This Touching Essay Will Make You Love Designer Christian Siriano Even More
Christian Siriano has made a name for himself dressing women of all ages, races, and body types.
"I grew up in Annapolis, Maryland, a preppy, traditional military community a few minutes from the Naval Academy. I felt, at times, super different. I was young. Gay. Eccentric. A little guy. Those things made me feel insecure sometimes, but they also made me feel connected to other people who are different, who break conventions. I wasn’t interested in the “popular girl.” I was interested in the “cool girl” with tattoos or unique clothes. I worked in a hair salon, where I made friends with these two really individualistic girls.
One had colorful hair; the other wore six-inch stilettos every day. They were so different, but they were proudly themselves. I was that way too: People were probably like, “Why is this little kid so confident?” I would need that self-belief. I studied fashion design in London and interned for British designers, but I broke into fashion at 21 in an unusual way: Project Runway. I was there to show how much I loved to create, but I became this character (so much so that Amy Poehler played me on Saturday Night Live). When Runway ended, I instantly had a brand without having a brand. Viewers wanted to buy a piece of Christian Siriano, and I had nothing to sell them. I had to hit the ground running, quickly figuring out how to create product and sell it to stores.
Unfortunately I didn’t have much industry support. My network was in London; I was living in New York. I had no mentors nearby. I knew no one. People in the industry who knew of me found it strange that I broke through on TV. I was never a fashion darling, whom the industry rallied around. There were buyers who were like, “Eh, no, not for us,” and editors who never showed up to see a collection, let alone pull my designs. If I had waited to get a 10-page magazine spread, I would still be waiting.
So I asked myself, If you don’t have the typical model of success, being in the coolest store, dressing the It Girl, appearing in every fashion magazine, what do you do? Give up? No. I had to do my own thing, or I wouldn’t have a business. And I did just that: In my first year, I got a high-end retailer, Saks, to sell my collection, but I also took on a mass opportunity, designing shoes and purses for Payless. Some designers might have had reservations about that move, but I was so excited to have designs in thousands of stores! I focused not on dressing It Girls but rather on girls who were iconic to me. I dressed new faces, who have a harder time securing designer looks.
I saw Gaga perform in ’08 and outfitted her for one of her first TV spots. I didn’t know she'd become Lady Gaga! I just thought she was cool. And I always championed body inclusivity. Still do. People noticed when I sent plus-size models down my runway, launched a line with Lane Bryant, and designed Leslie Jones’ dress for the Ghostbusters premiere. Leslie couldn’t find a designer to dress her, and unfortunately I hear stories like hers a lot. But whether it’s Leslie or Gwyneth Paltrow, I don't think about a woman’s size when I dress her. I ask myself, Am I a fan?
Now people in and out of fashion are coming around. My line got picked up by retailers like Moda Operandi last year. We’re dressing up-and-comers and major girls. Nine women wore my looks to the Emmys! Michelle Obama wore one of my designs. And I’m a Council of Fashion Designers of America member to boot. I’ve found an exciting, new model of success. I think that kid in Annapolis believed something great would happen for him in art. But I don’t think he could have imagined being a part of something bigger. I get to be a voice of inclusivity. I get to bring people along for the ride with me. And I’m not done yet!"
More From Glamour:
• Christian Siriano Marries Longtime Partner Brad Walsh
• Hot Heels and Flats (Yes, FLATS!) From the Christian Siriano for Payless Spring Collection
• Christian Siriano Is Lane Bryant's Newest Guest Designer: But Will There Be Ball Gowns?
• See Ashley Graham, Danielle Brooks, and Other Style Stars on the Christian Siriano for Lane Bryant Runwa
Photo Credit: Getty Images