Skip to main content

When the design juices get flowing each season, it’s easy for designers to get swept up in a multitude of different inspirations or references. For Christian Cowan’s fall collection, however, he zeroed in on one clear muse: The late Judy Garland. Cowan’s new assortment paid homage to the legendary powerhouse singer, channeling the glitz and glamour she often embodied on stage; he’s also long admired her as a queer icon. “These Old Hollywood legends, particularly Judy Garland, were such symbols of hope to the gay community,” said Cowan. “At a time when nobody else was showing public adoration for the queer community, these women were going to queer bars or using queer people in their teams; they were so devoted to their community.”

The designer didn’t want to just replicate famous garments worn by Garland, however. “I wanted to evoke her spirit,” Cowan said of a collection that was meant to razzle-dazzle. For instance, his assortment of silk cerulean dresses, some trimmed with feathers (Cowan’s signature material), referenced a specific blue dress Garland wore while performing in Europe. “She also loved a crystal-embroidered trim,” said Cowan, who applied some shimmery, dangly crystals onto black evening blazers or cigarette pants.

In keeping the seasonal inspiration so tight (an acapella version of Garland’s “Smile” even opened the show) Cowan was able to exercise restraint and refine his craft this season. The designer was once synonymous with raucous downtown party wear, but he showed one of his most grown-up and sophisticated collections to date. (This has definitely been a trend this past New York Fashion Week, with labels like Brandon Maxwell and Eckhaus Latta also going surprisingly minimal). Cowan attributed his paring-back to “a realization I had a few months ago: The stuff I made when I was 22 is just not who I am anymore,” he said. “I listen to jazz and stay at home with a bubble bath. I wanted to reflect that.” There were sleek silk tanks, blazers, and skirts and silver gowns with clean, unfussy lines. A white cotton-poplin dress had a slight dash of feathers on the shoulder straps. They were still fun garments, but not gauche or in-your-face as Cowan’s past clothes could easily be.

Just when you wondered if Cowan had refined things too much—let’s face it, do we need another label of minimal dresses?—the designer came back with a bang, sending out theatrical feathered headpieces at the end fit for a Broadway stage. (In the front row, Lil Nas X wore one in pink). The most dramatic look was the finale one (naturally). It was a slinky black sequined gown paired with an incredibly heavy feathered cape coat which a model treacherously dragged down the extra-long catwalk to encouraging cheers from the audience. It was fabulous.