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Lizzo and Kamala Harris are wearing Christopher John Rogers’ designs. He calls it ‘really surreal’

The fashion designer created an empire after moving to New York City six years ago with no money in his pocket or a place to call his own.
Christopher John Rogers
Designer Christopher John Rogers attends the Pyer Moss runway show during NYFW Spring/Summer 2020 on Sept. 8, 2019, in Brooklyn, New York.Brent N. Clarke / AP
/ Source: TODAY

Christopher John Rogers is taking over the fashion world.

The fashion designer has styled many high-profile people such as former first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as entertainers Rihanna, Lizzo and Tracee Ellis Ross — and he’s just getting started.

For our Together We Rise series in celebration of Black history this month, Jenna Bush Hager spoke to Rogers about his journey in the fashion industry and what it's been like to style so many celebrities.

The 2021 Met Gala Celebrating In America: A Lexicon Of Fashion - Arrivals
Christopher John Rogers opens up to TODAY's Jenna Bush Hager about his rise to fame and styling celebrities like "Gossip Girl's" Jordan Alexander (with Rogers above)Theo Wargo / Getty Images

"It's really surreal," he said. "I think it’s always really exciting to be able to know that you sort of touched someone from an aesthetic point of view and from an emotional point of view.

"Because there are millions of clothes in the world, and for all of these different types of folks, whether it is a Michelle Obama or a Cynthia Nixon or a Saweetie to find themselves in the work — all these different types of folks. I think it’s really beautiful and it makes me really happy."

The high-end collections by Rogers, whose pieces can retail into the thousands, are known for being colorful, vibrant and monochromatic. (He also has a limited edition line with Target.) His looks feature bold colors like lime green, amber orange and teal blue.

"One of my favorite stories is, one of my friends was just wearing a sweater that I had designed a few seasons ago. And it was just, like, a striped, color-box sweater," he shared. "And I thought it was just kind of normal and something that I always kind of wanted to see.

"But she told me that she hasn’t gotten as many compliments in her life from any other piece of clothing. And I think just the way that we use color and apply it to something that feels really pragmatic, I think is what I love about what I do."

Hoda and Jenna wore a pair of designs by Rogers on Tuesday's show.
Hoda and Jenna wore a pair of designs by Rogers on Tuesday's show.Nathan Congleton / TODAY

Rogers' creative eye has made him one of the most sought-after designers in New York City. However, his journey to the top has been anything but easy.

Growing up in Baton Rogue, Louisiana, Rogers said that he felt like a "big fish in a small pond." His family didn't know that he was talented until his grandmother saw him drawing on the walls as a kid. His parents decided to put him into an arts program to hone in on his skills.

Soon enough, Rogers started to use scraps of fabric to create something beautiful at home.

"I didn’t really know how to make my own patterns or how things came to fruition from a sketch to real life. So I would take a yard of fabric here or a trash bag there, and try and work around the form and figure something out for myself," Rogers recalled.

"I think that sort of self-discovery and not really knowing what you’re doing but letting that guide you, and then just going with your heart, I think is really paramount to my process."

Vice President Kamala Harris wore Christopher John Rogers on Inauguration Day last year in Washington, D.C.
Vice President Kamala Harris wore Christopher John Rogers on Inauguration Day last year in Washington, D.C.Jonathan Ernst / POOL / AFP via Getty Images

Rogers also found inspiration in attending church and quickly discovered what type of looks he wanted to go for.

"That was kind of my weekly fashion show in a way," he said. "Every Sunday, going to church and seeing people in head-to-toe green or head-to-toe white or head-to-toe yellow, these really sort of ostentatious colors, presented in a really straightforward, pragmatic way was really inspiring to me."

Rogers graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design before he moved to New York City in 2016 to start his career. But with no money in his pockets, Rogers ended up working a full-time job at a restaurant and sleeping on a friend's couch to make ends meet.

Any free time he had was spent on creating his brand, which he said started off as a "passion project." And after doing that for two or three years, he really started to see things happen for himself. Now, Rogers shared that he has a "pinch-me moment" every single day.

Christopher John Rogers - Runway - February 2020 - New York Fashion Week: The Shows
A model walks the runway for Christopher John Rogers during New York Fashion Week on Feb. 08, 2020.Dia Dipasupil / Getty Images for NYFW

"Coming into an office where I can work and sort of live out my dreams, I think is really surreal," he said.

"I think I’ve been the kind of person to just sort of keep my head down and just work and work and work until things happen. And so I feel like this is really surreal for me."

As a young Black designer, Rogers knows how inspirational his story can be to others.

"There is no timeline," he said. "Everyone’s path looks different. If it’s something that’s in your heart, and you sort of really lead with honesty and authenticity and a really strong work ethic, I think anything is possible for anyone really."