It has often been quoted – from the likes of Shakespeare to Mark Twain – that clothes make the man. For award-winning American fashion designer Christian Siriano, clothes make the man, the woman, and everyone who identifies anywhere in between. “I’ve always believed that fashion should be for all,” says Siriano. He has built his illustrious career and brand based on the conviction that fabulous clothes should be for everybody and every body.
Making a name for yourself in the competitive world of fashion design is not easy. Siriano’s career path has been one characterized by amazing opportunities and hard work. He studied at the American InterContinental University in London where he had the chance to apprentice at both Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen. After returning to New York, Siriano auditioned for and won Project Runway in 2008. That same year, he launched his eponymous collection at New York Fashion Week. His continued success has been the result of his talent, creativity, tenaciousness, and fearlessness. “It’s not one thing that has led me to where I am today with my career, but lots of little things that have built over the years,” says Siriano. “I don’t shy away from something even if it’s not the typical route a designer would take – whether it’s an untraditional collaboration or dressing a certain person on the red carpet or putting curvier women on my runway, I’ve always been open to trying new and exciting things.”
Siriano says his passion for diversity and inclusivity began in his childhood. He grew up in a household where his mom was a curvy size 16 and his sister had a lean size 0 body. They were his first muses and recipients of his initial designs. “They both loved the same type of clothes and we’d all shop together. It never occurred to me that you couldn’t get the same dress in different sizes,” says Siriano. When the high-fashion world painted a different picture, Siriano grew frustrated and decided then that his brand needed to challenge that idea. “I believe in celebrating all women,” he says. As one of the few top designers to use plus-sized models on his runway, Siriano believes in showing people that his designs can work on all different types of bodies. He has continuously been the designer to answer the call when celebrities, who aren’t the standard size, find themselves without a designer before an event.
Even though Siriano’s designs have been worn by icons – from Lady Gaga to Oprah to Michelle Obama – he remains committed to making fashion accessible to all. Throughout his career, Siriano has partnered with mainstream brands, including Payless, JJill, and HSN, with the mission of making his clothing available and affordable to everyone. “There’s a customer at every tier, every price point – that’s how our culture is. I wanted to make sure that people like my mom, a schoolteacher, and my friends, and anyone really, can buy my designs and look fabulous.”
Keeping in line with this philosophy, in 2022, Siriano opened The Collective West in Westport, CT so that he could continue to meet the needs of every customer. “I’m so proud of what we’ve built there. I love the range of price points we represent,” he says. “There are designer pieces on the high end, but we also offer extremely affordable selections. That’s what style and fashion are all about.”
The creative process for any designer is as unique as their style. For Siriano, inspiration for his creations can stem from anywhere: a trip abroad, a piece of architecture, or even an actress, such as his 2023 Spring collection that was influenced by Audrey Hepburn and her television show in which she toured gardens of the world. “I’m very receptive to new ideas,” says Siriano. “I don’t get stuck on just one.” The journey from a concept in his head to a dress on a body is a multi-stepped one. “I sketch everything out – I get really obsessed with an idea,” he says. Making the final dress is a process that requires time and patience. In emergencies, however, dresses can be recreated in mere days, as was the case when, the week before the 2023 Oscars, a burst water pipe damaged dresses in his Soho studio. “While that was a crazy time, it was a learning experience for us and I always try to take a negative and make it a positive and move forward,” he says.
While there may be pieces in a collection that he loves more than others, Siriano, like an adoring parent, says he doesn’t have an all-time favorite dress. Rather, he gets excited about pieces that achieve unexpected greatness – red carpet looks that garner surprising attention. For example, the first time he first dressed Leslie Jones in 2020. “Even though it was a simple design,” he says, “it really changed the idea of who’s getting dressed for the red carpet and what they can wear.”
Siriano’s willingness to innovate has led him to produce some iconic looks that have irrevocably altered the perspective of the fashion world. That infamous black tuxedo dress he designed for Billy Porter at the 2019 Oscars has been deemed the dress that broke the internet. “It was a really powerful moment,” Siriano says, “because no man had ever worn a dress on the red carpet before. It changed the game and opened doors for every person to wear what they want to wear.”
Siriano acknowledges that all art is subjective, even the art of fashion, and while there will always be critics and those who don’t appreciate your work, he refuses to back down on his beliefs. “I just have to do what’s right for me and my brand. It won’t be for everybody, but it will be for somebody, and if it changes someone’s life for the better, then I’ve done my job,” he says.
Reflecting on the trajectory of his career, Siriano offers advice to aspiring fashion designers. “This can be a hard business. You have to really love it – you need to sleep, eat and breathe it,” he says. Trying to be too many things at once is a pitfall he often sees with emerging designers. “Find your niche,” advises Siriano. “If you’re really good at evening wear, then perfect that and make it the best it can be. Make sure your career is focused until you have a core business, and then expand.” Above all else, Siriano says you need to remain true to yourself, while keeping an open mind. “Risk taking is very important in this business in order to stand out in the crowd. Push yourself to try new things,” he says.
Siriano has certainly followed his own advice. With his brand well-established in the fashion realm, he has branched out and continues to share his creative perspective on the world through other mediums. To his list of accomplishments and accolades, Siriano has, in recent years, added author, artist and most recently, interior designer. “At the end of the day, you have to be proud of what you’ve created,” he says. •