“It very much started in an authentic way,” Cowan told WWD of the more affordable essentials line. “[Since the beginning], we weren’t a brand that was built by looking to make lots of money, but a brand that’s built out of fabulous, creative things that we believe in. It’s one reason why we didn’t rush into doing what so many other brands do with the more commercial element. We wanted to do it in a way that felt authentic and fun, so we took our time.”
During the pandemic, while Cowan’s retail business grew “in terms of big partnerships with Saks, Galeries Lafayette, Fwrd” and more, his direct-to-consumer customer base was also expanding. Through Instagram analytics, the designer discovered the brand’s Instagram account had a 37 percent male following, which influenced him to lean more into traditionally men’s items — such as boxers and briefs — within his new line of spirited casualwear.
“We have this loyal customer base that’s growing, but don’t have anything for people beyond party dress options, so I wanted to offer items for people to wear during the day: casual, but they can still feel fabulous,” Cowan said. “I don’t make clothes for a specific gender — whether they’re purchased by a certain one, sure, but for us it’s freedom of expression. Everything is for everyone, but there are more ‘typically male’ items [in the new line]. We leaned into more guys’ items because we have more collection ready-to-wear styles that are at the feminine end of the spectrum.”
Like his mainline collections, Christian Cowan Essentials is produced in New York and emphasizes fit and comfort. The collection is purposefully less maximal than his sequined, feathered and crystal party dresses, and offers a relaxed feel through soft cotton and jersey fabrications. The designer also noted that almost 90 percent of the line’s fabrications are from sustainable suppliers.
The line spans from underpinnings (boxers, briefs, socks and thongs) and casual everyday styles (sweatpants, tank tops and T-shirts) to gold logo jewelry and hand-embroidered bleached double denim sets, priced from $32 up to $1,295 (with a majority of the collection sitting below $300) in sizes XS to XL.
“It’s basics and essentials in a very Christian Cowan, extra way,” he said of the offerings’ early-2000s-inspired thongs with rainbow crystals or metal “CC” logos. Throughout the line and collection campaign, Cowan leaned into the feelings of “2000s, unapologetic ‘sex sells,’” while sending a message of being “unpretentious, raw and relaxed, romantic and queer.”
The line also sports Cowan’s new logo, which the designer describes as his “answer to the Medusa head at Versace, or brand icon,” and incorporates a heritage feeling influenced by his British culture. Prior to the essentials collection, a metal emblem of the logo was adorned on Saweetie’s Met Gala dress in September.
“We’re definitely leaning into our version of logo mania, but by no means are the items covered in a billion logos. It’s our chic push,” Cowan noted, adding: “Part of what inspired me, that I was obsessed with, was on Instagram I saw a picture of a customer wearing a Christian Cowan hoodie, but I realized we had never made it and thought, ‘what’s going on here?!’ The best part of it was Christian Cowan was misspelled. I loved it — we were seeing loads of fake merchandise being sold on resale websites, so we thought, ‘if there’s a demand and people want to wear the logo, we may as well do our own.’”
The essentials collection will be available direct-to-consumer starting Friday and release as drops, with the possibility of pushing into thematic capsules and exclusive collaborations as the line expands.
“We’re doing a really big push on direct-to-consumer: We’re doing really well with our retailers, but want to keep them really selective and to runway, for now. We want to have exclusive items on our e-commerce site,” Cowan explained, adding, “What’s so fun about that is I see the consumer data and can tailor the essentials range over time to what the customer is clicking on the site. I’m excited to have that in-depth integration to it.
“I want to approach it like Kylie [Jenner] does with cosmetics and do drops whenever we feel like it. If we want to do Valentine’s or Met Gala — fun drops that feel in the spirit of us, uniquely excited for different times of the year versus just fashion weeks, because people want stuff in between.”