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Christopher John Rogers and the Dawn of the Cultured Zoomer Doyenne

Christopher John Rogers and the Dawn of the Cultured Zoomer Doyenne Image
  • Posted on 12th Jun, 2022 18:17 PM

An optimistic view of the twenty-something mind’s ability to dart from idea to idea.

Even if you were not at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on Tuesday night for Christopher John Rogers’s Resort 2023 Show, you could feel the love in the air. It radiated through the Instagram images and stories and captions like “It’s giving full circle!” and “I’m deceased!!!” Every designer on the planet is trying to drum up a community spirit now, realizing it’s better to cater to a rabid few than to try to compete to make the same few things they think women want.

But Rogers has always had that. “There really is a strong community of people that really understand what I’m doing,” he said on a Wednesday morning phone call. He’d intended to forego the celebratory pirouettes that have become his post-show signature, but when he came out at the end of the show, he felt so much excitement from the standing ovation that he found himself leaping perhaps higher than ever.

“I’m recovering from, I’m guessing, a sprained knee from last night,” he said. Did he feel like the most beloved designer in New York? “Maybe! I don’t know,” he said. “I think I'm enjoying continuing to be as specific as I am, but also as expansive as I am.”

Rogers is a designer who makes a leap forward with each collection. He is confident, and a very hard worker. But truth be told, while his declarative shows have always been unmissable and he’s undoubtedly one of America’s biggest fashion stars, at times his clothes have lacked a kind of panache. He often talks about figures like the trash bag, the Pierrot, the preppy Southerner, and it would be a shame to say goodbye to any of that. And his color palette is always excellent. But some of his clothes have occasionally been too clownish, not living up to the spirit of aggressive delight the designer himself imparts.

But Rogers, it seems, is through his growing pains. You could see even in runway pictures how painstaking he has gotten about the construction of his clothes: Look at the heart-stoppingly-pink tunic dress, yanked down on one shoulder and standing up to frame the face with swan-like grace on the other. Or take the plunging gray plaid black-buttoned jacket top with wide lapels but a ruched, cinched bodice that begs you to cup your hands on your waist Irving Penn-style.

Perhaps because Rogers presents his collections chromatically, rather in what he describes as the more “prescriptive” narrative- or silhouette-driven runway show structure, you can really notice the details. What Rogers calls “really just a shirtdress” is a satin experience of sexy movement, again in that alarming pink, with an elongated collar dropped open to reveal a padded cone bra top. (Boy-yo-yoing!) Regardless of how you respond to colorful clothes by any designer (and there is a huge subset of fashionistas right now enmeshed in a quixotically tasteful entanglement of beigery), you have to respect how hard Rogers works on these clothes.

“I feel like a younger [person], or someone with a more nuanced understanding of aesthetics and art and fashion and culture, can get it.”

But this is more than hard work; his bustier top and swagged skirt in a color I can only describe as determined, sparkly concrete, or his big button-up ball gown (in plaid taffeta, duh) with its sweet belted waist, are, to use the parlance of CJR stans, giving Edith Wharton realness. By that I don’t mean costume—I mean they conjure the discreet but sultry sensuality and emphasis on presentation that the Gilded Age author’s writing so lovingly picked apart. You look at this collection, and Rogers’s clothes at their most successful, and you don’t say, “I want to be her,” but rather, “Here is a wild sartorial invitation I can integrate into my life.”

That sort of pragmatism is out of fashion in America. It’s hard to find simply a great dress, simply a great jacket. (Why does everything have a hundred cutouts?!) It’s even harder to find something that’s beautiful but also unique, special, artful. “I do like thinking about things that maybe feel out of fashion or feel quote-unquote dated, or feel like something from a bygone era and then like shaking it up and making it feel very now or very future,” he reflected.

When I described his customers and fans as digitally savvy, he seized on it. “With being digitally savvy comes an understanding of the fact that multiple things can be true,” he said. He embraces the mishmash—that feeling that you’re scrolling through Tumblr and see a cool photo of flowers, and then you find a recipe for the perfect margarita, and suddenly you’re in a rabbithole of 1970s editorial images of crazy-romantic designer Bill Gibb. The feed brain, as it were.

Rogers sometimes carps about his detractors, which may be a product of his age; he is 28, so a young millennial, Zoomer cusp. (God, can you imagine what his clothes will look like in 10 years?!) People born in the late 1980s to mid-90s are often especially obsessed with their haters, real or imagined. (Rogers’s haters, at least to this writers’ eye, are very much in the minority.) The doubters, Rogers said, tend to be people who grew up looking at fashion in that narrative or thematic way. You know, those inspired by the ole muse-with-the-manor, usually French or British, who was way ahead of her time in the early 20th century. (I find these women were often not-so-secretly fascists. Le fave problematique!) Those types of fashion viewers can’t sense a clear message or narrative or throughline in Rogers’s work; they just see volume and color and a lot. One look may have nothing to do with the next, Rogers said, other than its color, and that rankles some people.

“I feel like that’s not the way that I work,” Rogers said, of that more old school approach. “And so I feel like a younger [person], or someone with a more nuanced understanding of aesthetics and art and fashion and culture, can get it.”

Now that’s an interesting idea. The refrain you always hear is that young people don’t know enough about anything like art and fashion and culture, and while it’s true that no Zoomer Andre Leon Talley has presented themselves yet, those in their 20s and 30s have a vision of pop culture, art, and even knowledge itself that exists on a sprawling plane with less regard for a hierarchy of taste and authority. Even some millennials grew up caring about authenticity, and technique, and finding the original source and tracking a more structured map of inspiration. But anyone younger than that tends to see all music and movies and clothes existing on one vast platform of discovery. “For me,” Rogers said, “it’s very much about all of the things that you like being shaken up and stirred and presented for the people who get it.”

In other words, Rogers is designing for something like a Zoomer doyenne, for whom embracing this feed-mind exploration that darts from idea to idea is a new way of being cultured. It’s probably the most optimistic view of the twenty-something brain I’ve heard in months.

And if you carry this theory back to the clothes, the optimism sticks: it’s as exuberant and femme and fluid as we always hear young people are. But it’s also resolutely formal, almost antique in its approach. Who would have thought our leading young designer would be famous for ball gowns?! His stately clothes imply their wearer has some serious dignity about her self-presentation even as she flounces past you in the most ridiculous stripes you’ve ever seen. That contradicts a lot of our easy assumptions about youth. And maybe this insight has been staring us right in the face: these people love old bars, they love martinis, they love caviar! And yet they’re not conservative. Very curious, and frankly, pretty exciting!

What makes Rogers’s work really sing—and this is truer of Tuesday’s collection than any proceeding–is that it isn’t just the Depop couture of his similarly buoyant peers. It spiritedly suggests to teenagers and twenty-somethings what adulthood or sophistication or drama and glamor can look and feel like. And for those of us in our mid-thirties, forties, fifties and beyond, it has the sophistication not simply to embrace, but celebrate, the human body. It puffs up the spirit. It’s a uniform for a woman with a well-dressed mind, whether her mind’s closet is Tumblr or the opera.

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