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Interview With American Designer Christian Siriano

Christian Siriano – a rebel in fashion: “I have done things that brands are still dreaming of”

by Haider Rifaat

Christian Siriano – a household name in fashion has created a niche for himself in the style business. His outfits primarily appeal to real women who feel liberated and free in a world that seldom celebrates them. Each year, his out of the box creations invoke public and media interest.

Christian, you began your journey in fashion 12 years ago in 2008. Why has it taken you so long to establish your presence in the fashion world? Did your philosophy not align with mainstream labels?
I really don’t think it has taken that long. I have done things in less than 10 years that brands are still dreaming of. But I have different goals than others so that is the difference. I have dressed some of the most famous women in the world and sold clothes to people from all walks of life. Companies could only hope to be so diverse.

Apart from gender inclusivity, your label has managed to outperform contemporary fashion designers with garments that an average woman can own and feel comfortable in. Why have some of your counterparts been unsuccessful in their approach to celebrating all body types?

I believe you have to treat this process not as a mission but as a normal working day. That normal day for us is making clothes for anyone and everyone who walks through our doors or sends us an email. We are open to any customer who loves our garments and wants to look and feel great in them. It is such an easy way to just support people.

Your fashion ethos is embracing body positivity, however we rarely see fashion shows or magazine covers graced by plus sized males and females. When will this practice come to a permanent halt?
We need to celebrate beauty that comes in all shapes, forms and genders. Who decides what is beautiful anymore in this day and age? We need to move forward and not look back on what was once considered fashionable. We should set new rules in fashion that can be the future of our industry.

Was it a struggle for you to find your voice in an industry that looked down on healthier women?
The struggle for me was to be myself, make what I wanted to make and dress who I wanted to dress. I love women with curves and I just couldn’t understand why dressing them was not okay. I found it strange but I am glad I paid no heed to people who didn’t support that idea because now I have really built a business out of it.

Why haven’t you felt like “a part of the fashion system”?
I don't think that way at all, actually. I did maybe my first 5 years in the show business but now if anything, I see myself as a leader and do things that brands would love to do.

Do you feel that it is harder for a novice in fashion to practice freely and creatively? Can his or her individualism be threatened by fashion giants who have been there longer?
There is a place for all of us in a way but of course, you cannot compare a young brand with labels that have been in the business for 100 years. You just can't and shouldn't! We don’t even think about it.

Amidst a terrifying COVID-19 wave in the heart of New York City, you and your team have mustered the confidence to create protective masks for healthcare workers. What went through your mind before deciding to go ahead with this idea?
I simply wanted to help and do something productive. I couldn't sit at home and not try and make things that people need. I have a studio that can make anything so I thought, why not! I get to keep my company open and we get to help people with it. It is a win-win for us!

Like every public figure, fashion designers have a social responsibility to put their skills to good use during a national emergency but very few actually come forward and deliver. Why is that?
Being a creative person in the public eye, I believe it is important to say what we feel is right and then follow through with it no matter what. I would never say I am going to make masks and then not even try. I know a few people who backtracked, which is sad to see but I am so happy that we did it. Now I see it as an interesting business and maybe it will turn out to be a couture mask business! Who knows!

Why did you decide to make colored masks?
We needed a lift. Gray and white masks lacked excitement but adding color to them really helped brighten up the day.

Will you also be producing protective gear for the medical staff beyond New York City?
Yes, we have shipped a little out of state and we will do that more in the next few weeks.

Let’s talk about your Fall/Winter 2020 collection. What have you planned so far?
Hopefully, we will get back to work soon and maybe a digital fashion experience will follow this fashion week! I can’t wait to see what happens!

Do you intend to launch a menswear line anytime soon?
I would love to launch a more traditional menswear collection but honestly, we have men come to us all the time and I love that! I hope men experiment more with their fashion. But I will say that it would be nice to do a line of perfectly tailored suits one day.

How is androgynous wear changing the way we look at style?
Fashion is for everyone and should be for anyone who wants to wear a dress or a suit. No rules!

What more should improve in the realm of fashion? Anything you feel concerned about? 
We need to support people who have a dream and want to love fashion like the rest of us.

You cite fashion legends Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood as your icons. What draws you to their work ethic?

Their love for art and creativity is inspiring.

You were a featured mentor on Project Runway. How was it like to be involved in this project as a mentor and not a participant?

I love that I get to help support a new generation of young talent. I give them some real world advice that can help them be successful. It has been a great experience!

About Haider Rifaat: a writer for Arabian Moda, South China Morning Post, OK! Pakistan and Good Times magazine. He is an actor and also the creator and host of Pakistan's first web talk show - The Haider Rifaat Show. He can be reached via instagram and twitter.