While studying Fashion Design Technology at the London College of Fashion, emerging designer Christian Cowan was focusing on his womenswear debut: a glittery four outfit collection complete with a presentation for his friends. His clothing line eventually caught the attention of Dazed magazine, which Instagrammed it, and the next day mega stylist and designer Brandon Maxwell requested the entire collection for none other than Lady Gaga‘s consideration. Exactly one week later, she wore the bright bubble gum pink tuxedo suit and matching wide brim hat on the streets of New York City in March 2014 (exclusive sketch below).
“What’s fun about that pink glitter suit is that it led to a collaboration with Acer where I made the world’s first selfie hat, where it takes photos of the person wearing it,” Cowan tells Billboard. In the three years since, his distinctly flamboyant and feminine pieces have captivated the attention of the music industry’s leading ladies and rising starlets including Ciara, Iggy Azalea, Halsey, Noah Cyrus, Lauren Jauregui of Fifth Harmony and Zara Larsson amongst others.
“The women who wear my stuff are very proud of who they are and have a particular message they are trying to get across and not waver on it. She’s very much a confident woman, but also has a sense of humor. I think that’s very important for my brand; we’re not trying to take ourselves too seriously,” he says.
Below, Billboard Style exclusively spoke with the British creative about his colorful designs, the importance of internships and the four dream artists he’s hoping to work with next–here’s a hint: within the last five years, one of the singers received the Icon Award at the Billboard Music Awards.
Who is the first artist you designed a custom piece for and what was that collaboration process like?
When I made my first tour costumes, I originally made some stuff for Miley Cyrus for a shoot. She loved it so much that she got in contact and asked if I would be interested making her tour outfits, and I was like, ‘yes I am!’ [exclusive sketch below].
What I like about working with Miley is she’s very much there for what a designer wants to do, which was really nice. They told me about the set list, what would work where and I really did whatever I wanted, so that was super fun. It happens very organically, and I get a lot of my work through Instagram, people will often DM me and say ‘I love it’ and then CC me in with their stylist. Also I hunt down people, where I want to dress someone and make it happen. (Laughs). Fergie is one I’m working on right now, and I want that to happen. I’m talking to Kylie Jenner’s stylist now, and a few other people as well
Last spring, you graduated from the London College of Fashion. Do you think that a formal degree is essential for a career as a fashion designer? Why is that?
I really really don’t. I don’t regret doing it, and I won’t tell anyone to drop out, but I think everything I’ve gained that helped me in the industry has absolutely not come through university, it’s come from trial and error in the real world. I kinda think people have been brainwashed into going for a degree. When it’s a career like a photographer, stylist or designer, I believe that you’re much better off doing an apprenticeship for a year with someone who’s made it in the industry rather than necessarily a degree. The thing about a degree is that it doesn’t necessarily teach the students–at least mine didn’t–about any of the practicalities of being in the real world.
Your brand has grown quite quickly. Why do you think musicians are fans of your work?
Well, I believe that it’s because a lot of fashion at the moment is very serious, but I think people want to gravitate to something that’s a good time. Especially now, where it’s a bit of a crazy period, I believe that it’s good to give people something to laugh and smile about, and cheer them up and to make people realize not everything is the end of the world. With musicians, I think they want to get their fans excited and super engaged with their performance, and I believe in always trying to make an impact which has become a signature.
Musicians want to people to notice them, post pictures of them on social media and put them on the cover of all the papers, and that’s going to happen if you’re wearing glitter chaps and a giant hat whereas it won’t happen if you’re wearing plain black cotton body. I also hope they enjoy the process with me since I’m super friendly and chill about it, and I think it’s important not to make it too formal. For them, performances are a really personal journey, and you realize how much effort they put in and that it’s a personal thing for them. So I make sure they feel positive about the whole outfit.
Who are artists that you haven’t worked with yet, but would love to dress? What would be your dream piece to create for them?
I would love to do Cher, Dolly Parton, Elton John, and Shania Twain. That leopard print look she [Shania] wore in “That Don’t Impress Me Much” is one of the best looks ever. For Shania, it would have to be a country-themed outfit of course. I’ve got this cowboy hat that has a pageant tiara in it and would probably make an awesome chap suit. For Cher, it has to be something way-way over the top. I don’t know what, but I would do something crazy with a shit load of glitter and feathers. For Elton, I’d love to do a flared suit with incredible detail and embroidery, that would be sick. And then for Dolly, I don’t know, I’d have to ask her.
Speaking of music, who do you like to listen to while in the studio?
I listen to a huge range of things. One day I’ll be listening to Jazz and Classical, and the next day it’ll be Top 40, so whatever song Nicki Minaj has just released. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Sky Ferreira and Grimes. My iPod ranges from everything from Kylie Minogue to Metallica, so it’s a wide range, but I love loud music.
What are your thoughts on the relationship between music and fashion?
For me, they’re very heavily connected. When I design, I think the music is definitely part of it. I choose music based on what I want to do, and it helps it (the creative process). I always listen to upbeat, exciting, and intense music and I love a good pop track. I like to play music very loudly, so it drowns out the rest of the world when I’m working, and it’s the best way to help me focus.
What’s really fun is right before I did Miley’s tour, I was listening to the Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz album the whole way through, and when I released my collection, they were like ‘want to do tour costumes?’ The first time this happened, I was listening to Art Pop, and then Gaga’s team requested the entire collection immediately, and she wore it all throughout the promo for Art Pop on the first day which was so good. And I think that affects it. I also, made an outfit while listening to Joanne, and I was saying to my boyfriend that ‘I really want Gaga to wear the pink chap suit that I made.’ And then literally, five to ten minutes later, I get an email requesting it and then she wore it in her ‘Ayo’ music video and it played at Coachella. That was so weird yet so good.