Christian Siriano visits Columbia, talks fashion

By Brianna Wellen

Christian Siriano, 25, has come a long way since his “Project Runway” win, striving to adapt to the changing fashion and economic climate. He’s been represented in the industry’s top runways for six seasons and continues to expand his brand. His signature designs have taken the form of a Payless shoe line, book “Fierce Style” and, most recently, a collection through the catalogue company Spiegel.

He was introduced by Columbia adjunct faculty member and former Saks Fifth Avenue Fashion Director Nena Ivon on April 26 as “Mr. Fierce himself” to share his story for the last installment of the 2010–2011 “Conversation in the

Arts” series.

“I’m still young and not far from everyone [at Columbia’s] age,” Siriano said. “I think it’s nice to see the balance of what can happen after [college], especially if they’re aspiring designers.”

Siriano said he didn’t have it easy when he started out in the fashion world. He was rejected from his first-choice school, the Fashion Institute of Technology, in New York City, and during his first internship with Vivienne Westwood, he admitted to crying in the bathroom almost every day.

After achieving success on season four of Bravo’s “Project Runway,” he was unable to sell his first collection. His first day on the market was the same day the financial firm Lehman Brothers crashed. He equated his challenges as similar ones design students at Columbia could one day face.

When telling students about his troubles finding his first job out of college, Siriano shuddered when he told everyone the first job he interviewed for was to design woven blouses for Ann Taylor Loft.

He knew it wasn’t the job for him, and the experience inspired him to pursue his true passion further even if it meant taking a third internship instead of a job. During his internship with Marc Jacobs, the opportunity arose for him to audition for “Project Runway.” At 21 years old, he became the youngest winner of the competition.

“I always think it’s interesting to hear everyone who’s made it and the different opportunities they’ve had,” said Annie Sullivan, junior arts, entertainment and media management major, who was present for Siriano’s Q-and-A with the students. “It just reminds me to be open to everything.”

Siriano said he enjoyed his time on “Project Runway” because he was able to do what he loved all day, every day. It also gave him the opportunity to experiment with his designs in a way he wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

With the positive experience it brought, one of the hardest things for Siriano now is escaping the shadow of reality television.

“There’s a certain stigma that it’s technically a reality show,” Siriano said. “It’s always, ‘Is this really serious?’ ‘Is it a real business?’ I would never not love [‘Project Runway’], but sometimes you have to move on. I’ve definitely started to break that mold.”

Siriano acknowledged he has plenty of room to grow and adapt his design process to the changing industry and his evolving style because he is young.

While in college, he said his designs were some of the ugliest pieces because he was experimenting so much and was “weirdly creative.”

Now, he hones the pieces he loves—such as the strapless silk organza dress that appears in different forms in each of his collections—and keeps an open mind to find inspiration in everything.

“Sometimes I’ll show a collection and I’ll do an interview about my inspiration and some editors will say, ‘Oh, it wasn’t very thoughtful, what you were inspired by.’ But that’s not the definition of being inspired,” Siriano said. “It doesn’t need to be thoughtful; it’s all about your imagination.”

Now, in the prime of his career, Siriano said he lives and breathes design, spending most days in the office from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. To be successful, he has to immerse himself in his work, he said.

Siriano admitted it’s hard to be creative all the time, and that forces him to make quick decisions on some of his most important projects. But, he said, that’s the nature of fashion, and he advised Columbia students to be passionate about design if they plan to pursue it.

“I think you do have to become obsessed with it,” Siriano said. “Especially now, if you’re not in love with the business and you’re not in love with fashion, it’s not fun. It’s a very hard, crazy business.”