Coratti: My name is Kris Coratti. I’m vice president of communications and events here at The Post. Thank you so much for joining us this evening for the latest event in our series New Line with Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion critic Robin Givhan.
Tonight, we are so thrilled to welcome fashion designer Christian Siriano. He will be out in just one minute. I wanted to quickly thank Rizik’s and Samsung for their support of this program. I’m sure you all had a chance to see the beautiful gowns and handbags Rizik’s brought, the Christian Siriano line. If you didn’t, they’ll still be there on your way out, so make sure you check them out. And now, I’d like to go ahead and get started. So I’d like to welcome Robin Givhan and Christian Siriano to the stage. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]
Givhan: Thank you all so much for being here. As Kris said, I’m Robin Givhan and I’m the fashion critic for The Washington Post and it is my pleasure to welcome designer Christian Siriano. [APPLAUSE] I just want to remind you in the audience and those who are watching the live stream that you can contribute to the conversation and also ask questions by using the #NewLine. I have a tablet with me and hopefully, I’ll be able to get to some of your questions before the evening is done. And with that, I’d like to get started and first of all, point out that Christian has a new book. Oh, Dresses to Dream About.
Siriano: We’re self-promoting today. [LAUGHTER]
Givhan: And I’m also going to put it down because I’m afraid that I’ll start flailing and I’ll knock over the water and it’ll all go wrong. Also, I don’t know how many people here know this, but Christian is also kind of, sort of local.
Givhan: From Annapolis. [APPLAUSE] Just up the parkway.
Siriano: It’s a quick drive.
Givhan: And I sort of wanted to start there because I was intrigued when I was looking through the book, that you talked about a lipstick-red wingback sofa.
Givhan: And how that sort of inspires what you do now as well as an older sister who was a dancer and did many versions of the Nutcracker, apparently.
Siriano: Yeah. I always talk about home because I’m from Annapolis and I grew up in a household of two women, but very different. My mom who had this like love of interior and color and print and texture and that was always exciting, and I used to go furniture shopping with her all the time. And so I always was a big fan of that and I think I was a fan of textiles in that world and yeah, so we had this red, gorgeous sofa in our living room my whole childhood growing up, but you weren’t allowed to sit on it. It was very important. [LAUGHTER]
Givhan: It wasn’t covered in plastic?
Siriano: No, it wasn’t covered in plastic, but we weren’t really allowed to play in that room and it’s so interesting because now, I have that and when people come over, I’m like, “Don’t sit in that chair”. [LAUGHTER] But I think that it’s fine. And then yeah, my sister was a ballet dancer, so I was very young. I was always backstage with her in costumes and hair and makeup and seeing performances and this kind of transformation of these young girls kind of transforming to these big fantasy dreamlike creatures, and that’s kind of what the book is about.
It’s about these kinds of dream pieces that hopefully take you away from reality a little bit. We all need it.
Givhan: Which is always a good thing.
Givhan: I know that you went to the Baltimore School for the Arts.
Givhan: And then you went off to London to study and you worked or interned with McQueen and Vivian Westwood and of course, you did Project Runway. Of all of those experiences, which just one of them would be significant on a designer’s resume, which one do you think sort of gave you the greatest preparation for not just being a designer, but being a designer with your own business?
Siriano: Yeah, they all have their own great things about them and their own horrible things. [LAUGHTER] But I think—
Givhan: Feel free to share that.
Siriano: That’s a really long day. [LAUGHTER] No, you know what was great is that one, being a designer and being young and deciding to move to London, move to Europe and kind of work with creative designers like McQueen and Westwood, which their teams are small. It was definitely very hands-on. I think it was very inspiring and I think I’m glad that I and those opportunities because I think I try to treat my studio, my team kind of the same way, which I didn’t really realize until recently when—I don’t know, just similar things keep happening that I feel like happened to me 12 years ago.
So I think that’s kind of an interesting thing. I loved seeing that patterns and clothes were just being handmade and these ateliers of McQueen and Westwood, I just thought that was really beautiful and I like to still do that.
