The Project Runway Winner has Come a Long Way
Written By: Elizabeth Nutt Fashion Ingenue Christian Siriano Tells Stories with his Pieces
Photographed By: Gil Cope
Christian didn’t just fall into a career in fashion—he fought for it, starting at a young age. Raised in Annapolis, Maryland, Christian transferred as a high school student to the Baltimore School For the Arts so that he’d have an opportunity to study fashion design. It was a subject he’d come to love—thanks, in part, to his sister, who studied ballet. Christian recalls joining his sister backstage during performances and garnering early inspiration from her costumes, hair and makeup. But it was his high school experience that officially cultivated his love for fashion.
“It was an amazing experience, for a student to be thrown into this world of creativity at such a young age. I was still learning what I loved and what direction I wanted to take my life, ” explains Christian. “I had an amazing mentor, Steven Kent, who helped guide me and support my love of fashion.”
Christian went on to attend the American Intercontinental University of London, where he continued his studies in fashion design and fine art. He describes his international college experience, which immersed him in both the city’s culture and its street style, as both liberating and inspiring.
Of course, it’s difficult for many young designers to find success in the fashion industry, but fortunately for Christian, he had an opportunity to learn from some of the best. Internships with the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Marc Jacobs instilled in him some practical lessons he continues to apply to his own collection today—such as celebrating creativity and creating an environment where a hands-on design team takes prides in its work.
“Experiences are very important in this business, ” says Christian. Christian credits his attitude and work ethic to the journey that’s led him to become a red carpet staple. “In my experience I was just fearless and really had nothing to lose, ” says Christian. “So that was my secret weapon—to just go for things and make decisions quickly and hope they work out.”
And work out they did; Christian’s coming up on his collection’s ninth year. And though his label has evolved constantly, he continues to bring back the colorful and bold designs that were characteristic of some of his first pieces. “It has been a wonderful struggle to create and brand and find my customer. The collection has grown so much from the first season because the customer has grown and the retailers change and fashion moves so quickly, ” says Christian.
To keep up with the industry’s rapid pace, Christian is constantly on the lookout for inspiration—from songs, travel, interior design, colors, animals, you name it, and he can design a collection from it. His process is similar from collection to collection: first, he starts with “a story, ” and then he gathers fabrics that help him convey that story. He examines shapes and silhouettes, and removes and adds details until the story comes to life. He likens the process to a puzzle.
And though no two collections are alike, the end game, for Christian, is consistent. “One can be very romantic and ethereal and another powerful and bold. I do try to make each collection have those elements to some degree but I just want the clothing to celebrate women and their lifestyle, ” he says.
He has, in fact, always been about his female customers and giving them what they want—at every price point. He’s designed multiple collections of affordable shoes and handbags for Payless ShoeSource, and he’s worked on a makeup line for Victoria’s Secret. But the designer also boasts an impressive list of high-profile clients, which include Oprah, Gwyneth Paltrow and Taylor Swift.
When asked about his career highlights thus far, the designer explains that it’s gratifying enough for him to see women wearing his clothes both in ‘real life’ and on the red carpet. “Just to know that there are people out there that love what I’m trying to do, those are the best moments sometimes, ” he says. “I’m just excited to keep going.”
Native Knowledge: Christian has designed almost everything—including the fairy costumes for Disney’s 2014 The Pirate Fairy movie.
Christian Siriano | @csiriano