Christian Cowan's Fall 2021 collection debut — a scripted fashion film called "Be Yourself" that premiered on Thursday — is a celebration of connectedness and optimism, as told through a comedic, hot-pink sequined lens.
Starring "Saturday Night Live"'s Chloe Fineman and Bowen Yang, "Be Yourself" takes place in New York's lavish Pierre Hotel, with some of the Big Apple's finest and most audacious residents (think Dorinda Medley from "The Real Housewives of New York") as well as "Mean Girls"-era icons (Paris Hilton and the Motorola Razr phone) coming in and out.
"I felt we've all had a tough time and New York has been shut down and I wanted to reflect something that was so quintessentially New York," Cowan tells Fashionista over the phone. "We had never done scripted content, and I wanted to do something that made people laugh and smirk. I went 'Well, who's the best at that? SNL.'"
The designer direct-messaged Fineman and Yang on Instagram after realizing that they were following him; from there, the funny pair worked with director Matthew Frost on the script. Cowan says he tapped Frost for this project because he does comedy in a less obvious way, which feels European and yet still American.
The Fall 2021 collection and its presentation are driven by glamour and a desire to feel fabulous. Cowan wanted "loads of nods" to the early aughts, hence the flip phones bedazzled in pink crystals and the Hilton heiress cameo. ("Paris has really been one of the first people to support me in a big way," says Cowan of the latter. She really cares about charitable causes as well, which is a big part of what we do.") Justine Skye, Aquaria, Mermaid, Richie Shazam and more also make appearances.
When casting for "Be Yourself," Cowan sought out people who he felt celebrate queer culture. The designer is continuing his partnership with The Loveland Foundation from Spring 2021, donating part of the proceeds from the collection to the young Black queer community in Atlanta.
The film is a bright spot on the New York Fashion Week calendar, but the Fall 2021 looks themselves barely need it to show off just how much fun they can be. There are Cowan's signature zippered and bow-bedecked dresses, as well as oversized feathered hats and Swarovski crystal-covered pieces. Details like gold studs and chains give some of his softer lace-accented items more of an edge.
The designer focused on comfort and attempting to lower the price point (mini dresses are $1,000 as opposed to $5,000) while maintaining the over-the-top, party-ready energy, as a result of customer feedback. "When we dress up, we want to still feel that ease of comfort," he says. Part of that came from working with Swarovski this season: The designer used a heat press crystal format, a lightweight alternative to embroidery that allows the wearer to sparkle more effortlessly.
"I've always wanted my clothes to be pure therapy," Cowan says, noting that in the past, he has sacrificed comfort for statement-making design. "I wanted things to look more fabulous than they felt."
The pandemic may have forced several designers to explore luxe pajamas and sweatsuits, but Cowan is staying true to his glitzy roots by making them feel less like something we can't wait to take off and more like clothes we're buzzing to wear all night.
See the full Christian Cowan Fall 2021 collection in the gallery below.