Givhan: One of the things that people often say about the fashion education in the States is that it tends to be more pragmatic, it tends to be more technical and certainly, in London, it tends to be so fantastical that often, designers there can’t make a pattern.
Givhan: Why did you decide that you wanted to study there as opposed to a FIT?
Siriano: I think because I—I went to Baltimore School for the Arts, so I was really into definitely a more fine art background in the beginning. So I felt like it wouldn’t make sense for me to go off to these places FIT that were doing technical everything, where I was like very uninterested. I also just wasn’t good at it. [LAUGHTER] I still am not. I do every single sketch, pencil and paper. It’s just me and I obviously have a team that works on those things, but I like to start from nothing and see what it becomes. Because also, it’s an organic process, I think, making clothes at least how I like to work. There is technical, but just not in an advanced, kind of computer-world way. If that makes any sense.
Givhan: So you’re not a computer-assisted design person?
Siriano: I am really not. No, I have trouble opening attachments some days. [LAUGHTER] And it’s like a true thing and it’s really funny. But I don’t mind because I feel like—which is interesting because I’m young and I’m obviously in a world where other designers who are in my kind of age bracket and are—
Givhan: You’re technically a millennial.
Siriano: But it’s such a different thing. But then on the flip side, I have a very powerful social media following. We like to promote things in that world. So it’s just I’m just not that technical, but I know what’s happening. [LAUGHTER] So that’s that. I think I just don’t like to work that way. I like just like draping on a mannequin and playing with embroideries and that for me is the best part about being a designer is starting that way. Feeling the fabric. That’s my favorite part of the day. Everything else is the worst part of the day. [LAUGHTER]
All the business is the worst things.
Givhan: Although I think the first—
Siriano: I mean, I like the money. [LAUGHTER]
Givhan: I was going to say, when I met you, it hadn’t been that long since you had won Project Runway. And I remember thinking that what was most striking was that you were so focused on building your business that I think I had asked you about, “Oh, what happened to the $100,000 that you won?” And you talked about like putting that away and being really focused on just sort of those mundane things about building a business.
Siriano: Yeah, after the show, obviously you’re thrown into this world. I was also a kid, so it’s been—
Givhan: You were 22, right?
Siriano: Twenty-one, but I auditioned when I was 20 so this was 12 years ago so this was a really long time, and so I was really young, naïve, I didn’t really know. But when the show ended, I had millions of people wanting something; a product, somehow something. And I didn’t have anything. I basically was a brand without being a brand. So I almost kind of went backwards a little bit, unfortunately, but I knew that I had to have something, and I knew that that was kind of my only opportunity to really build something that I would I think care about and feel good about. And that really was. I just loved making clothes and I loved making women feel great in those clothes and that’s all the whole goal was.
Givhan: I know that there were some hurdles after Project Runway and is it something that you are happy that you did or in hindsight, do you feel like in some ways, it created these additional hurdles that other designers who didn’t go that route didn’t have to deal with?
Siriano: Yeah. There’s good and there’s bad things. But yes, that’s the challenge. Obviously, I didn’t start in a traditional way as maybe other brands have, which is for sure, very challenging. You’re always held to a different place. It’s hard. Also, TV is very hard because you’re put in a place that’s—it’s kind of like an actress that’s known for her one move that she did 100 years ago, and she’s been in 100 movies. It’s hard to get through. People’s attention spans are quick. I think that’s the challenge, which is why I try to push that aside and just try to just make beautiful things season after season. And I think that my biggest thing is—the customer is the most important thing and that’s kind of, what I learned as the years went on, that I stopped listening to everyone else and if people didn’t support, they didn’t support.
But always had the women who were shopping behind us, which was really great and that helps. [LAUGHS]
Givhan: You had a great quote, which I’m going to dig up because—
Siriano: I love a great quote. [LAUGHTER]
Givhan: Especially when it’s yours. There was a profile of you and they had talked about a stylist, I guess, that you had hired to sort of help you edit when you were putting together the show and part of the goal had been to sort of connect with the fashion industry.
