate into their lives as opposed to being overly prescriptive about only being a size zero for my clothes. But also not wanting ‘everyone in the world to love what I do,’ so it dumbs down. It’s about, if you like it, hopefully there is something here for you to access. Obviously the clothes are not super inexpensive. I want to make something that lasts for 30 to 60 years. Not for an ego thing, but for…maybe this thing was $3000 in 2022, but in 2040 maybe it is still worth it. Or maybe you found it in a secondhand shop, no one knows what this dress meant to you, you finally found it and can finally buy it. That to me is what it’s about.
M-C Hill: A different approach to the NFT.