Published on March 02, 2021. Written by Jefferson Ellison.
Jeremy O. Harris once said that what he loved about the South was that the Black people knew they were Black, and the White people knew they were White. That sort of absolutism is what allows Black culture to thrive under oppression. It’s unequivocal. It’s unrepentant. It’s necessary. That is how I feel about Christopher John Rogers. Not that he knows he’s black, which I’m sure he does. But he knows who his brand is and the perspective of his work.
At 26, Mr. Rodgers has managed to win over the CFDA and VP Kamala Harris and the hearts of the industry and celebrities alike. A child of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Rogers has become known for his use of color, shape, and reference. Last year, he drew inspiration from Pierrots - the old French stock character clowns - and for his Fall 2020 show, he was inspired by trash bags. Outrageous? No - just true. After reviewing that collection, one can imagine a young Rodgers standing in front of a childhood mirror, cloaked in a heavy-duty trash bag, holding a belt and a dream. Beginning to understand himself more but also beginning to learn the essentials of form. He also cited 20th-century couturier Madame Gris as an inspiration, which is both shocking and perfect. Most people would assume (correctly) that a designer referencing another designer, even one 100 years his senior, is dangerous. Your work could be seen as referential rather than informed; you could be seen as un-imaginative or dated, the list goes on. However, Rogers doesn’t run that risk. Why? Because it was her approach that inspired him, not her designs. Alix Barton was known for her shapes, her attention to detail, and her command over fabrics. All things that feel irrelevant when discussing a trash bag but that ring true in Rogers’ collection.
Rodgers has displayed an ability to design pieces that feel like internal costumes. Dressing women for their happiness rather than their fear. One Google search of celebrities wearing his designs - Tracee Ellis Ross, Aurora James, Gabrielle Union, Lil Nas X, etc. - and you’ll understand. They aren’t necessarily sexy or romantic, nor do they feel like princess moments out of a fairy tale. Each snapshot reminds you of that scene in Sex and The City when Carrie is trying on clothes in her closet for her friends. Clothes for her. Clothes with memory. Clothes that can stand the test of time because they were designed to mark a memory.
I don’t imagine that Mr. Rogers has a client base like Chanel or Dior where women buy the whole collection and keep moving. Because each piece isn’t for every woman or man... or person. I imagine when people look at his collections for the first time, they can’t even comprehend the entire thing. They probably hone in on 3-5 looks that feel like them. They don’t think of where they are going, what they’ll look like, or how much it cost; all they know that certain pieces are meant for them. That it “looks like them” in their most authentic form - and that’s what fashion should be. An expression of self, not a tool of acceptance.
It is not lost on me, that a flamboyant Black child of the millennial generation would create sartorial beauty that manifests from the inside out rather than conforming to the societal gaze. Millennials were taught to put themselves first. To honor our emotions and our truth and we were rewarded for simply showing up, existing - no matter how so. On the other hand, Black people were tasked with finding, defining, and protecting their own beauty, often at the cost of acceptance and traditional understanding. It’s seen in the history of hip-hop, on the pages of Essence, and in the scrapbooks of every childhood home. Rogers offers a perspective that could only exist at this very moment in time. His youth, modern SCAD education, and post-Obama upbringing… all create a nuanced understanding of beauty, Blackness, desire, necessity, and purpose. His customers may dress for others from time-to-time but in his clothes, they have no choice but to dress for themselves. They, along with his industry peers in media and retail, are forced to reckon with the theoretical and sartorial genius of his products, the campiness of his approach, and the Black DNA of his creativity.
Christopher John Rogers is the future not because he requires next-level understanding but because he embodies the present and uplifts the shining stars of the past. He will usher in a new generation of fashion that is irreverent, impeccable, and incredibly well dressed.
They’ll know it, and so will you.