When it comes to fashion destinations Baton Rouge is city that could be at the bottom of the list, but Christopher John Rogers and Oonarissa Brown-Bernard are changing that.
Besides dominating the charts this year? What do Cardi B and Sza have in common? They turn to Rogers for his ‘80s glamour meets punk rock inspired designs to make sure their style, just like their music, reigns supreme.
While Rogers, who made his New York Fashion Week debut this year, is poised o be this season’s breakout designer he said this collection’s inspiration comes from a number of sources rather than one single theme. “I really like to allow my mind to wander,” he said. This year’s collection had a variety of influences ranging from 1930s French couture to 1970s West African photography.
Brown-Bernard, the designer behind the labels OonaNicole and DoubleOSeven, is already preparing for her fashion debut on both coasts in 2019.
“What I hope to gain from the experience is to increase exposure for my brand and ultimately have my garments sold in retail stores and boutiques”, said Brown-Bernard
As many will begin 2019 with resolutions, Brown-Bernard will beginning the new year with a debut both coasts at New York Fashion Week and in Los Angeles at Style Fashion Week.
As Brown-Bernard resides in Austin and Rogers has put down roots in Brooklyn, the two designers take the time away from their studios to discuss, their inspirations, design processes and most importantly the effect a Louisiana upbringing had on their careers.
What inspired you to pursue a career as a designer?
ROGERS: All of the greats — Todd Oldham, Issac Mizrahi, John Galliano. Also anime, manga, cartoons — the idea of clothing being a transformative vehicle and allowing the wearer to tap into a certain power that they’ve always had.
BROWN-BERNARD: My mom who taught me how to sew when I was 12 years old, however, my husband is the reason I am pursuing my career as a designer. I started out as an actress and I was ultimately pursuing a career as an actress.
Did you study fashion and if so where?
ROGERS: I graduated from Baton Rouge Magnet High School and then I went to Savannah College of Art and Design
BROWN-BERNARD: I graduated from Southern University Lab School and then I studied fashion at The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, California
What would you say is the biggest misconception people have about those who work in the fashion industry?
ROGERS: That everyone’s super materialistic and doesn’t go deeper than face value.
BROWN-BERNARD: The biggest misconception people have about those who work in the fashion industry is that anybody can be in the fashion industry. Many people think that one style of fashion is suitable for everyone and that’s not true. Each person has his or her own individual style. You have to have an eye for fashion to be able to decipher what will look good on each body type but also represent the individual’s personal style. Not everyone has a full understanding of what it takes to create a garment from scratch. They think its simple like 1, 2, 3 and for basic design it is, but once the garment gets detailed its a totally different ball game.
You made your New York Fashion Week debut this year, what was that experience like and what do you hope to gain from it?
ROGERS: Hah, super overwhelming! I learned a lot about sticking to time lines, being ridiculously organized, and how to directly communicate your vision with as much clarity as possible. We’re working on building an actual business; so increased visibility towards stores was the goal.
Where do you find inspiration?
ROGERS: Mostly through color, and the idea of treating it like an object as opposed to just an abstract concept placed onto other things.
Brown-Bernard: I am a retro, vintage type of designer. I love classics so I get my inspiration from the costuming in certain films. Jackie O, Chanel, Audrey Hepburn, Christian Dior, and Alexander McQueen inspire me. I’m also inspired by the thought of being the first well-known African American female menswear designer.
How do you see the fashion industry changing over the next few years?
ROGERS: A sense of increased accountability and transparency that’s come with the proliferation of social media. I think it allows artists and brands to be more direct with what we say through our work and connect with people who actually understand what we’re trying to say.
Brown-Bernard: I am not sure because fashion is forever changing as the world keeps evolving. It’s a cycle. What is old to us is new to the new generation with just a different name. I would really like to see fashion return to a place where you don’t have to expose your body to be sexy.
Did living in Louisiana have an influence on your designs? Is there anything you miss about it?
ROGERS: For sure! A sense of needing comfort in clothing (depending on the garment), and understanding that things have to function. I absolutely miss my family, 100%.
Brown-Bernard: Living in Louisiana did not have an influence on my designs; however, it influenced me to be a great designer because of where I come from and always pushing to be better. I definitely miss my family and the good food.
If an aspiring designer came to you from Baton Rouge and said they wanted to follow in your footsteps, what would be your advice?
ROGERS: Work as hard as you possibly can, and then work harder than that. It’s all about the end game, so learn as much as you can and always say “yes”.
Brown-Bernard: My advice would be intern or work under a reputable designer and learn as much as you can. This would be very difficult to accomplish in Louisiana, so my next bit of advice would be to travel and attend networking events so you can see what fashion looks like outside of Louisiana. Work on your craft and build your resume, and most importantly don’t give up. It’s a long and rough journey, but if you’re serious about fashion it’s worth it to see it through.ℜ
By Cameron James
Special to The Drum