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Cynthia Rowley.

Cynthia Rowley Revives the Joy of Getting Dressed

On September 10 during New York Fashion Week, the designer Cynthia Rowley presented her Spring/Summer 2022 collection in Manhattan. Just moments before sunset, special guests gathered in Wagner Park to embrace the joyful new garments and accessories that embraced a sweet-meets-sporty look, including ready-to-wear, surf and swim, fitness, accessories, home decor, and special collaborations with like-minded brands. 

Parading down the runway were pieces nodding to the Y2K fashion movement, including details popping from the garment like delicate prints, watercolor feathers, layered jewels, rhinestone-covered mesh, and more. Chunky stone jewelry, including rings and anklets, complemented gems on belts, yet still allowed voluminous skirts and dresses to float with ample movement. For the cooler temps in spring, quilted pajamas and layers of cozy fabrics were accessorized with brightly colored satin handbags, sandals with oversized bows, and 3-D printed wedges.

Cynthia Rowley. Courtesy of Cynthia Rowley.

Steadfast in its commitment to women empowerment, the brand also elaborated on its dedication to sustainability, with its signature wetsuits and neoprene swimwear produced with recycled materials. And as a leading lifestyle brand, Cynthia Rowley continued to lead the crowd down a path of spontaneous and cultural storytelling, simultaneously expanding into more activations and experiences, such as the annual CR Surf Camp we saw resume in Montauk this summer. 

Cynthia Rowley. Courtesy of Cynthia Rowley.

Fashion aside, Cynthia Rowley is a woman who wears many hats. In college at the Art Institute of Chicago, she originally studied painting, yet branched into fashion design and launched her own brand shortly after graduating. She’s married to the art dealer Bill Powers, with whom she has an art collection, filled with pieces by creators like Richard Prince, Chloe Wise, and Louise Bonnet. She also hosts a mother-daughter podcast named “Ageless” with her 22-year-old daughter, Kit Keenan. As art, fashion, and lifestyle co-exist in her life and in her homes, it’s a wonder where she’s headed next.

Recently, Rowley spoke with Whitewall about her Spring/Summer 2022 collection and her personal style, what’s found in her Manhattan home, and how the pandemic impacted her production cycle.

Cynthia Rowley Portrait of Cynthia Rowley by Nigel Barker.

WHITEWALL: You launched your label in 1988. How has it evolved most over the decades? 

CYNTHIA ROWLEY: We are an extremely creative company and so we’re evolving every day. It’s super important for us to stay curious and be original. We have always pushed the boundaries of what fashion is. We were the first designer to do a collection at Target, the first designer surf brand, we’ve done bandaids, roller skates, a cereal box, a car, and many, many more. All of this is a fun way to stay engaged with our audience and help tell our story while focusing on our pretty meets sporty core collection.

WW: How would you describe your personal style?

CR: It depends on the day or even the hour. I ride a bike, I hang on the beach and I work long hours in the studio; so most of the time my style is pretty chill, but when I go out, I go ALL out.

Cynthia Rowley. Courtesy of Cynthia Rowley.

WW: What are your go-tos in fashion? Any staples?

CR: Sunglasses are a must for the day and heels are a must for the night. Lately, I’ve been wearing tons of jewels with everything.

WW: What is your relationship like with art?

CR: Art is a vehicle for ideas and shared consciousness. I graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago where I originally studied painting. I eventually switched to the fashion department because I thought it was an easier way to make a living.

WW: What’s found in your Manhattan home? 

CR: I would describe our house in the city as pretty eccentric and we can have space to hang larger work that we change up often. The kids have always chosen their own art like Rene Ricard’s Growing up in America or an Emma Stern avatar painting. There are family Instagram portraits by Richard Prince in the gym and I love waking up to a giant Louise Bonnet. 

Cynthia Rowley. Courtesy of Cynthia Rowley.

WW: Does being married to an art world insider impact your view of the relationship between art and fashion?

CR: My husband is an art dealer, so we spend a lot of time looking at and talking about art. It’s a constant source of stimulation. Bill and I also agree on most of the art we collect. If we didn’t, we might have to have separate homes. [Laughs.]

WW: How does being a parent impact your decision-making in the industry? What are you teaching your kids in return?

CR: My kids have grown up watching me have the great satisfaction of having an idea and being able to make it a reality. They learned that hard work can bring success in whatever they choose to do. They have always followed their own path in life and I’m excited to see what they do.

Cynthia Rowley. Cynthia Rowley and Kit Keenan, courtesy of Cynthia Rowley.

WW: You have a podcast called “Ageless” with your daughter, Kit. What does this form of communication offer?

CR: Every day, I’m working in a visual medium, so I enjoy having the “Ageless” podcast as another storytelling vehicle. My 22-year-old daughter, Kit, and I delve into conversations in the fashion space with the likes of Vogue editor Elise Taylor and the designer Norma Kamali. We learn life lessons from Amanda Kloots and Nina Agdal and everyday tips from Carla Oates and Goop editor Jean Godfrey June.

Cynthia Rowley. Courtesy of Cynthia Rowley.

WW: What are your hopes for a young woman like Kit in the fashion world? What do you feel her generation offers the industry that is unique, forward-thinking, or inclusive?

CR: Nothing Kit is doing is traditional in fashion. She is mixing art, fashion, communication, and intersectional feminism. Every day I learn something new from her. I believe her generation will have a groundbreaking impact on fashion and all creative industries. 

Cynthia Rowley. Courtesy of Cynthia Rowley.

WW: How did the pandemic impact the way you worked with, designed, or envisioned your label? 

CR: In March 2020, we made a major pivot. We shortened our lead-time for design and production. We started to make limited quantities that sell out quickly and introduced more styles than we normally would have. We started to deliver weekly in addition to our seasonal collections. We were able to really take some creative chances and introduce new categories like home.

WW: What’s next?

CR: Lots and lots of ideas. We’ll be ready!




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