It’s the day before his 10th anniversary show and Christian Siriano, plus 11 celebrity friends and models have taken over the ELLE.com offices. My simple pitch to “get a few women together to model some of Siriano’s favorite gowns from his archive” has turned into a full-blown portfolio shoot, complete with A-list celebrities, super models, and social justice activists.
Selma Blair is town from LA, halfway through hair and makeup when I arrive at 8:45AM. Author and transgender rights activist Janet Mock has changed her flight and taken a two-hour car ride to make sure she’s here on time. Down the hall, actress Danielle Brooks arrives wearing a Siriano full length salt and pepper fur coat she initially borrowed for an event earlier in the week…and, well, she wanted to hold onto it a little longer. Next to her, model Candice Huffine bemoans that she didn’t do the same with hers. All this for Siriano? In short, hell yeah.
Because, while you may think he’s just the “fierce” kid with the hair from Project Runway, Siriano has been quietly building an empire along with a United Colors of Benneton-esque fan club of women who come when Christian calls. To this crew and the dozens and dozens of other celebrities he’s dressed over the years, he is a designer who saw them when the traditional fashion industry turned a blind eye and refused to dress them. They are happy to support him on the eve of his big day because he has always done the same for them.
“Craziness,” Siriano responds when I take out my recorder and simply say “10 years.” Well, yeah.
After dressing everyone from Taylor Swift and Jennifer Lopez to Michelle Obama and Leslie Jones, craziness is one way to describe your career. He expounds on his time in business. “When you first start, you’re like, Oh my God, can I even do this? Can we keep it going? Is it going to continue?” But the designer, whose business is valued between $10 and $20 million has kept it going, and then some. In addition to selling his main line to big name retailers like Neiman Marcus, the 32-year-old has inked deals with Lane Bryant, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Payless, giving those who can’t afford his designer-priced wares an opportunity to still get a slice of the Siriano pie. “It’s so hard to predict what will happen because there are everyday challenges that sometimes overshadow the big, beautiful picture, but today it’s really nice to see all the clothes from over the years together in one place and all these beautiful, different types of women modeling them.”
As I stand on set, I mention that I can’t imagine a time when Siriano wasn’t a fan favorite. He says he can, but isn’t bitter about it. “We worked really, really hard for a long time with nothing,’ Siriano says. Nothing, he would seem to mean, in terms of press or love from the industry. “But, it just takes time. Also, I think with every young brand, people want to see if they can keep it going and what it turns into. I totally get that.”
He continues, “The hardest part is that all of us—all brands that haven’t been in business for 50 years—we’re kind of held at the same caliber as Dior and Gucci but we’re not. We can’t be because we don’t have the budgets, we haven’t been in business for 50 years. We all hang in the same retailer and we’re scrutinized in the same way, which is quite hard because it’s very different.”
Siriano can handle the scrutiny now—but it hasn’t always been easy. Earlier on, it would get to him. “In the beginning, I was very focused on if things didn’t happen or didn’t work out. I took it so personally” he says. “I would harp on that and focus on that—whether it was a red carpet incident or someone not wearing a dress or a customer who returned everything to a department store or whatever. Those things can really beat you down so then you feel like the work is not good.”
Now? Not so much. Siriano explains, “I stopped doing that like four or five years ago and I think that has changed everything because now I’m kind of like if things don’t work or things don’t happen, I move on to the next great thing. I don’t know, I kind of just stopped taking people’s advice and started doing what I loved to do. You’re never going to please every editor, every actress—it just doesn’t work that way—so I think you just have to focus on what you love to do and then that resonates more with people.”
Before the shoot wraps (Siriano has to run out to finish fitting Cardi B for his show), I ask him if he feels like he’s made it. “No, I never think that because even if I get remotely into that—like a little “I feel good,”—something really annoying happens so then I’m like oh, back to reality.” He does feel proud, though. “Even if tomorrow we’re done or out of business or whatever happens—you never know in our world—I would definitely be proud of what me and my team have accomplished and what I would leave behind.
What I have now I think is much better than what I would have left behind five or six years ago, which feels good.” A legacy of dressing women of all shapes and sizes for some of the biggest moments in their lives? What wouldn’t feel great about that.