Growing up, my parents enforced very strict Saturday morning cartoon parameters: No Power Rangers, no Pokemon and absolutely no Teenage Mutant Teenage Turtles. Anything remotely violent was off limits in an effort to suppress my aggression towards my younger sister, and my younger sister’s aggression towards me. (It didn’t work—we both have childhood battle wounds.) The Powerpuff Girls, however, were always fair game. Looking back, I understand why: these pint-size siblings were kicking ass and taking names, but they liked their milk and cookies, early bedtimes and spreading messages of kindness and inclusion.
“As a child, you aren’t aware of how shows and entertainment tend to really put people into one avenue,” Christian Cowan, a 2018 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist, says backstage amidst the post-fashion show adrenalin high. “For example, girls are so often the damsel in distress—but as a kid, you don’t notice that. As you get older and start to see the world, you realize that The Powerpuff Girls have been sending us an amazing message since day one. You realize how progressive it was for its time, and that it existed before feminism was a hot topic to jump on to.”
Female empowerment is the topic du jour when I speak with womenswear designer Christian Cowan after the runway debut of his The Powerpuff Girls capsule collection. It’s International Women’s Day (March 8), and the Los Angeles warehouse hosting the fashion event is filled with power-punching women like Heidi Klum, Tinashe, Carly Rae Jepsen, Betty Who and Skai Jackson.
As the audience of colourfully dressed L.A. fashion influencers took their seats and tapped their feet to Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman,” models stepped out on a blue, pink and green striped catwalk. A mod reimagining of the Powerpuff protagonists (Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup) opened the show in neck-to-finger-to-toe latex, glitter pantsuits with matching bowties and black floral motorcycle helmets. Latex, glitter, and touches of biker wear reoccur throughout the collection, with dashes of sugar, spice, neon, feather and tulle sprinkled in for good measure. Superheros, it seems, are not restricted to comic-like costumes in their fight for a better world.
When Cowan comes out to do his bow, he brings Paris Hilton—who walked in the show carrying her teacup Chihuahua, Diamond—with him. A few steps down the runway, he grabs his mother by the hand and invites her to join. “She didn’t know [I was going to ask her to walk with me],” Cowan says, “I once asked her like in the past if she would ever mind if I grabbed her, and she said, ‘oh I’m not sure.’ She’s shy, you know. But she’s the reason why I’m doing everything I’m doing — especially this. So it wouldn’t make sense to not bring her up. She’s the real star.”
Starpower is something Cowan is familiar with. He’s only 24-years-old, but already the young designer has garnered a strong celebrity following, dressing everyone from Beyoncé, Naomi Campbell and Cardi B. to Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande. Having brushed paths with the world’s most powerful woman, Cowan would be well equipt to cast his own female powerpack. When I ask who he would put in a trio of superwomen, he knows immediately who his top pick is. “My mom, obviously,” he says, before thinking of who will round out the group. “Hmmm… and then I would put Lady Gaga and Cardi B.”
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The Powerpuff Girls and Christian Cowan collection will benefit She’s the First (STF), a nonprofit organization that fights gender inequality through education by supporting girls who will be the first in their families to graduate high school. “These women in other countries need to support themselves, so they can be independent,” Cowan says of the charitable element to the collaboration. He finishes my sentence when I ask if he thinks brands who are doing something to celebrate International Women’s Day need to… “HELP! You need to help. I hate when companies pretend they stand for something, but they do nothing. It’s important to do something.”
Whether you’re designing colourful clothing or taking down supervillains with your neon energy projections, the message of the collection is that everyone has a part to play in making the world a more positive place. If given an option, however, Cowan decides his superpower would be the ability to never sleep, “so I can just work the whole time and really get shit done.”
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