At age 36, Christian Siriano has already accomplished more than most people twice his age. A recent resident of Westport, Siriano first became one of the country’s most coveted fashion designers after winning the popular television competition show, Project Runway, a decade ago. Since then, he has created multiple retail collections, been inducted into the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and collaborated with a galaxy of the world’s biggest celebrities—from Lady Gaga to Jennifer Lopez to First Ladies Dr. Jill Biden and Michelle Obama—to create memorable, news-worthy looks.
Moreover, in the past few years, Siriano has both returned to Project Runway as a “mentor” and executive producer and seen his work exhibited in museums nationwide (including the current “A Lexicon of American Fashion” at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art), created a highly anticipated coffee-table book, Dresses to Dream About, hosted the Bravo talk show, So Siriano, and even recently started his own interior design business. He also claims to sleep.
Siriano recently took some time from his ultra-busy schedule to chat with CT Voice about his many projects, his “favorite” celebrities to work with, how the Covid-19 pandemic changed his business and his outlook on life, and so much more.
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CT VOICE: What was your earliest recollection of “fashion”?
CS: My earliest memories are being with my sister when she was studying to be a ballet dancer and going backstage and seeing all those costumes. I also loved watching the transformation from girls in warm-up clothes to becoming fairies on stage. That really sparked my interest. And my mom was quite fashionable and stylish. Instead of something traditional, she got married in a Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress! I am lucky that my mom, who is a teacher, encouraged both her children to be creative and follow their passion, instead of doing something they really didn’t want to.
CT VOICE: Now you inspire a lot of other young designers by being a mentor on Project Runway? What are the greatest rewards—and challenges—of working with these contestants?
CS: What’s great is these young designers are so obsessed with this world of fashion that it inspires me, especially when I have a hard day, by reminding me that there are so many people who would perhaps literally kill to do what I do. The biggest challenge of being on the show, however, is that it takes a lot of time and the one thing I don’t have these days is a lot of time.
CT VOICE: That’s an understatement! In the past few months, you designed an entire couture collection and created countless celebrity outfits for award shows and galas, among your many other projects. Is it really fun for you to work with celebrities, or is it just part of the game?
CS: I definitely feel like working with celebrities is as true a collaboration as you can have in this business. Of course, they’re not all the same; sometimes it is very quick, practically off-the-cuff, and sometimes it takes weeks and months. Personally, it doesn’t work, at least for me, when the celebrity or his or her team overthink the outfit. I am just not an overthinker by nature. I am reactionary; that’s how I roll.
CT VOICE: At the risk of asking you about “favorites,” can you name a few celebrities you’re particularly happy to work with?
CS: Alicia Silverstone was my whole muse growing up, thanks to Clueless, and I still love working with her. Christina Hendricks is one of the nicest women on the planet! Billy Porter just works it, no matter what we come up with. Janelle Monae is wonderful because she’s such a creative artist. She can be tough because she knows what she likes and she thinks about fashion differently than some other people, and I love that. I adore working with people like Kristin Chenoweth and Danielle Brooks, both of whom are always so fun to be with. It’s honestly a big list.
CT VOICE: As that list also proves, you’ve been a big champion of body diversity in fashion! Why is that so important to you?
CS: I made a very important decision early on that I didn’t want to alienate any customer, famous or not. I feel like what I want to leave behind is being known for more than just designing great clothes, but for representing all women. Otherwise, to me, this business would be nothing more than packing up dresses and shipping them to stores. Trust me, the nitty gritty of the fashion business is not fun. I say to people, “You think this is all glamour? Do you want to see all the bills I have to pay?”
CT VOICE: You have both a career retrospective exhibition at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) this fall and you’re releasing an updated version of your book, Dresses to Dream About. What has it been like looking back at your career this way?
CS: What’s good is I am not a regretful designer. In fact, sometimes, I get excited to see what I did just starting out, even knowing how much I’ve grown. And no matter what outfits I’ve designed, they all have memories—even the bad ones! So it’s been fun!
CT VOICE: Speaking of “bad,” more than ever, the mainstream media really talks about fashion, especially red carpets like at the recent Met Gala. How does that affect you and your work?
CS: I don’t take the criticism of my work personally, but I don’t like that the media seems to attack the person wearing something, whether I made it or not, by saying how it’s doesn’t flatter her, or it doesn’t fit her. No one wants to hear they look fat or ugly in a dress, and I don’t want any woman to feel bad about herself. And what makes me angrier is that we haven’t learned, especially since the pandemic, is how much we need to be kinder to each other. At the end of the day, this is just fashion—we’re not curing cancer.
CT VOICE: Speaking of the Covid pandemic, it was particularly hard on the luxury fashion industry. But you took the initiative to make over three million PPE masks. Why did you do that?
CS: In the beginning, it was a completely emotional reaction to what was happening. Then, once I got started, I felt like I had to hold up my end of the bargain by making more and more, and as the pandemic continued, it became even more important to keep doing this—even if we weren’t making money from it! Eventually, we did find a way to a make some money from it, but ultimately, it’s one of the things I’ve done that I am most proud of!
CT VOICE: So, do you think a lot about what the future holds in store for Christian Siriano, professionally and personally?
CS: As far as fashion, I really admire what Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta and some of the other American houses were able to build. People don’t realize American designers simply don’t have the same amount of money to work with as the European designers. I really think people forget—or don’t understand—how hard it is to survive in this industry, especially after this pandemic when people aren’t shopping the way they used to be. That’s one reason why I will never again put all my eggs in one proverbial basket and why I have taken on so many other projects. It’s not only that I have to be stimulated in other ways than just making clothes; it’s also that the pandemic taught me—and maybe all of us—that everything could be taken away just like that. These days, I focus more on my family, my health and my new house. That said, I do have to finish my pre-fall collection, which shows in December. I still have a lot of energy. I know that I can drive some people crazy. But for me, at least, that’s a good thing!