Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Naomi Campbell, Kylie Jenner and Cardi B. This is just a small list of the women the New York-based fashion designer Christian Cowan has dressed since he graduated from Central Saint Martins and London College of Fashion in 2016.
Tomorrow, he’ll show his fifth collection at New York Fashion Week.
“Now, we dress so many celebrities all the time and I can’t keep track of it,” said Cowan, with a laugh, at his Lower East Side studio. “It’s just evolved more and more and it’s also nice (that) as the brand has grown, I’ve been able to develop personal relationships with these women.”
Recording artist Kacey Musgraves on tour wearing a dress by Christian Cowan. Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
The British born designer is referring to the famed rapper Cardi B, who he began working with long before her meteoric rise (he has now dressed her dozens of times), and the country star Kacey Musgraves, with whom he chats about Cher-inspired outfits she wants him to design for her.
Cowan’s background is unconventional. He grew up in Cambridge, outside London. He moved to London to do a foundation year at Central Saint Martins before transferring to London College of Fashion to get his degree in fashion design. While in school, he began designing for celebrities such as Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga. He dressed the latter in 2014 in a head-to-toe pink glitter tuxedo, with a matching hat and a mirror connected to it.
After graduating, Cowan went to New York City, where he had always planned to live. “When I was growing up, I was obsessed with all things Americana,” he explains. “I just loved what America represented in the sense that anyone could come here and do what they want to do. I took myself away from a whole support system. I think it was good for me.”
The Marabou feathers, the massive shiny silver sequins, the neon mesh and the crystal hijabs (worn by Halima Aden last season) he has included in his designs are a perfect fit for the New York runways, and more aptly, L.A. — now a more manageable flight away — where many of his celebrity clients reside.
Gaga’s go-to designer Brandon Maxwell,
Neon feathered tutus, checkered tulle trains that take up the entire runway, and blinged-out watches stitched together into sleeves and masks that cover models’ entire faces are the norm for Cowan. So much so that he keeps a framed photo of the mask made of watches in his office.
A look from Chritian Cowan’s Fall-Winter 2019 collection.
However, despite a seemingly fairy tale background, Cowan has faced his own challenges as an emerging designer in New York City. “It’s always impossible financially, especially when you do what I do, which is expensive,” he said referring to his overly embellished fabrics and production. “Lady Gaga, these celebs — they’ve always paid for my things,” he added. “And that’s how I funded my line until we were getting into stores, because it takes a while to get the store game going.”
Beyond that, 2019 has been a very big year for Cowan. In March, he staged a massive collaboration with The Powerpuff Girls — which manifested in the form of a celeb-studded fashion show in L.A.
A look from Chritian Cowan’s collaboration with the Powerpuff Girls.
The month before, for his fall 2019 show, he collaborated with the shoe brand Giuseppe Zanotti. In October, he’ll release an affordable fashion capsule collection with the high street retailer ASOS, the first time the designer has done something on this scale. He’s also staging his first fashion show in Dubai the same month. According to the designer, the middle east is his biggest market at the moment.
A look from Chritian Cowan’s Spring-Summer 2019 collection.
For his Spring 2020 show at New York Fashion Week, he’s reflecting back on all of his recent successes, and going back to his roots. “There’s the usual sparkles and feathers and all of the things that I know and love,” he said. “This is much more personal.” Based on his Spanish roots, he looked to his predominantly female family to create a collection that speaks volumes about finding strength in femininity. “I went through a very tough time in my teen years, and it was really the women around me who saved my life,” he explained. Cowan’s mother can always be seen proudly sitting front row at every show. “I would not be doing what I do and I would not be here without her,” he said.
A model prepares backstage at the Christian Cowan Show during New York Fashion Week at Gallery II at Spring Studios on September 8, 2018 in New York City. Credit: Cindy Ord/Getty Images North America/Getty Images for Christian Cowan
But even with all the celebrity dressings and collaborations, the young designer still has many goals for the brand. “When I started I was so young and I think there’s a lot of growing up that’s happened since I began,” he explained. On his list of people he still wants to dress are Celine Dion, Tina Turner, Dolly Parton, Cher, Madonna and Elton John. He also has a dream of dressing 17-year-old singer Billie Eilish.
“I think people wouldn’t expect me to work with her because she wears baggy clothing,” he mused. “I want to challenge myself more, to do different sorts of things.”