Paris, New York, and Milan may get most of the love as beacons for what’s next in fashion, but the American South has held its own in the new century as an influential force, fostering the rise of regional icons Billy Reid, Alabama Chanin, Sid and Ann Mashburn, Miron Crosby, Imogene + Willie, and others. Now three young designers with Southern bona fides have made their way to international catwalks and fashion houses with designs and perspectives that nod to their roots: Atlanta’s Wes Gordon succeeded Carolina Herrera at her iconic fashion house; Emily Bode, also from that city, is reimagining the language of vintage textiles; and there is perhaps no brighter spotlight on runways at the moment than the one shining on Louisiana native and Savannah College of Art and Design graduate Christopher John Rogers, who has championed racial diversity in a traditionally very white industry while turning out jaw-dropping silhouettes that embrace a Southerner’s love of color. Together their designs speak in a compelling dialect, at once authentic, glamorous, and eccentric in the best possible way.
Taking over a storied brand like Carolina Herrera might have been impossible for any designer except Wes Gordon. Now thirty-five, Gordon began his own eponymous line in 2009, after graduating from London’s Central Saint Martins, a college known for its fashion program, and major department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman soon snapped up his women’s wear. In 2017, he joined Herrera as a consultant, and stepped into the role of creative director seamlessly the next year, a transition that reinvigorated the fashion house, thanks to the way he has honored the founder’s career as a designer and muse in his collections. Discerning stylistas have since sought out his looks for red carpet events, including Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, Karlie Kloss, Taraji P. Henson, and Sarah Paulson. “I can tell you that he was raised well, and not only respects but also adores women,” says Laura Vinroot Poole, owner of Capitol boutique in Charlotte. “Each collection praises the history that Mrs. Herrera created, with a twist of his own ingenuity and sense of optimism.” Even during a global pandemic, Gordon conjured beauty in the form of exuberant color and draping (and welcomed his first child to boot). It’s no surprise that his designs for 2022 are as bold as ever.
Repurposing textiles through quilting and patchwork is intrinsic to Southern culture, from the quilters of Gee’s Bend in Alabama to the resurgence of the craft during the pandemic. But the thirty-two-year-old Atlanta native Emily Bode carries it a step further by using antique and vintage textiles and the traditionally female-centric art form to reinvent the vernacular for luxury menswear. As she explained once, “I want to make the beautiful useful again.” A Central Saint Martins grad, Bode released her first collection in 2016, and two years later became the first female designer to show at New York Fashion Week: Men’s. A voracious following ensued, with an appetite forming for Bode’s jackets sewn from antique quilts—so much so that Bode won the CFDA’s American Menswear Designer of the Year Award last fall, and one of her suits currently stars in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute exhibition In America: A Lexicon of Fashion. Women too love the line, including Laurel Pantin, fashion director at large for Austin, Texas’s ByGeorge boutique. “When I saw the Bode jacket I have on the men’s runway, I had to have it,” Pantin recalls. “People are yearning for things that show the maker’s hand, that feel a little more personal—which all of her pieces do.”
Christopher John Rogers
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Any designer entering the fashion fray must have confidence, the word that perhaps best sums up the career and aesthetic of Christopher John Rogers. Fresh out of the Savannah College of Art and Design, Rogers first brought his visions to life in 2016 with the help of a close-knit group of his fellow recent graduates. “They all met freshman year,” recalls SCAD president and founder Paula Wallace. “He even called upon a SCAD architect based in Barcelona to design the set for his first show in New York, where Christopher memorably danced down the runway.” Rogers, who is now twenty-eight, has credited his grandmother and the Sunday best he witnessed at the Baptist church he attended in Baton Rouge with influencing his style, which revolves around the idea of “mixing high drama or being your best self with something incredibly pragmatic,” he told his hometown CBS station last year. That viewpoint has led to a slew of high points: winning the prestigious CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award, designing a Target collaboration, landing a frock in a prime spot in the Costume Institute’s In America exhibition, and dressing the likes of Michelle Obama, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Adele in his trademark kaleidoscopic pieces.