One of the most exciting (and frankly, underrated) part of attending a fashion show in the before times was spotting fellow designers among the audience. It was cool to see them supporting their peers, even when they probably have their own runway or presentation to worry about — that the fashion industry is a community. It also served as a reminder that, actually, a lot of these folks have actually worked together.
At a Christopher John Rogers show, for example, you might see Tanya Taylor, seeing as the CFDA Award-winning designer spent a summer interning for her while he was an undergrad at SCAD. Since then, their friendship — and their respective brands — have grown, and they've continued to support each other in different ways. (One instance of this: Taylor introduced Rogers to Swarovski, who sponsored not only his senior collection, but also some of his future lines.) Independently of each other, they both have interesting career trajectories: Taylor, for example, originally worked in finance; Rogers went the fashion school route straight from high school. But the way their paths have crossed professionally can offer some valuable insight into starting out in the industry, making a mark and fostering meaningful relationships with your peers.
We asked Rogers and Taylor to hop on a Zoom to talk about how they came to work together, what it's been like to watch their respective companies grow and why they love to see each other win.
Fashionista: Let's talk about the beginning of your relationship and how you met.
Christopher John Rogers: "I interned the summer of 2015. I had watched Tanya's trajectory through the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and I knew that she was a fan of color and print and unabashed femininity, which I thought was kind of missing in the fashion scene in New York. I really identified with her point of view. So I applied for an internship and I end up getting it. It was really interesting to see the process in that way, because, up until then, I had chosen to intern with brands that were a little bit smaller — they maybe had a team of two or three people. I knew that one day I wanted to have my own brand, so it was nice to see a little bit larger scale.
"I felt like I didn't necessarily want to be a normal intern. I wanted to take every opportunity that I could. I was looking everywhere — at the receptionist and how they were talking to people, at the way that she had the collection merchandised on the rack, at the way that they organized their bins and the fabrics that they were choosing. I did everything: working on cut tickets and going to the Garment District, picking up trims, helping to order whatever they needed, running things around.
"During my interview, they had seen my portfolio, and one of my favorite parts of the internship was actually when Tanya asked to help sketch a few of her ideas for a Swarovski competition. That was really exciting for me because that's one of the things that I love the most — sketching and being artistic, which is a really big part of what Tanya does. They submitted it and ended up getting the sponsorship, so that was a really big deal. There was a toast, and it was really exciting. It was fun to see people in fashion smile and have a good time too.
"When I returned back to school in the fall, I knew that I wanted to have some sort of element of light in the collection. Obviously, metallic fabrics come to mind — sequins and all of that stuff. I really wanted to work with Swarovski, and Tanya generously made an introduction to someone who was working there at the time. I got a small sponsorship for my senior collection, which is a really big deal for me, to have two established industry figures really support what I was doing at the time."
Tanya Taylor: "I don't think I met you in an interview. I think Will [McLeod] interviewed you."
CJR: "It was Will, yeah."
TT: "Will was my first employee, and he's just one of the most special people in the world."
CJR: "I love his art now. It's so good."
TT: "Me too! He's a gem. He was like, 'I have someone that's going to help the design team that's just really special.' And I think your curiosity about all the parts of the company came through as an intern. That was what really helped you stand out. And what I loved about having you around is you were asking a lot of questions, but you also were jumping in and participating in the small company, to really learn. And I always say, that's what all interns should be wanting to do: If you get the opportunity to see what all different jobs look like in fashion, absorb that and understand what you want to be. Because it's not only designers. And your sketches were amazing. Your sense of color was amazing.
"I remember when you did the illustrations for Swarovski, in my mind, I was like, 'You just have to create these otherworldly dream dresses and pieces.' It felt like you had so much to share, and it was so inspiring. So when you were finished with your internship... I went through my emails, just to see all the times that we talked, what we talked about. And I remember when you had other jobs in the industry, always asking about you and at the beginning of the pandemic, just reaching out. I'm always thinking about you because I feel like I want so badly for you to just continue to create always."
