How Breaking the Rules Put Christian Cowan in the Spotlight

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“I am a feminist, 100 percent,” declares Christian Cowan backstage at his one-off Los Angeles show that was done in collaboration with Cartoon Network’s iconic trio of badass superheroes—the Powerpuff Girls—on International Women’s Day (March 8). “And not in a way that conglomerates are like, ‘We stand for feminism,’ and don’t do anything,” he continues. “I’m truly a feminist in every sense of the word.”

The charismatic Cambridge-born designer credits his mom for instilling these life-long principles in him—and it’s her and all the strong women in his life for whom he dedicated his IWD show, which benefited She’s the First, a non-profit that aims to fight gender inequality through education.

Striped in the Powerpuff Girls’ signature shades—pink, green, and baby blue—the runway saw Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup (Bliss, the new Powerpuff Girl, was represented on two counts: a show-stopping violet tulle concoction and a lavender feathery masterpiece) through the lens of Cowan’s wacky, creatively uninhibited vision.

There were glittery pantsuits topped with helmets, a neon green mini crafted entirely from ostrich plumes, and metallic evening-wear with cutouts and puffy sleeves―all familiar silhouettes that felt almost like an extension to his Fall/Winter 2019 collection that he showed during New York Fashion Week nearly a month prior. A hot pink coat that featured neon glow stick lights was equipped with a battery pack that read, “sugar, spice, and everything nice” on the front and “Chemical X” on the back. Professor Utonium got the Cowan treatment with a white lab coat-inspired button-front dress layered with PVC. And HIM, the flamboyant, stiletto-wearing demonic villain (one of Cowan’s favorite characters, though when he’s hangry, he relates to Buttercup; green is his favorite color, after all) was repped through siren-red minis with Victorian-inspired cartwheel ruff collars and black thigh-high patent boots.

“For me, it’s nostalgic, it’s my childhood, and it’s been feminist since day one. The Powerpuff Girls were the first-ever cartoon to really show girls as a non-damsel-in-distress; they were saving everyone else,” Cowan says. “I contacted them three years ago, but I hadn’t done any shows yet. Then, they reached out and said, ‘What do you want to do?’ I didn’t want to do just a licensed collection where it’s a face slapped on a sweatshirt; I wanted to make it a truly creative collaboration, an expression celebrating women I love.” (An affordable line of merch is available now, while his couture-level “crazier” pieces will be available for private orders for clients.)

It was Paris Hilton, who garnered the most cheers and laughs. Clad in a full black latex bodysuit (that she was overheard saying, had her “sweating dicks”) underneath a hot pink-and-black checked tulle dress, she twirled and sashayed down the runway cradling her micro Chihuahua, Diamond Baby, in her arms.

“I love the Powerpuff Girls, it’s iconic; I’m a total nerd and I love cartoons, and when I was little, I always wanted to be Bubbles,” says Hilton, who has championed Cowan from the beginning, having closed out his first NYFW show. “He’s so talented and I love that he always uses what he does with his brand to help different causes. It’s great to be together to support women. That’s why I’m here.”

But the most heartfelt moment was when Cowan pulled his mom from her front row seat to take a lap alongside him and Hilton. His mom called the entire event “magical.”

“I know everyone loves their mom, but I love my mom,” Cowan effuses. “She was tough, loving, and supportive for whatever I was passionate about. I wanted to design at a very young age and she was always there for me. My whole career is dedicated to her, to be honest.”

His mom, Mercedes Bevan, said she knew since he was 2 years old that he was destined for greatness. “As a toddler, he was always making things out of fabrics, and when he was about 13, during school holidays, he would go and intern in London for fashion designers,” she says. “He never had a holiday; he always worked.”

After finishing his foundation level at Central Saint Martins, Cowan went on to attend London College of Fashion and graduate in 2016, though if it had been up to him, he wouldn’t have gone at all. It was Bevan who adamantly pushed him to graduate with a fashion degree. And while Cowan had amazing mentors, he claims he almost got kicked out on numerous occasions, he nearly didn’t pass his courses, and his professors frowned on his personal projects, like outfitting Miley Cyrus’ tour costumes.

“[His teachers] didn’t like him at school because he would not conform with the traditional textbook stuff, he was always trying to break the rules, always trying to change his uniform,” Bevan says. “If you conform, you’re never going to really be yourself. You need to break the mold to be who you are.”

Clearly, that nonconformist spirit along with his razor focus paid off. At 24 years old, Cowan is hailed as a fashion protégé. He dressed Lady Gaga when he was 18 years old—the first celebrity to ever wear his creations—after she stumbled on his designs. He’s inextricably linked to Cardi B, who wore his black-and-white checkered look on the cover of her Invasion of Privacy album (she’s worn his designs at least 20 times). Other celebrity fans include Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, and Naomi Campbell (his dream would be to dress Cher, Madonna, Dolly Parton, Tina Turner, Grace Jones, Elton John, and Britney Spears). His delightful shows have been heralded as bright spots on the very cluttered NYFW calendar. And he was a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist in 2018.

And not unlike his rule-breaking approach, his collaborations have run the gamut. He’s partnered up with Stuart Weitzman for sparkly over-the-knee Western boots, Giuseppe Zanotti for his famous watch-strap sandals (Cardi B is a fan), Chris Habana for fun gold glow-stick necklaces and party blower pendants, Moshiqa for a glittery pet accessories line, and now, the Powerpuff Girls.

“I hate it when people are like, ‘You can’t do that because that’s not in line with this.’ I’m like, what? I can do whatever that is the spirit of the brand, and anything that celebrates and empowers people is the spirit of the brand,” Cowan says.

As for what’s next, Cowan says he has more exciting partnerships in the pipeline, which will launch later this fall and one next February. Understandably, details are under wraps, but “there’s a big, big American clothing label that has never done a collab with another brand, an accessories brand, and an affordable line coming with a huge name,” he teases.

Does he ever sleep?

He flashes a smile. “Someone asked me earlier, what would be my superpower? I was like, to not sleep, so I could just work,” he said. “I want to keep people guessing. I want to be happy. I consider us a clothing brand, but also an entertainment one. Fashion can take itself too seriously sometimes—I get it, there’s a lot of money in fashion, but at the end of the day, if we want to be happy in life and if I can achieve that with clothes, then I’m down.”

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