MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
New York Fashion Week began last night. And today, one of the hottest up-and-coming designers, Christopher John Rogers, had his show. The 26-year-old designer won $400,000 from the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the Vogue Fashion Fund last November.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: 2019's FDAC/Vogue Fashion Fund Award winner is Christopher John...
MARTIN: WNYC's Patricia Yacob has this profile.
PATRICIA YACOB, BYLINE: It's not just fashion editors taking notice of Christopher John Rogers. Actress Regina King wore his emerald green suit to a party. Model Karlie Kloss featured his cobalt blue silk blouse and skirt on her Instagram, and Rihanna wore his blood orange strapless wiggle dress. One thing ties them all together.
CHRISTOPHER JOHN ROGERS: A lot of my inspiration comes from my experiences in the Baptist church growing up in the south and Louisiana.
YACOB: Almost every Sunday, Rogers attended services with his grandma in Baton Rouge.
ROGERS: There was a big emphasis on head to toe monochromatic dressing, so if the jacket was red, the skirt was red, the shoes were red, the bag was red, the hat was red (laughter) - or green or violet or marigold. And that sense of color and the taking up of space with hue really inspired me.
YACOB: At his grandmother's urging, his parents enrolled him in his school's art program, where he developed a love of sketching. In fifth grade, after seeing an episode of "Project Runway," he realized that he could pursue a career as a designer.
ROGERS: We went to Goodwill, and we bought a bunch of black clothes and took them apart, and then we sewed them together with inexpensive fabric from Hobby Lobby.
YACOB: Today, Rogers' designs are bold. His use of color, reimagined silhouettes and exaggerated proportions have become a signature. And up until recently, his Bushwick apartment was where his designs came to life.
ROGERS: So this is the living room, which also poses as the studio.
YACOB: We make our way past garment racks, rolls of fabric and a mannequin. His design board for the next collection features a strapless black gown studded with crystals. A lime green sash sits across the hips. And while flair is an essential part of his brand, he wasn't always sure that could be the case.
ROGERS: Sometimes I heard that, like, my work felt dated or that it felt too feminine.
YACOB: But Rogers wouldn't let those criticisms play a part in his design process.
ROGERS: I don't think that wearing hot pink and ruffles or bright yellow or a really intense blue in shapes that take up space make you any less intelligent.
CHIOMA NNADI: He brought a freshness and an optimism and a really distinctive point of view as far as of evening wear and the red carpet. And I think that's an area that's highly conservative.
YACOB: Chioma Nnadi is the fashion news director of vogue.com and a CFDA judge. She and the other judges were drawn to the warmth Rogers was able to build around his designs.
NNADI: You know, going to his show last year, last September, people were cheering, you know. And there was a sense that he had a real support system and a real community around his work. And I think being a man of color in an industry where there are so few designers of color, he also stood out.
YACOB: Former winners include fashion heavyweights like Alexander Wang and Proenza Schouler.
ROBIN GIVHAN: I've always felt that one can look at fashion and get a really good sense of the cultural conversation.
YACOB: Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan has covered the industry for more than a decade.
GIVHAN: Winning the CFDA award certainly elevates the person in terms of notoriety.
YACOB: Rogers has been busy putting the finishing touches on his upcoming show, including casting the models that will carry his collection down the runway.
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ROGERS: Great. Thank you. Junie (ph), hi, how are you?
YACOB: Rogers can count Michelle Obama and Lizzo among the women he's dressed. Retailers like Net-a-Porter want to bring her designs to the masses. For now, he's got today's show to prepare for.
For NPR News, I'm Patricia Yacob in New York.
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