Christian Cowan: Designing is like dreaming

The New York-based designer has dressed celebrities including Kylie Minogue, Sam Smith and Cardi B. By Prudence Wade.

Prudence Wade
Wednesday 26 July 2023 10:00 BST
Designer Christian Cowan has fast become a celebrity favourite (Handout/PA)
Designer Christian Cowan has fast become a celebrity favourite (Handout/PA)

Designer Christian Cowan had a full circle moment when he recently dressed pop legend Kylie Minogue.

“There are two moments when I decided I wanted to be in fashion, and they’re both around Kylie Minogue,” Cowan remembers.

One was in Borders bookshop in Cambridge [where Cowan grew up], my mum was getting a coffee and I was waiting – on the TV was the Can’t Get You Out Of My Head music video. I was like, ‘What is that? That is what I need to do’.

“Then for my 12th birthday, my mum was really sweet and got me tickets to see Kylie’s X tour in the O2. It was right in the nosebleed seats at the back, and I was living my best life.”

Cowan designed a red jumpsuit with zips for Minogue to perform in New York, and says: “To dress people like that, people who I really looked up to and still look up to is always an honour.”

And Minogue isn’t the only celebrity who has worn Cowan’s colourful, whimsical designs. Pretty much any star you can think of, Cowan will have dressed – Lady Gaga, Sam Smith, Lizzo, Lil Nas X, Heidi Klum, Cardi B, Miley Cyrus – the list goes on.

While pop stars definitely seem to gravitate to his work, Cowan says there’s no real limit to who wears his clothes.

“The Christian Cowan person is anyone, but it’s someone who wants to enjoy themselves, it’s someone who wants to be complimented and get attention. It’s someone who enjoys the fun of dressing up – our customers in general, they’re not really dressing for the gaze or perspective of anyone else – they’re just feeling f****** fabulous.”

Cowan went to university in London and now resides in New York – and he says he gets inspiration from both major fashion hubs.

The US “leans more into maximalism, and [is] not afraid of opulence and showing off, which is very much part of my brand”, he reflects. “And the UK I’d say is more [about] pushing the boundaries and trying out new things.”

Ultimately, both cities are “incredibly fashionable and stylish and have created original thinkers – so I feel very lucky to be between the two”.

Cowan established his eponymous label in 2016 so feels like an industry stalwart by now, but he’s still only 29 years old. “I started my brand and career very young,” he admits.

“I would definitely say it’s grown up with me – the collections that I put out at the beginning are by no means the collections I’m putting out now.” But he doesn’t feel embarrassed when looking back at earlier work, instead calling his collections “like a diary”.

“You can see as I grew up, the big life experiences that happened influenced [my style]. To say it has matured – maybe that’s the wrong word – but I would say my references have gotten more expansive with time. I look further than I used to – before it was like, who was next to me in the club.”

While he doesn’t go to the clubs as much as he used to (“I’m like an old man!”), he occasionally pops in (“I love to see what my friends are wearing”), while getting inspiration from elsewhere as well.

“I’m definitely a child of the internet, the internet is a huge part of it. I think designing is almost like dreaming – it’s a random compilation of everything you’ve seen, all smudged into one thing.”

Cowan has made a name for himself as someone who loves to collaborate, and he often gets inspiration from his creative partners – ranging from the Teletubbies to Crocs, and now, Candy Crush Saga, who he’s designed an exclusive garment for.  Called ‘The Sweet Seat’, it’s a one-of-a-kind, wearable garment inspired by the dreaded task of finding a seat to play on public transport.

“Collaboration is the key to success in general in life – work, personal, everything,” he muses. “So when doing these collaborations, whether it’s a dress for Lady Gaga or this Candy Crush partnership, it’s always super collaborative. I want their opinion, I want their input, I want both partners involved and to be excited.

“Especially with a celebrity wearing the clothes as well, you want them to feel amazing and excited to wear the piece – you don’t bully them into wearing something they’re not fully down for. You always have a better result if you collaborate.”

Working with Candy Crush gave Cowan a welcome pause from designing his next New York Fashion Week collection, set to debut in September.

“We’re doing a few things we’ve never done before that I think will be surprising to people – I just can’t wait. It’s our biggest show, the collection’s over double the size of any collection we’ve ever done before,” he shares.

With designing collections for fashion week twice a year, making bespoke outfits for celebrities and all the extra projects in between, does Cowan ever suffer from fashion burnout?

Cowan admits to having “brief moments in my past” where he’s struggled, but adds: “When you feel that it means you need to try something new, and I never had it again after I realised that.

“I make sure I’m filled with creative, fun projects – I don’t think I’d ever get burnt out. I want to be doing this until the day I die.”

The limited-edition Sweat Seat will be available for purchase on for £786.92 from July 26. Download Candy Crush today on Google Play or the App Store.

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