CJR: "Thank you, I really appreciate that."
TT: "Well, I really mean it. And I feel like there are so many little hurdles you can hit when you're in year two, year three of business that feel really tough. Just always knowing that I think you really have what it takes to overcome those. And it looks like you have an incredible team."
CJR: "Yeah, they're pretty good. I'm very lucky."
TT: "Christopher, he was very, very much a star on the team and it felt like a family, with Will and everyone at that time. It was really cool to be able to work more with you than I get to now sometimes with interns. I really cherish that time."
Fashionista: Speaking about internships more broadly, did y'all work any other internships in the fashion industry? What were the key takeaways that maybe stick with you today, now that you run your own companies?
CJR: "Prior to TT, I was at Azede Jean-Pierre and Harbison, which were smaller brands — I had two internships at the same time, so first I asked if I could have two different internships, with both teams. I knew that I, again, wanted to see all of the different ways that brands could exist: different structures, the way that they could pass off designs, different factories, whether it was local or international, the way that they researched. All of the different parts of the Garment District that maybe you don't get to see, because on street level, you just see little dress shops or little trim stores, but you go up and people are sewing away and making patterns. That was really important to me. Then, they were also both designers of color that, at the time, were being noted for their work and their design, not just the fact that they were designers of color, which I thought was really interesting to me and really important for me to be able to see what they were doing, because I'm interested in that aspect.
"After interning with Tanya and graduating, I interned with Rosie Assoulin. I didn't have a job immediately, so I interned there while I also worked at a restaurant. That was a really interesting internship because her team was a little bit bigger — not the design team, but like the actual company size. Then, to sort of see all the details that went into the clothes and the way that they manufacturer a sample. Like, there are some people in Brooklyn that hand-dye or hand-embroider, and it's much more small scale. That was interesting, just to see how everyone makes their magic happen and how you can sort of pick apart things that make sense for you, where you want to be and how it applies best to your practice."
TT: "So, I started in finance."
CJR: "I know, which is legendary. I was like, 'Why didn't I do that?'"
TT: "I don't know if I use it that much honestly. My first job [in fashion] was working at a vintage store called Paper Bag Princess in Toronto. I showed up and I was like, 'Can I work for you? I'll work for free. If I'm good, you can start to pay me.' I reorganized the windows and I did very light alterations. I think I overemphasized how good a sewer I was — I'm not a good sewer. I was a little scared when someone actually brought in like a couture dress and said, 'Fix this.' I was like, 'Oh, do I have to?' Then I realized I loved design and loved New York. I moved to New York and went to Parsons.
"I interned for a summer with Doo-Ri Chung. That was really cool because that was my first fashion week, that I got to help out backstage. I remember I got to dress Chanel Iman, and she was I think like 16, so she had her parents with her and I had to like carefully dress her with her dad and mom beside her. I just was amazed at the whole spectacle. [Chung] took her craft very seriously, and she was really obsessive about the whole look and the branding. I really got a lot from that.
"Then I wanted to intern for a company that I felt was speaking to my age group. Elizabeth and James, by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, had just started. They had posted an internship request and only included a fax number, which was very funny to me. I was like, 'What a challenge. I must fax something.' I went to FedEx and faxed my resume. They asked me to come in and I got the internship. I interned full-time for a year — I think five days a week in the summer and three days a week [the rest of] the year. I was their only intern, so I really got a great experience of how everything came to life. And there were only three people on the design team at the time. I got hired and what was really awesome was the job was both finance and design — not officially, but because it was such a small team, I got to see how much it costs to make a collection and got visibility on how sales and production work. And I just love that. I always knew I wanted to start my own company because everyone in my family is an entrepreneur, and it was such a good experience to really roll up your sleeves, know how to measure a yard and get it to the FedEx guy really quickly but also [how to] invoice people. That was the absolute best experience I could have asked for and why I started my own [brand]."