Givhan: And you said that “So often, the dresses that editors love are the ones that you don’t sell a single version of.”
Siriano: Yeah, every time.
Givhan: And then your quote was—
Siriano: Every season. It’s so annoying.
Givhan: And then you were like—
Siriano: It still is 10 years later.
Givhan: So think about that a little bit.
Siriano: [LAUGHTER] Ten years later.
Givhan: What do you think about that?
Siriano: It’s my favorite thing. I was just thinking we just had—not to throw it in there, but I just had my first cover of Vogue, which is amazing. It was for British— [APPLAUSE] Thank you.
Givhan: Claire Foy.
Siriano: Claire Foy. She looked amazing. It was the British Vogue cover. Nobody bought that dress. It’s so interesting. [LAUGHTER] So I’m like, “Well, damn.” So that was that. But it’s okay because, you know, there are those pieces that are editorial and that are beautiful and that editors love and stylists love and people wear on the red carpet. And they don’t always work in real life. And that’s the balance but I think that is how I have been able to kind of keep the business going for so long is that we’ve got to have both worlds. We can have beautiful things for editorial and beautiful things for the red carpet. But my biggest goal was that I still want to make sure people can buy and wear the clothes or buy something in my world, which is why I do things like Payless and I’ve done Lane Bryant. I’ve done all of these different things because I think that’s very, very important.
But it is frustrating when these editors that I’m dying to get to come to a show—not you, Robin. [LAUGHTER] Robin has been such a great supporter for so long, which I so appreciate. I really, really do. Because it is hard. It is a challenge but that is always the interesting thing that I would read sometimes. Even it could be women’s wear—really annoy me. They would judge so quickly but they know nothing about my business in any way. So that was always a challenge. Because obviously, I’m still a young brand. I’m not Dior, but my clothes are hanging next to Dior so it’s almost like we’re put on the same kind of pedestal. I haven’t been in business for 60, 70 years, so it’s a challenge. So we’re working on it.
Givhan: [LAUGHTER] Well, one of the things that there always has been is this disconnect, I think, between the sort of critical acclaim and success in the magazine covers and the celebrity endorsements and the reality of the business. And one of the most sort of famous cases was Isaac Mizrahi in his sort of first incarnation was a designer who was really a household name thanks to Unzipped, thanks to his outsized personality and that company was never profitable. And I think that stuns people.
Givhan: Why do you think that disconnect exists? Do editors just not know what it is that customers want? Are customers just frightfully conservative and hesitant to try new things? Who is to blame? [LAUGHTER]
Siriano: I know, who is to blame. [LAUGHTER] Listen, I will say it is a mix. I think the customers are actually—obviously, there is a range of a conservancy when you’re shopping and you’re like, “Oh, can we afford this? Am I going to buy it? Where am I wearing it?” That comes up a lot. But for the most part, I never get that pushback as much. We get asked for more and more. “I want more of this and more of that.” I’m like, “Oh, God.” More prints, more color, whatever it is. But I think a big part of which is why also retailers were struggling too is because they weren’t necessarily listening to actually what people were looking for. So I think that that’s happened with the buyers who were sitting in an office buying for a store, which is a challenge because they’re not in the store. They don’t know what’s happening and I think it’s the same kind of thing with certain editors.
I don’t know how many editors are even shopping in certain retail so how do they know and how are they judging a collection based on if it’s good or not based on those things? And I think that’s the challenge that I think our whole industry is kind of having over the last like two years. There are no rules anymore. That’s what I’ve kind of found because everyone is finding new ways and new ways to build their business because it’s a tough industry right now.
Givhan: How has social media changed your relationship with both your customer and the way that you design and present on the runway? Because sometimes I look at social media and the things that people become so enamored by or enamored with, when I saw them on the runway, there’s such a disconnect because things look incredible in a photograph, not so great in real life.
Siriano: Yeah, for sure. I think that social media—
Givhan: And vice versa.
