Christian Siriano Talks Dressing Celebs, Avoiding the Fashion Police, and His Mega-successful Life After "Project Runway"

Designer Christian SirianoChristian Siriano is the talented, hilarious, and massively successful "Project Runway" veteran you may remember from his catch phrases like "fierce" and "hot tranny mess." Since blowing away the competition five years ago, he's established a popular designer collection with bi-annual runway shows, launched collaborations with Payless and HSN, opened a boutique in downtown New York City, and has a fragrance in the works. He also regularly dresses some of the biggest actresses in Hollywood. On the brink of his latest Fall 2013 collection showing at New York Fashion Week, we sat down with Siriano, who is only 27 years old, to find out how he's conquering the fashion industry. Here are the highlights:

On returning to "Project Runway" as a guest judge this season:

Five years later it's great to go back and be a part of it in a different way. The format is still the same and Heidi is still there, so it feels like the same family in a way. It's evolved into something great, but kept it's traditional roots of how it started.

On why he's the only major success story from the reality show:

My season, season four, was a season of really talented people, and when you're up against talented people you really push yourself to be even more creative. A lot of the talent was so recognizable. We weren't making shift dresses, we were really making fashion. And after the show, because I was funny and fun, with Amy Poehler doing "Saturday Night Live" [sketches] about me, and a great following from people like Victoria [Beckham], it just kind of helped. And now I'm as smart as I can be about the business, and I work really hard at it.

Heidi Klum in Christian Siriano at the 2011 EmmysOn getting "Project Runway" host Heidi Klum's endorsement:

That was really hard! Heidi is very picky. We even had dresses that we made for her completely, probably a few times, and she never wore them! It's a little bit of a game, but so far I've been pretty good at playing it. [Laughs] I was like, will you come to my show at fashion week and see if there's anything you like? And she did, and she wore it to the Emmys. You know when you get up in the morning you try on 10 things and you're just going to work? Imagine an actress that has to walk the carpet in front of hundreds of millions of people. She could love the dress, she's wearing it and wake up that morning-for real, I've had this happen-and she's like, "I'm wearing black. I cant wear this." She's not in the mood. That's how people are. You have to be comfortable.

On faking it till he really made it:

When I ended the show I was 21 years old, I had no idea where to make clothes, I didn't have a factory, I didn't know what any buyers were, I didn't know anything. I took it and ran with it. If I didn't know something I pretended like I did, and now I've been really savvy with doing great partnerships that help build the rest of the brand.

On how he gets inspired when he's stuck:

I love to go to Europe. Or even going to dinner with a friend I haven't seen in a while. I went to dinner the other night with Lizzie Olsen--who is a great actress--but her style is pretty cool and she was wearing a jacket I thought it was really interesting. [It makes me think] maybe that's how girls want to dress right now.

On how to avoid copying other designers:

You have to be really careful. I don't look at Style.com everyday. I don't have time, I wish I did. But I'm also not that up on pop culture that much, to be frankly honest. There's a lot of young actresses I don't really know much about yet. I'm usually inspired a lot by interiors, whether it's an opera house, or a beautiful, old French building. I think history is easier to be inspired by because it's a story that I don't know anything about.

On the process of creating a collection:


This collection has a Russian opera feeling in a way, and that came up from a conversation-I was at the ABT Gala [American Ballet Theater Gala] with a really friend of mine-and we just started talking about it and that became "let's go to Russia." It's a really fabulous place, and the theaters like the Mariinsky and the Bolschoi were so beautiful. So random! Even my fall collection two seasons ago was inspired by bats and the 1930s film "Vampire Bat." That came up because I was like, "Oh this bat wing is really cool, and I love all the veins and the bones in their wing." And that turned into dresses with piping on them. It just comes up really organically. Your imagination has to take you into a world.

On how huge trends emerge:

The fabrics are a big part of it. If you're Chanel you're creating fabrics from your own mill that you own, but a lot of designers go to the same Italian mills, French mills, wherever they are, and they have trend forecasting. So when they have all these pastel colors you just think about it and subconsciously you're designing similar things. [But then] a shoe I did years ago had this sort of horn silhouette and was very sculptural, and McQueen showed their collection a month later in Paris and had a very similar shoe. I don't know how that happens, but maybe creative minds think alike.

Spring 2013 Payless shoes on the runwayOn designing for affordable brands like Payless and HSN:

It's such an important thing. For Payless I wanted to design shoes, and it was a small project that turned into a very big one. I've been doing this for five years, and they're really wearable and accessible to every person. And HSN is also such a different thing, for every woman, size, and color range. At the end of the day, large companies help young designers.

