How two designers represented Baton Rouge this year on fashion’s biggest stage

As onlookers watch, models walk down the runway in ornate swirls of color and flair. It’s a flurry of pinks and greens, florals and metallics, ruffles and stripes. The outfits are so awe-inspiring, this New York Fashion Week runway show will receive a standing ovation.

At another show, models take spectators back in time to the 1970s with beloved, infinitely wearable silhouettes: Long, geometric earrings and belts that feature wooden, diamond-shaped accents accessorize earthy toned fit-and-flare bottoms, skirts and camis.

This September, New York Fashion Week featured two young Baton Rouge designers who epitomize style. Christopher John Rogers and Molly Taylor, respectively, have firmly planted themselves on the national map as ones to watch.

Rogers, a clothing designer of big, bold, whimsical numbers who calls his work “pragmatic glamour,” had his first experience at New York Fashion Week in September 2018. He got in the door by applying and later getting selected as one of the hundreds of elite designers on the Fashion Week Council of Fashion Designers of America calendar.

This September marked his first runway show. Nerves were not an issue.

“I’ve actually never really been nervous just because I’m putting out what I believe in,” he says.

“I always try to put a little piece of where I’m from in the work that I do.” —Christopher John Rogers

Rogers, 26, was born and raised in Baton Rouge and lives in Brooklyn now, where he’s been for three and a half years. He’s seen his star rise over the past few years. He’s been featured in Vogue and The Fader, and his pieces have been worn by the likes of Tracee Ellis Ross, Regina King, Rihanna and Lizzo. Even former First Lady Michelle Obama has sported his fashions, wearing a statement green suit by him during her Becoming book tour.

Most recently, he was the winner of Vogue’s and the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s 2019 Fashion Fund: $400,000 and a year-long of mentorship from a CFDA member.

No matter where he goes or what he achieves, Rogers takes Baton Rouge with him.

“It’s really humbling, just to think about where I’ve come from,” he says. “I always try to put a little piece of where I’m from in the work that I do. I always like to feel like I have a little bit of Baton Rouge with me and Louisiana with me even when I’m designing and thinking about all of these clothes.”

Home has been a big design inspiration for Rogers. He draws from Louisiana’s culture of getting dressed up, wearing your Sunday best and head-to-toe color. His outfits are more like works of art rather than singular articles of clothing. One look is not quite a dress or a top, but a massive, wearable metallic disco ball. Another is a world of yellows and stripes.

And it was the visitors from home who made his fashion week experience even more special this September. His favorite part, he says, was seeing his family in attendance.

“My family, they still live in Baton Rouge—my aunt, my mom, my dad and my sister—and they flew up,” he says. “I saw my mom in the front row, so it was just so nice to see her and my family be there and see the work that I had been doing for the past few months.”

“I felt like I was so ready for it. … It was everything I imagined it to be.” —Beneath the Bark designer Molly Taylor on New York Fashion Week. Photo courtesy Molly Taylor.

While Rogers is now representing Baton Rouge in Bushwick, Taylor, a 29-year-old Covington native, continues to live in the city where she’s been a local presence for about a decade.

Her brand, Beneath the Bark, is a collection of sustainable handmade wood jewelry full of natural colors and classic shapes.

Taylor’s journey from the Red Stick to this year’s New York Fashion Week began with an email. About a year ago, she received a message from Oxford Fashion Studio, an organization that seeks emerging designers. Taylor showcased her work at New Orleans Fashion Week in 2016, and the organization came across her jewelry. They invited her to New York to be a part of their show. She’s never experienced anything like it.

“I was constantly blown away the entire time,” Taylor says. “I felt like I was so ready for it. I was so grateful for the experience, so I just wanted to go and not be scared of it at all. It was everything I imagined it to be.”

Taylor was in New York that Wednesday to Sunday, with three days of meetings and model fittings. Knowing for a year that she’d be showing at fashion week, she had a long time to design. But it wasn’t just jewelry—for the first time, she designed clothes to complement her pieces.

Molly Taylor designed earth-toned outfits to complement her jewelry for the fashion show.

“I really, really enjoyed it,” she says. “Beneath the Bark is very ’70s inspired, and I’m a very retro chick. So I just kind of designed stuff that I would want to wear.”

Everything went according to plan, and Taylor’s runway show was full of warmth and those retro vibes, much like herself.

“I could not have asked for a smoother situation,” she says.

She even got to perform live after the show at Rockwood Music Hall with her partner in music and in life, Denton Hatcher.

Taylor was bartending when she got invited to fashion week, and it prompted her to quit her job to focus on her creative work. Since then, she’s been making jewelry and music full time.

People have taken notice. Beneath the Bark was featured in New York magazine’s The Cut and in Vanity Fair’s November issue.

Rogers and Taylor have reached heights that stretch a long way from their Baton Rouge homes. But Louisiana is never too far away from them: They have the support of family and friends back home, rooting for them to achieve even more.

This article was originally published in the December 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.