Siriano: It is. It’s like some days, we love social media. I love selling like a $17,000 dress on Instagram. That’s fabulous. [LAUGHTER] They haven’t even seen the back. They’re like, “Order it.” I’m like, “All right.” [LAUGHTER] It happens. Eva knows. Literally, I’m like, “Really?” I’m like, “Okay.” And that has happened so many times but then there’s other things where social media can kind of hinder you because you’re getting comments and responses to things immediately. So let’s say you’re working really hard on something, and we do a lot of behind-the-scenes kind of work and maybe people aren’t reacting to it and then I’m like, “Oh, no. People aren’t going to like this.” So that can be a challenge, too, because then it affects my kind of mentality thinking like, “Oh, I thought this was going to be the dress of the season and everybody was like, oh, they hate it.”
So that’s the challenge, which is why I love to post, I love to promote. I love to be involved, but I try not to let it run the business. I just let it be a helpful part as much as it can be, but because it can be challenging because who knows who is commenting that day based on whatever is happening?
Givhan: Who knows if they’re just trolling you?
Siriano: Exactly. And I have quite a diverse fan base of who wears my clothes so it’s hard. One minute I’m posting Jessica Lange wearing a dress and the other minute I’m posting Nicki Minaj or Cardi B. The fan base is different. [LAUGHTER] So sometimes, that can mess with—the comments can be interesting.
Givhan: That is a fine lead into your position in the industry as one of the biggest leaders in diversity; diversity both in terms of size and age, gender, fluidity. Did you think about that or was it just something that happened organically? Was it sort of your decision to just stand up and say, “Enough with this industry focused solely on size.” Very small.
Siriano: I think it came from everything. I think even in the beginning, my very first few seasons, we always just had that. We always had customers that were different sizes. I always was dressing tons of different types of people. I remember Whoopi Goldberg was one of the first people I dressed for her. She was hosting the Tony Awards and I was like, “Of course I would dress Whoopi Goldberg, you know?” Because she’s amazing and I was dressing Rihanna and all kinds of people at the same time. I always had that. I just think now with social media, it’s much more relevant so people can see it, which is exciting. And then when we chose to put girls on the runway of different sizes that was because it was the first season that the model agencies existed.
So it was just so exciting that now there were model agencies that were having girls of different shapes and different sizes, sending them on castings. And that was the decision. It wasn’t about that it was like, “Oh, let’s do this.” I just think it was a nice time. I think the customer was definitely interested in that. I hate hearing from anyone ever saying, “Oh, you only make clothes for models.” That’s so annoying because it just never is the case. Our top selling size is probably a 12 but it’s been that forever. So I needed people to know that a little bit more.
Givhan: Why do you think it is such a hurdle for more designers to be that proactive in showing a diversity of sizes? And agents. You often hear about sort of just the technical challenges of creating a set of samples.
Siriano: Yeah, that’s what it is.
Givhan: And if you’re creating your samples in a size 2, then you have to sort of step off of that road and sort of go over here and make a completely different sized sample. Is it purely technical or is it something more insidious?
Siriano: I hope it’s purely technical because it is a challenge. You can’t have every sample available in every single size because that’s zero to a 26 is a lot of pieces. So just the inventory alone—
Givhan: Do you go up to 26?
Siriano: We go up to 26, yeah. Which is great. [APPLAUSE] And yeah, so it’s a lot of samples to have, it’s a lot of inventory. So for a small brand, it’s definitely a challenge. For a big brand, I don’t really think so much. I think it would be easier for them because they’re already cutting those for every one of their—if they have 500 stores, they’re cutting those anyway or if they go up to that size. And then yes, not every piece I think work perfectly in every single size the way you make it the first time. Because it’s a challenge. It’s like an architect. You’re making a mini-model before you build a building for a reason, because you’re finding out all those kinks, all those tweaks.
Does this actually look good on the bust? Does this dark need to be here? So those are the things that you have to overcome and that takes time and work.
Givhan: It’s not just about scaling up or scaling down?