Fashionista: It's interesting that even from these early career experiences, you both had this long-term plan of going out on your own. How do you think that affected which opportunities you sought out?
TT: "Probably learning, right? I feel like, from everything Christopher's saying and me, it's just: What's going to teach me the most in the shortest [amount of time]?"
CJR: "Exactly. Period. And how to go about it in a way that feels honest to you as a designer. And also maybe applying to places that you have an interest in, even if it doesn't completely match your aesthetic 100% — it's like, 'Oh, maybe there's a little something there that I can take from it.' Or maybe you'll be inspired by something you see in the corner. And you keep that with you as you go through.
TT: "And I think you're the same way, but I didn't know anyone in New York."
CJR: "Oh, yeah. I knew my best friend at the time, who was a makeup artist. He knew people from sets or whatever, and I stayed with him when I came, but I didn't really know anyone else."
TT: "Me neither. So I think these jobs made us get friends. You did internships because you wanted to meet people."
Fashionista: Can you speak a little bit to building those relationships when you're starting out and then keeping them alive, as well?
TT: "Well, Christopher, you're really good at that. When I was going through our email trail, I'm like, 'You have such a kind, thoughtful tone about asking for help.' And it's so easy to build a relationship with you. Throughout the last five years, every time I looked at your emails, I can only imagine how, when you send that to so many people, you really do foster a great community. And I think that's what I learned the most, to be up for helping anyone on any project they needed, show curiosity and then stay in touch. And I think it was hard for me. Part of my personality is, I'm always nervous to ask someone for anything or update them on what's going on."
CJR: "I'm kind of that way, too. Sometimes, it's hard to, at least for me, be vulnerable in that way, because in many regards, you want to be ostensibly confident and you want to show it in as many ways as possible. So asking for help sometimes can be like..."
TT: "But isn't it amazing that when you open yourself up and ask for help, how many times probably good things have happened?"
CJR: "Absolutely. And people are more kind than one would think. Especially nowadays — it's not like 2002, when everyone was like... you know, the stereotypes. I think we're moving past that."
TT: "It's not cool anymore. When I went to your first show, just the vibe and watching your mom's reaction, just seeing the energy — it felt like all of those walls and codes of what maybe fashion needed to be in terms of exclusivity just went out the window. You were really setting the stage for a really fresh, inclusive way of looking at it. That's what people also have to think about in terms of building their own careers: Don't think anyone is too important to ask."
CJR: "Exactly. And also, don't think that anyone is too small to not treat well or kindly. Whether it's the checkout person at the trim store or the person who's sewing this button on your garment or the FedEx guy who picks up from you every day. Not that you need to be cognizant of the fact that you may need them one day, but the fact that they're a person as well — just be kind because you never know what might happen."
Fashionista: Speaking about these qualities that you value in each other and the people you work with, what are the main things you look for when you're hiring now?
CJR: "Number one, kindness. Common sense, which is hard to come by. Being open to, again, the fullness of what this small company can bring, because it's not just going to be one specific task. And being eager in a way that feels real, being able to soak it all up. And good taste — also understanding or embracing, at least for me, that hierarchy in terms of taste doesn't really exist, so whether it's a Muppet's reference or it's Lacroix couture, it's the same thing. So, not being snobby, in a way."
TT: "I love your Instagram, when you post weird colored plastic bags and Lacroix references. I'm like, 'This is his mind.' And I love that. But yes, I would echo all of those qualities. I think just really a team player. Kind is absolutely number one. Respectful, kind, creative — like creative outside the boundaries of what they're even asked to do. But just feeling the confidence that they can bring ideas forward on how to make things better and we'll listen."
Fashionista: You've known each other for over five years now. How have you kept in touch over time, like when, Christopher, you went back to SCAD and later moved to New York?
CJR: "It was emailing to say thank you after an introduction had been made, just to keep up. I do remember one specific moment: It was at my full-time job and I just emailed to see if Tanya could get a coffee with me and have a meeting just to catch up in person, and she gave me some really good advice about sticking true to who I was, how to make sure that everything down to the things that I was buying made sense for the brand and the scale that we were at at the time. And I [would] message her on Instagram — just little things like that. Not feeling scared to be personable."