On creating Payless shoes for his runway collections:

I often design the shoes first, usually five months in advance, because it takes a long time to make shoes. It's a really hard thing, because as the process is going I'm like, "I'm not really into that anymore, I don't like this idea." So that's the biggest challenge is you have to stick to your guns. We commercial the shoes a little bit for the stores off the runway, and so far it's worked pretty well. Sometimes I wish those runway shoes could be produced [as is], but what's nice is they are produced in the right way so people can really wear them.

On what he's learned from opening a boutique:

I really wanted to know what women really want to wear, what they like to buy, what price points work. Is this dress fitting right? Maybe we need to adjust it. Is this skirt length appropriate for people?

On his upcoming fragrance:

I hope the Christian Siriano brand lasts 50 years, 100 years, so I want the fragrance to be a Viktor & Rolf type thing. When they launched Flowerbomb, who knew who Viktor & Rolf was? And now it's one of the largest selling fragrances. I want a fashion fragrance, in that world with Chanel No. 5. I want it to be a fragrance with a model and more of a fashion brand piece.

Christina Hendricks at the 2010 Golden GlobesOn how he dresses celebs:

Usually you start with something that they like. "Ooh, I like this dress in your collection but I'd rather have it in red." But Kaley Cuoco wore a dress for the People's Choice Awards and that was just a dress in the collection she liked and her stylist pulled it and she wore it. Done. So it just depends. With Christina Hendricks we make those dresses for her.

On landing on worst dressed lists:

It is depressing that people really don't like your work, because you're creative and it's like saying you don't like a piece of art. What's helpful is to see big brands have the same issues. A really big actress wears Givenchy haute couture and everyone hates it. Well, they've been in business a very long time, so if people thinks that was a mistake it's easier to move on from it. People also judge fashion way too intensely. It's just clothes! Now, with this social network that we have, everyone has such a fashion opinion and you're like, "but you're in finance? Why does it matter to you?" If you don't like a dress, fine, but you don't have to despise a person because she wore something you don't like!

On Michelle Obama's style:

She's amazing. She's becoming such an icon, and what's great about her is she's pretty risky for a first lady. She wears young brands, and big mass brands, and she wears print, and color, long, short, strapless. She has no rules, which is very different from a Hillary Clinton who wears her staples. She's just a real woman who wears fashion.

On Kate Middleton's style:

One day she'll wear a jersey wrap dress and the next day she's in an intense, floral print that's really graphic and edgy. I think that's so fabulous. And she's stunning, of course, which is always helpful. [Her and Michelle Obama] both carry themselves so well, they're very sophisticated women.

On Kim Kardashian's style:


She goes to Barney's, she goes to Saks, she buys her own clothes. Why not? She loves fashion.

On turning away certain celebrities who want to wear his designs:


You have to, because it's all about your brand and what you want customers to associate with. If they go to Neiman Marcus and they'll be like, "I love the actress that wore this dress, I want to be like her, I want to wear this dress." And vice versa, "I hate this person, she's not the right role model, I would never wear this dress." You have to think about that. I don't have tons of those cases, because I am a fan of a lot of those people. I've dressed Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Lady Gaga but I've also dressed Christina Hendricks, Christina Ricci, Mena Suvari, Chloe Moretz in the new Teen Vogue. I've dressed musicians and Whoopi Goldberg. It's because I have a relationship, or I like them, or I'm a fan of their movie or their song. That's why it works for me. I've never had a horrible incident. I'll be like, "actually we just don't have it," which is true. My favorite gown right now is getting ready to go to China for Harper's Bazaar.

On his dream clients:

Drew Barrymore, Cate Blanchett.

On getting celebs to sit front row:

I always invite people I love. "[I'll say] I love you, I'd love to have your support if you're in town." It cant be forced because then it never works. I saw Nicki Minaj at Carolina Herrera, and I was like, I don't think Nicki Minaj will ever wear Carolina Herrera ever in the world. I think those types of things are funny. So the girls in my front row are often just the friends that I love.

On his biggest fashion regret:


I wore boat shoes a lot. I'm from Maryland, but boat shoes are sort of happening! [Laughs] I was very nautical. I wore a lot of stripes, I wore khaki shorts, but I feel like every preppy boy wears that. I definitely had some intense hair moments. And I'm sure I wore, like, crazy sparkly pants.

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