Christian Siriano still fierce; talks with the Chronicle about designs, future visit

By Brianna Wellen

Fresh from design school at age 21, Christian Siriano was launched into the fashion world as the youngest winner of “Project Runway” and his designs have been a staple in celebrity wardrobes and runway shows ever since. Now, 25, Siriano expanded his brand, wrote a book and is involved with a number of other quirky projects that go beyond couture clientele.

In an attempt to reach new audiences in person, he’s been traveling the country doing trunk shows with his collection and will be speaking with Columbia students as part of the “Conversation in the Arts” series on April 26. The Chronicle spoke with Siriano before his campus visit about designer sponges, working with fashion legends and remaining passionate about design.

The Chronicle: Your most recent project was a line of designer sponges. How did you get involved with that?

Christian Siriano: It was something I was asked to do that was a graphic design project. We didn’t design the shape or anything; it was really just this idea of bringing graphics and prints to this cleansing sponge. It was a total random request. For me, it was interesting. It was supposed to be fun, light-hearted, kind of kitschy and not so serious.

The Chronicle: You have such a range of products from the sponges to your Payless shoes to your runway clothes. Why is that span important to you?

CS: I think it’s important to have this diversity in fashion and business because it’s a big world out there, and I want everyone to have a little piece of my brand, my business and my world. It wouldn’t be smart if I were alienating people because they can’t afford my designer collection or this dress or this shoe. They can now have things that are fashion forward and fun and fresh but at a good price point. I’m not saying “yes” to everything. It’s not like I’m doing these crazy disgusting projects; at least it’s a balance.

The Chronicle: You recently showed at Nashville Fashion Week. Was that part of reaching a wide audience with your brand?

CS: I travel to pretty much every city. After I show in New York, I take the collection and I do trunk shows. I do events because you have to remember the world does not end with New York City fashion. Some of my biggest customers are actually in Dallas and Houston. You have to own it. I wanted to go to Nashville, there are great women out there willing to shop, spend the money and buy the clothes and that’s what it’s all about.

The Chronicle: You were in Chicago a couple of years ago to do a show in Wicker Park. What drew you to the Chicago scene?

CS: I was doing that event with a store, and I was selling to some great retailers in Chicago at the time. It was all about bringing the collection to different types of customers. Why not let the women in Chicago see a bit of me? Everybody needs to get a little bit of the world and of the brand, and I think that’s important, to grow and develop. And trust me, [I] learn the most when I’m out doing shows and meeting customers.

The Chronicle: After traveling across the country, what’s the biggest difference you see in fashion from city to city?

CS: I think the biggest thing for me is just some cities are better than others, and some are still learning. Fashion is out there, but they’re still learning about it a little bit more. They’re not as up to date as in New York or LA. I think it’s fun to see that some cities are very faddy and some are not, but I think that’s what makes them great because each city has their little personal style.

The Chronicle: When you first started, you interned with Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen. How did you get those opportunities at such a young age?

CS: I wanted to do anything and everything. I wanted to get as much experience as possible. I took more classes than I needed to. With Westwood, I got that position from one of my teachers who worked at Westwood for 30 years. She said, “You should intern there, it would be great experience for you.” After working there, when I did my interview at McQueen, they were like, “Of course, because you worked at Westwood!” You get in one place, and it starts to open other doors. If I didn’t work at Westwood, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the internship at McQueen. It’s like a tumble effect.

The Chronicle: There are so many young people making a name for themselves in the fashion world right now. How do you set yourself apart from the rest?

CS: There are so many young designers, and they’re all very talented. Luckily, most of us all have a different aesthetic and view, which is good. I think for me, it’s really my acceptability. I am trying to be acceptable to a lot of people. I want there to be different things for different women, age groups and price points.

The Chronicle: Why is it important for you to reach out to the new breed of young designers?

CS: I really just want to show to these younger designers, whether they’re a designer or artist or creative person, if you’re young, have this dream and you have a passion, to really just stick with it. There are so many obstacles in the way and people get diverted in different directions, but I want everyone to take away that if you really love it and are passionate, you should keep going for it. Even if it’s just something you do on the side, keep going. I meet so many customers who say, “Oh, I used to sew, I used to make all my own clothes, I loved it! And now I’m a banker.” They were very interested in that world, so it’s kind of sad sometimes.

Christian Siriano will visit Columbia on April 26 as part of the college’s Conversations In The Arts Series.