TT: "You were doing some really cool things, like applying to the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and the Elaine Gold Launch Pad... We just stayed in touch and if he needed a reference letter or to talk about initial investment... I feel like that was what some of the conversations were around. And then just exciting stuff. I think with any shows and stuff, he would always be the first to contact me with a little [high five emoji]. Everyone thinks that people that have brands get a lot of cheerleaders and it's really... You remember the people you worked with in the past and how you can grow those relationships. But yeah, that's how we stayed in touch. We had a cup of coffee a couple times. I just feel so excited for you when you won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. I was sitting with Sam Barry and we just jumped up — it was the greatest moment. It felt like watching a friend win something and then get mobbed by colorful tulle. You were just so you in that moment, and that's what was awesome."
Fashionista: What is it like to watch each other have these wins?
TT: "Oh, I get so happy to see your wins. And [with Vice President Kamala Harris wearing Christopher John Rogers to the Presidential Inauguration] I feel like I could feel your pulse if you were seeing that for the first time, her coming out and wearing that. It's so cool that we have social media to be able to see her and get excited."
CJR: "Absolutely. And I feel the same: Every time a new collection comes out, I'm so excited to see what new prints they've developed. It's just fun to see people's growth, and to know that people are still staying true to who they are."
Fashionista: What's something you've learned from the other person?
TT: "Through your work, I have felt more confident in my own recently, because I see you pouring your true self into what you do. When you did the lookbook shoot in your office recently, there was something about that gave me so much life and happiness. And so I've learned how important it is to be really following your instincts. Watching you do that really inspires a lot of people.
CJR: "I think I'm still learning that for myself, so thank you. I think from Tanya, probably to see how over the years, again, you've stayed true to who you are. Maybe this is too technical, but I see the growth of the brand and the offering and how focused it [is]. It's just getting better and better every season. And it inspires me to know that, in terms of growth of a brand and a company, that I can be there one day as well. And just the fact that good, kind people can win — which isn't always the case, so I think that's also really inspiring to me.
TT: "That's nice. Thank you."
Fashionista: And what's something you admire about the other person?
CJR: "Your willingness to be open and transparent about things. And your support, because I definitely wouldn't be in this specific position if you weren't a part of my journey. And so I really, really am grateful to you."
TT: "Thank you. I admire how you share the wins with your team."
CJR: "Thank you."
TT: "That's a really admirable quality that some people at this moment in their career, [when they're] getting so much recognition, would really absorb for themselves. And I can just see how you use that to really lift everyone else up around you. And that's unbelievable. This is like a really good therapy session."
Fashionista: Any final thoughts in terms of what you think is important for people looking to enter the fashion industry to know, that maybe isn't obvious to someone looking from the outside in?
TT: "When you first meet someone for an internship, they might show you their portfolio and then you don't get to see their work for the whole time they're with you. I think it's really important for people to continue to show what their voice is in design or whatever the role is that they're taking on, so that the company can really think about them for full-time positions. I always encourage our interns to share what they're working on for school. We have Monday morning meetings and our interns are in them. They get to hear everything going on in the company, but then we also give them a moment to talk about what they're studying, what they're interested in. So I just always think for people joining companies right now, make sure that they're bringing a piece of themselves and really using it as a time to explain what they love and do."
CJR: "I would say the exact same thing. I always try and say, 'Lean into your you-ness.' So all the things about you that make you who you are, even if it isn't the most popular thing. Also be cognizant of the fact that things take time. I mean, I know I'm incredibly lucky to have gotten a job after college, but it took me a year to find a position and even then, it wasn't easy. Patience, taking your time and just working really hard. Also, to not look to the left or the right or what everyone else is doing — even if you're excited by other things, it's like, cut the cameras, we're looking here. Just focus on what you want to say and who you are."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.