Christian Siriano is on a roll. The wunderkind fashion designer designed a cocktail dress that former First Lady Michelle Obama wore to the 2016 Democratic National Convention. For the Emmy Awards this past weekend, he dressed no fewer than five red carpet arrivals including Leslie Jones, Lauren Morelli and Padma Lakshmi. This array of women speaks to Siriano’s platform perfectly, and his tailored and ethereal creations-for which he is known-are matched by his fervor for dressing people of all ages, ethnicities, genders and silhouettes.
I recently spoke with Siriano during his post-New York Fashion Week blitz, ahead of his highly anticipated showing at The Bellevue Collection this Saturday, September 23rd, the finale event for the shopping mecca’s multi-day Fashion Week at the Bellevue Collection. And while it’s easy to admire the designer’s creativity, it’s also Siriano’s attention to detail and personalization that’s put into each and every part of his business that stands out.
During our interview, the Maryland-born designer spoke enthusiastically about sourcing textiles from French and Italian mills, but also about creating his own if he can’t find patterns to complement his inspiration. “Some of the metallic and oversized floral patterns you see in this (Spring 2018) collection we made from scratch.”
As he explained the plans for his new retail store (see question #7) I was curious to learn how he planned to navigate the notoriously unstable brick-and-mortar retail terrain. “I think the shopping experience should be like going to a salon, and I used to work in a salon," he says. "It’s about the attention. I love the old school way of shopping where people actually cared. [At the salon] we knew every customer’s first name, and it was all about that special touch.”
This special touch makes even more of an impact when you realize that the Christian Siriano brand’s inclusive approach has become more widely adopted across industry in the past couple of years. “I would never say no to a person or retailer asking me to create one of my designs in a size 18,” he says. “Such a big part of this world are women of every size and shape. I couldn’t imagine not having that.”
Our conversation ran the gamut from his design process to his favorite activities in Seattle (Christian, if you’re reading this, I highly recommend Jade Garden for the best dim sum in the city).
Where do you find inspiration, and what inspired your collection for Spring 2018?
Inspiration for me is such an organic process and can happen any place, any time. It’s never something I’m looking for. For my spring collection, I call it my “psychedelic greenhouse” which is a fantasy world of the plants and creatures that would go in my greenhouse but in the most chic and fabulous way.
I think there’s a lot going on in our world, and I believe we come from the same place in some way or another. I wanted to show that the boys on the runway could wear clothes from the women’s collection because there are no rules anymore. I believe that fashion should be the fun part of the day and shouldn’t be stressful; there is enough hate in the world.
Can you walk me through your creative process from concept to finished piece?
I get inspired by fabrics first, and then I do a million sketches. It’s definitely an organic growing process, which is why I’m supposed to make 60 pieces for a collection and end up designing 150! I don’t run out of ideas.
Then I drape and pin a lot to determine what looks good on the bust and different sized bodies. Then we’ll go into the trial and error process. We’ll make a lot of samples, then cut them up.
What is one fashion trend you hope never comes back in style?
There was a period where the idea of a fabulous velour outfit was really in. I never thought that was a great trend.
You constantly encourage women to celebrate their individual silhouettes. What advice do you give women and your clients in order to dress in a way that celebrates their own bodies?
It’s all about encouragement, and I try to make my clients feel good. There are no rules anymore. You can wear a fabulous fitted suit to a cocktail party and even show your cleavage if you want.
When did designing inclusive collections become important to you, and how has it shaped your business?
I’ve been making clothes in different sizes for different silhouettes and cultures forever; it’s just that people have started to notice a bit more recently. What’s great is there are actually a variety of models now, so we can show different sized clothes on the runway. And that didn't exist a short while ago. I couldn’t imagine not being able to do that.
Can you share a design or idea that never got made?
Oh God, a million things! This season we made this really cool black embellished tulle thing that had to get cut last minute. It is what it is.
What is the five-year plan for the Christian Siriano brand?
We have a lot happening. We’re opening a retail store in New York, so that will keep us busy. Having a place where my customers can shop no matter their size, age or income--that’s a big goal for my business. This will be a curated space where everything in the store is chosen by us, rather than a buyer who might not know the customer. And we won’t be so exclusive; there will be $20,000 gowns and there will be $20 items.
How has the evolution of social media and digital marketing affected your relationship with your fans and customers?
People get to see the clothes right away and feel part of it a bit. I show a lot of behind the scenes (photos and videos) on Instagram, so people get to see things as they’re being created. Sometimes my customers see things that haven’t been finished yet, and they want to buy them!
What clothing items do you always travel with?
I have one black blazer that I wear to death! I also have a Comme des Garcons t-shirt and a pair of jeans that I love; they travel with me all the time.
What are stand-outs of Seattle style?
I get a very chic but quite minimal vibe, which I like. I was also at an event a number of years ago and found some of the clients to be quite eccentric. I’m excited to see the mix of people [on this trip].
We look forward to welcoming you to Bellevue this week! Aside from Fashion Week at the Bellevue Collection, what are you excited to do while you’re here?
If I get time, I’m always looking for food and finding the yummiest place to eat. And I love nightlife. I like to go out and have fun and see what’s going on.