British-born designer Christian Cowan was touched by the hand of Gaga while still in college, and before long, Cardi B, Beyoncé, and Christina Aguilera came calling. Now he’s making his mark on New York Fashion Week with his Fall 2019 collection taking inspiration from his club-kid days in London and his new life in the city that never sleeps. The Daily stopped by his studio to get the lowdown on his meteoric rise.
Let’s start at the very beginning…
I grew up in Cambridge, England — well, near Cambridge. More like in the middle of nowhere! And then my parents separated and remarried, and then I ended up being one of 11 children in total, because of all my step-siblings. As a kid, I was super quiet. I was “the creative one,” and I had a lot of alone time. I was obsessed with insects and reptiles, and I had loads of weird pets, like stick insects and leaf insects and frogs.
Were you a loner as a child?
For sure! Out of choice! I was really curious about the weird world in my head. I had a big imagination, so I just didn’t like people ruining the fantasy.
When did you know that fashion was your thing?
I was 12 years old, and I came across Gareth Pugh and Alexander McQueen. Up until then, I wanted to be an entomologist—someone who studies insects — and I saw the two [fields] as almost the same, because insects are the most wildly creative forms in the natural world.
Were you a rebel in university?
I went through a really, really rebellious period between the ages of 14 to 18. A lot of it had to do with the standard stuff of being a gay man who’s completely closeted in an environment that was seemingly not okay with that. So I went out a lot, I ran away, I would skip school and go to festivals and experiment with all the drugs. I really lived that “club kid” life in London for a bit. It was really inspiring to me — it’s informed a lot of what I’ve done since.
And then you went to Central Saint Martins and London College of Fashion, and ended up dressing Lady Gaga! How did you even get in touch with her?
I didn’t! It was so random. I’m incredibly impatient, so I couldn’t wait to release a collection until after university. I did one piece, and one of my friends in London, a drag queen, was friends with some people from a magazine in London, and they Instagrammed it. Somehow, Gaga’s team saw it, and two days later, they e-mailed me, requesting the whole collection. I basically passed out!
How did you maximize that opportunity?
I’ve always had a fairly good understanding that the Internet is really paramount. When [the photos of Gaga wearing my looks] first came out, I sent out a press release so my name would be included in articles. I pushed home the fact that I was the first-ever student to have dressed her. All the papers in England picked up on it. Then, to keep up the momentum, I contacted loads of people, saying, “Oh, I just worked with Gaga.”
What was your next move after graduating?
Since I was 10, I have always said that I would move to New York, and then I was dating someone who lived here. I moved here pretty much straightaway and started work on my first collection.
Where does this ambition come from?
My mum. She really wants me to reach my full potential — but not in a Joan Crawford/Mommie Dearest way.
How do you describe your brand’s aesthetic?
There are many ways to process what’s going on in the world — you can either reflect, or you can help others process it by bringing some lightheartedness, humor, and vibrancy. That’s what the brand is about — escapism!
Cardi B is another fan. How did you two connect?
She was on a reality-TV show [Love & Hip Hop: New York], and she requested some clothes. I hadn’t heard of her at that point, but I looked through her Instagram and loved her personality. I also noticed that engagement from her fans was sky-high, so I started lending to her, and she’d tag me, and I’d get 10,000 followers and 300 orders in two hours. It was crazy. She’s been wonderful to work with.
You were part of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund initiative. What was that experience like?
It sounds cheesy, but it really benefited me as a business. They force you to answer questions like, Who are your consumers, and where in the world are they? What is your brand trying to say? What is your cash flow forecast for the next five years to present to investors? It puts a much more refined focus on where the brand is going.
Tell us about Anna’s visit to your studio…
I cleaned the crap out of the place. You could literally eat off anything. I had these weird desk chairs that were really slippery. I was like, “Anna Wintour will not fall off a chair at my studio!” I ordered new ones before she came. I’m not really nervous around her. She has a British sense of humor — she’s really funny and nice.
How did you and [boyfriend and Paper chief creative officer] Drew [Elliott] meet?
We met on Raya — it’s like Tinder for creative people. We matched, and the rest is history!
Check out Cowan’s complete Fall 2019 collection below.