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Lil Nas X Discusses His Creative Process With Collaborator Christian Cowan
Just Friends: Lil Nas X and Christian Cowan
When U.K.-based designer, Christian Cowan, and rapper Lil Nas X broke the internet with their trailblazing fashion collaboration at the 2019 VMAs, everyone wanted more. Now they're giving it to us in a new punk-infused Spring 2021 collection that benefits Black queer youth in Atlanta -- and they brought a few other A-listers for the ride.
The two creative pals recently talked shop with us about their own inspirations and how they incorporate their unique points of view into their daily style. Plus, they brought a few queers friends and allies along for the ride!
All photography by Vijat Mohindra.
Christian Cowan (pictured)
Out: This collection is so much fun. How did you begin the creative process?
CHRISTIAN COWAN: We first collaborated at the 2019 Video Music Awards and it was sick. Then when it came to Fashion Week, I wanted to do a collab with someone. It had to be Lil Nas, because I'm so inspired by so much that you do. You're not only blending these music genres but you're also a proud trailblazer, which is everything we live for. It felt very natural on my end, and then we just created. I felt like we didn't hold back and we had you in pink glitter and just serving all the different fantasies.
LIL NAS X: 100 [percent]. I feel like with the shoot, it wasn't super held back. I hate when everything is all held back. Everything came together, it was super exciting, and things were fun and eye-catching. It was a fun process. It had an amazing cause. It was something I was super happy to be a part of.
Lil Nas X (pictured)
Proceeds from the collection will benefit Black queer youth in Atlanta via the Loveland Foundation, a nonprofit founded by activist Rachel Cargle.
NAS: Yeah. That was part of the discussion early on. It was like, OK, we could definitely use this moment to do something for our community, you know? I wanted to give back to the Black trans community and I feel like this was the perfect time to do it. It's two people that are big in the community coming together and doing this.
COWAN: I was a weird kid in the middle of the countryside in England and didn't fit in. Then when we fled to London when I was 16, my trans brothers and sisters are the ones who made me feel celebrated and fab. It's always been an important cause for us.
Lil Nas X (pictured)
Have you always been this free in expressing yourselves through fashion and art?
COWAN: I was always super weird. I could never work out how to fit in, so I think it's really important for role models -- and I don't feel like a role model -- to just be unapologetically themselves and to not try and blend and fit into something else. Nas is the perfect example of that within music. Then for me, I've never really followed the path within fashion that most follow.... It's about taking my own road. I've just always been a bit funky.
NAS: On my side, this is still a growing process for me. I'm still 100 percent stepping out of my comfort zone, you know, day by day. There's a lot more to go. I feel like last year was a big part of that -- the past couple years themselves -- and you know, getting involved with the [LGBTQ+] community and being more comfortable with myself and not being afraid to try new things. It's easy to say, but once you actually face it, it's much harder, especially when you have all these eyes watching. For a long time, I was a people pleaser. I wanted to make sure everybody was comfortable. But, you know, I'm getting rid of that.
COWAN: I totally relate to the people pleaser part. I used to be so on it to make everyone around me feel comfortable. As soon as I was like, I don't give a fuck, I've just been so much happier and doing my thing. And I've been way more successful because of it.
The universe seems to reward people for being themselves, right? People are attracted to authenticity and genuineness, so in a way your audience finds you as a result.
COWAN: Also, they're attracted to that uniqueness and they find it endearing as well. I think people just love someone who just marches to the beat of their own drum. It's a cheesy saying, but it's true.
NAS: Yeah, it's [about] inspiring them. It makes them be like, OK, maybe I should do this. It's working out well for them so I should be more myself too.
Gus Kenworthy (pictured)
Who are your fashion and musical inspirations?
NAS: As of now, I like the more wild side of fashion. Gaga, of course, you know, she's crazy. I feel like, in my own opinion, nobody's done it as crazy as her. Like, Michael [Jackson]. He's incredible. Rihanna, of course. No brainer. On the fashion side, I'd say those are my top three.
COWAN: My top three: John Galliano was my everything growing up -- didn't agree with some of the personal statements he made, but as a fashion figure, it was just the pinnacle of what fashion has ever been. And Gareth Pugh, at the time, was everything to me. And then Gaga...I was like 13 when Gaga came onto the scene and that shit blew my mind. I remember being in the countryside watching the "Alejandro" music video on repeat being like, This is the sickest shit I've ever seen. She completely inspired me. And I feel like she really inspired everyone within a certain age group because she was the sickest thing that was around.
Amanda Lepore (pictured)
How would you describe your personal style?
COWAN: I play characters. In the day, I'm like, Do I want to be '50s suburban? Or do I want to be '80s, like, tight black everything? There's always a different character, and that makes my day so much more interesting because you can kind of act into it a bit more. Some days, I'm way more fem and fabulous, and then other days, I'm super preppy. I just play around. It isn't really one thing. I love gold jewelry! That's one thing that stays.
NAS: I say the exact same thing. I really like to play different characters. I like to jump into whatever I'm feeling at that moment, you know? And it's very experimental.
Rachel Cargle (pictured)
It's all about never repeating the same day twice.
NAS: I agree.
COWAN: Honestly, RuPaul spoke the wisest words: "You're born naked and the rest is drag." Like, every day is basically drag. You can just make up whatever you want to be. It's such a better way to look at life.
If we were to sneak inside your closets, what do you think would surprise us most?
COWAN: People would be surprised by the different array of gold chains I own. There's quite a large selection. But there's also embarrassing shit. I buy shit I never intend on wearing just because I think it's awesome. If you go in my wardrobe now -- I came to England in March and then they shut the borders to America so I couldn't come back -- I got a closet that is two weeks' worth of clothes from L.A. So, it's winter in England and all I got are shorts.
Violet Chachki (pictured)
Nas, the 2019 Video Music Awards solidified your status as a fashion icon. You channeled Prince in such a beautiful way.
NAS: Yeah. That was the moment people started paying attention to what I was wearing. Definitely.
COWAN: I think the look was so iconic because (a) it was fabulous and Nas looked amazing in it. But also, I think people live for Prince and we all miss Prince, and to bring that energy back.... Prince is loved by everyone.
How have your friendship and creative ventures together evolved since that time?
COWAN: Nas is quite similar to me. I'm not a texter. I drop in every now and then, and then there's a lull, or a funny thing [happens], and then we talk about something else. I'm a very sporadic friend. I disappear for quite some time. I think that's just something with busy people. But then the other problem was, during all of this, I was stuck in the U.K., so I couldn't be there. This [collaboration] has all been through Facetime and Zoom and all that shit, so it's been kind of, I don't know, digital.
Chella Man (pictured)
How have y'all been handling digital collaborations amid lockdown?
NAS: It hasn't been too bad for me. It could have been worse. You can do things in the comfort of your own home, so that's great.
COWAN: Well, I'm legit wearing a top and boxers right now. Life is great! I'm super comfy.
Susanne Bartsch (pictured)
Shop this collection at christiancowan.com.
Learn more about The Loveland Foundation at thelovelandfoundation.org.