Christian Siriano epitomizes everything fashion should be – flamboyant, outrageous, decadent and fun. The designer shot to fame after winning Season 4 of Project Runway, a fashion reality TV show, and, in 2008, launched his eponymous collection. Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, and Michelle Obama, among dozens of other celebrities, have worn his glamorous designs.
While Project Runway may have launched his career, it’s his hard work and shrewd decision-making (collaborating with Payless Shoes, Lane Bryant and more) that have kept him in the spotlight. Siriano has also become a leader in changing the fashion landscape to include people of all different ages and sizes. His focus on inclusivity, not exclusivity, has helped him become the go-to designer for everyone from Oprah to Rihanna.
He also understands that not all women can buy his clothes and accessories, so he works tirelessly on collaborations with companies like TJ Maxx and J.Jill to create stylish items that are affordable. He believes everyone deserves to have the fantasy that fashion can bring. “I want women to feel transformed when they put something on,” says Siriano.
In the midst of a very busy awards season we sat with Siriano at his beautiful New York City atelier and store, The Curated NYC, to get the low down on all things fashion.
I was really into musical theater and dance when I was younger and eventually went to art school because I wanted to be a painter. I loved the idea of transformation, which is probably why I loved ballet and theater so much. I like the idea of a ballet dancer warming up and rehearsing for weeks and weeks to then become a fairy onstage. It’s fantasy. And I like the idea in my clothes: that women feel transformed when they put something on.
I will always remember when Victoria Beckham was really lovely and purchased a bunch of my collection from my very first season. I remember when Whoopi Goldberg asked me to do all of her clothes for the Tony Awards in 2008. Oprah [Winfrey] was also one of the first people I ever dressed. All of these amazing women helped launch my career. I dressed Lady Gaga in 2008 before anyone even knew who she was. Her album wasn’t even out and it was her first time ever appearing on TV. We met at a party in New York and she was new and happening and we just clicked. Dressing Michelle Obama for the Democratic National Convention was an incredible milestone and we’ve dressed her several times since. Being a young American designer and getting the opportunity to dress her felt really, really good.
Back to Project Runway
Returning to Project Runway [this time as mentor] has been great. It’s a really rewarding experience and it’s nice to try and help someone just starting out. I think it really takes another working designer to be a real mentor to these young talents. It’s hard for someone to mentor somebody if they aren’t actually in the business because afterwards, the whole point of the show is to create a successful brand and become a successful designer. I did that for myself after the show so I’m able to give real advice. Also, for something like the Red Carpet Challenge when someone says, “This is inspired by Beyoncé” I can respond that I dressed Beyoncé last week and she would never wear that. A lot of mentors wouldn’t be able to give that advice.
Surviving the Fashion Biz
You have to have a healthy obsession with fashion for this job because it’s a lot of work and it’s really hard and unforgiving. Fashion is a wild business. It’s very political and it used to be very one-sided, but that’s changed a lot. It used to be about a fashion elite that would say, “This is the way it should be and this is what being successful as a designer means” and that’s very different now, which is exciting. The business is changing constantly because companies are going out of business and retailers are closing every single day. It’s tough out there and we’re all trying to figure out what it means to be successful now.
I wish I knew a million, one hundred thousand things before starting my brand. It’s a really tough business and I think the hardest part is the logistics. Things like, “How do you cut your costs when shipping is double?” or, “How do you make a dress for a certain price when a fabric mill is going out of business and not making the fabric anymore?” That’s the challenge. It’s the not glamorous things that I wish I’d known more about before starting, it’s the business side.
Making Room For it All
We always had a really diverse customer with all ages, sizes, countries, cultures and walks of life. I had that early in so I actually never knew that that wasn’t the norm. To be honest, I think maybe other designers didn’t have that type of client because some women couldn’t envision themselves wearing their clothes. For us it was never a plan but I realized I had size 12 women shopping our clothes in stores so maybe we should focus a little bit more on them. All of our fit models are size 6, 8, 10, which is bigger than the norm. We have it all—we have very petite customers, skinny, big—I just don’t focus on size that way. I design based on an idea that this dress will work for a lot of different types of customers. Not every piece is for every person and not everyone will be wearing a tulle ball gown! We’ve used plus size models in our fashion shows for a while. I realized you have to put things in front of people’s faces for them to actually listen and understand. So, we use plus size models to visually show that these clothes can work for all different types of bodies.
Something for Everyone
I don’t like “no’s” myself, so I don’t want my customer to hear that either. I think it’s important that people have the same opportunities. It does suck that not everybody can afford the same thing so I try to have a mix on what I’m putting out there for people. I have a collaboration with J.Jill going on right now and they have pieces for $25 or $50. I try to do things like that to get my designs to a broader reach.
On the Red Carpet
For awards shows it can be two days or three weeks to know if I’m dressing someone. The Grammys are this weekend and we are still fitting people. (Editor note: Lizzo & Demi Lovato both wore Siriano during their Grammy performances and Yola and Shania Twain wore Siriano on the red carpet) We once dressed 17 women in one night for the Oscars and it was out of control amazing, but so much work and we almost died afterwards. We did 10 women for the Emmys one year, and then other years we have nothing! You really never know and it’s such a gamble. I love red carpet dressing and fun, fantasy projects because I am inspired by the dream and fantasy of the clothes. It’s the reason I like doing my job. I love the creative side and if I didn’t have that I would probably not even do it anymore.
The Black Derby in NYC and Luc’s Cafe in Ridgefield, CT, which is this small amazing French restaurant.
FAVE COCKTAIL BAR
The Riddler in the West Village is so chic.
WHAT’S ON YOUR DESIGN PLAYLIST?
Right now I’m listening to Harry Styles, Zhavia, Courtney Hadwin and Dua Lipa.
FAVE SPRING COCKTAIL
FAVE TRAVEL SPOT
I love Paris. It’s the most magical city.
The London West Hollywood in Beverly Hills, CA.