Before he even started formally planning for Spring 2021, Christopher John Rogers was in the same position most of us found ourselves in: "I was quarantining in my apartment and I got tired of watching Netflix and drinking wine," he tells me, on a call.
The CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund- and CFDA Award-winning designer decided to combat his boredom with some creative stimulation. "I ordered some drawing materials — crayons and markers and stuff — and started doodling," he says. He would scribble abstract shapes using primary colors, mostly as a way to keep himself entertained. But as he kept going, "I realized that doing that made me really happy," he explains. That feeling of "childlike creation, playing and having fun" became the foundation for his Spring 2021 line.
Typically, Rogers will start a collection with a moodboard, filled with references "that a lot of people wouldn't [make]." This season, however, was different — like everything else. But ultimately, according to Rogers, "It was healthy to start in a way that was very much inspired by me and the way that I was feeling, as opposed to something thematic." That's not to say there wasn't a moodboard for Spring 2021: He did put up pictures of Corita Kent and images in reds, yellows and blues — the same "nostalgic" colors that sparked the idea for the season.
Over the past few years, Rogers has made a splash with his voluminous, dramatic silhouettes and color-happy fabrics, which have made him a popular choice among the style-savvy celebrity crowd (the Tracee Ellis Rosses, the Zendayas, the Lady Gagas). Thinking about our current stay-at-home reality, the designer is putting an emphasis on skill, craftsmanship and comfort — without forgoing the glamour — for Spring 2021.
"The first thing that got us noticed by stylists, magazine and press, obviously, was our more evening-oriented offerings, which usually came in silk taffeta, silk faille or really precious fabrics," Rogers explains. "We also always offer really strong tailoring, shirting, great trousers and easy dresses that can be worn everyday — but those weren't really the things people were gravitating towards. For this collection, I thought it was important to marry those two worlds even more so than we have in the past."
In other words: The brand has already established its voice. Now, it's about showing what it can do.
Rogers has been very cognizant — and adamant — about not over merchandizing his collections, a larger industry issue he's noticed, where brands will "try to oversimplify to appease the masses or serve this idea of what people want." His team reflected on it even more as they created Spring 2021, knowing full well that the ballgown-heavy direction of past seasons wouldn't necessarily fit a stay-at-home lifestyle. The goal was to "make sure we still provided our customer and the people who love looking at our work with the same sense of fantasy, but maybe an even more strengthened sense of pragmatism."
There's a printed cotton gown with a split zebra and checkerboard pattern, which Rogers says can be worn with flats during the day ("as an out-there look") or with heels to an evening event, for example; there's also rainbow-striped knitwear, for the first time ever. By presenting the collection through a lookbook, as opposed to a formal runway, too, he's able to emphasize the versatility and wearability of the pieces, he adds.
Plus, people aren't coming to Christopher John Rogers for basics: One of his most successful pieces, commercially, has been the Strawberry skirt, he says. And what he sees and hears from his retail partners is that people come to him for "things that stand out and are different — things that you can't find anywhere else."
Whereas other brands have been reimagining and readjusting their businesses in response to the current climate, the Christopher John Rogers team is doubling down on the way they've always worked. "It really made us dig our heels deeper into what we've already been doing, which is making really specific, intentional clothes that aren't meant to service everyone," he explains. "It's just meant to service those who gravitate towards the work. Regardless of how you identify, of what size you are, of your race, you can find something in this collection for you. And that's really the point."
Another thing Rogers is keenly aware of: There are a lot more eyes on his brand that there were maybe a year ago.
Reading about the history of the industry and the careers of other designers, Rogers picks up on two potential risks of getting too wrapped up in the attention. "A lot of people in the past have run with that and either become overly focused on celebrity and being famous or overly-merchandised the work too quickly," he argues. "I didn't want to do either of those things."
What he wants to do instead is make clothes that make you feel something. For Spring 2021, it might not be silk taffeta gowns or floral-printed party suits — but it could be a cotton dress or a blazer with a thoughtful button detail or key placement. "It's the same amount of intention, just more specific," Rogers explains. "The energy is always there, but how do you redirect it, funnel it, channel it in a way that feels appropriate to the zeitgeist, without overly commercializing everything?"
"At the end of the day, commercial things aren't things that people want," he continues. "What people want from us is fashion."
See every single look in Christopher John Rogers's Spring 2021 collection, below.