Siriano: No, it really is about you having to make sure it’s still going to be a great dress. Flattering for a lot of shapes and that goes with people who are petite and tiny as well. It’s the whole range of it that I think is important, for sure. But I’ve learned definitely over the years that because we’ve been doing it for a while, it’s a little bit easier for me. I also just think about it that way. That I’m like, “I know this dress is going to look great if she’s a two and if she’s a 20.” So I just have that—
Givhan: So it becomes easier the more you do it?
Siriano: Yeah, the more you do it. It’s like everything. I always talk about this. I talk about this in my book. That I grew up with my sister who is a ballet dancer and a size 0/2 my whole life. And my mom was a 14/16 and had curves and shape and so that was my world. It wasn’t different for me and then I went to high school in Baltimore City, which I was the minority at this high school. Things like that weren’t different. That was just my life so that’s why I embrace it.
Givhan: Do you find now as you talk to your colleagues in the industry, that they have had the same breadth of experience in their lives?
Siriano: I would think so. From what I’ve found. I think there are a lot of designers that are getting on board with the size inclusivity. It’s super—it is, and I know a lot of us are working on getting the retailers involved as well because that’s a challenge, too. So I think people want to. I just think they have to figure out—like I said, every brand has to figure out for themselves what’s working right now because we’re all in quite a stressful flux of what’s just happening in the industry. It’s so crazy. We sell on Moda Operandi, which if you don’t what it is, it’s a beautiful luxury site that does like pre-trunk shows for designer collections.
We got them to change their algorithm online to go up to a size 24, which they didn’t, which is awesome. But think about this: Neiman Marcus, Saks, Farfetch, they don’t go above a size 16. You can’t click a dropdown to go higher than that, which is crazy. That’s so strange to me.
Givhan: And how do you make sure that you continue to—
Siriano: They’re going to hate me. Oh, God. [LAUGHTER] But I don’t care.
Givhan: That you continue to stay in touch with that broad expanse of the customer. Because often, it seems that the more successful designers become, in many ways, the smaller their world becomes in terms of the kind of people who are in it. And we often talk about designers who basically are surrounded by this small group of starlets and socialites and they start designing based on—
Siriano: For those types of people.
Givhan: The needs that they have in their day, which are so far afield from what an average woman needs in her day. How do you keep just sort of normal people flowing through your life?
Siriano: I don’t know. I guess it comes to the people I surround myself definitely help, just like friends and family who are normal people and my sister lives in Virginia and has kids. I try to keep those people around. But that’s why also I like my collections to be quite diverse because I love that we can dress a young, cool, fabulous it-girl like Zendaya or Kate Mara and then we can dress somebody who is random and in a new movie and who cares? But I care because I’m like— [LAUGHTER]
Givhan: She cares.
Siriano: She cares. It’s fine. So someone cares. [LAUGHTER] Maybe, I don’t know. But yeah, so I don’t know. I guess that just was always more exciting to me. I just think that it was always more interesting and that’s the challenge of being a designer right now in our world is the business is so tough that what is like fun? What still gets you up to go to work every day? You deal with so much stress and pressure, and so you have to have the fun things, too.
Givhan: Has it changed that much just in the short span of your career? It’s been a little over 10 years?
Siriano: Yeah, it changes every single day. That’s the craziness. You never know what’s happening. You never know what’s working, what’s not working. It’s like the dumb little things that can go wrong or go right. You can have a good collection and then your orders are triple, double. And then you’re having to figure out how to deal with that and then it can be the complete vice versa, where everything—it’s dead and everything shipping from Europe is canceled or whatever. And then you’re out. So all of those things happen, which are boring for anyone watching this, actually. [LAUGHTER] But that’s just the day-to-day life thing.
Givhan: Well, this was not boring at all and this was a social media moment when Leslie Jones tweeted about not being able to find a designer to create a red-carpet dress for her at the premiere of Ghostbusters. Were you on Twitter following Leslie Jones or did someone bring this to your attention? How did you find out?
Siriano: It was very early in the morning and my husband was—we follow Leslie because we love her, and I think in the morning, we’re just always on our phones and Leslie tweeted it. It was kind of early. It was random or maybe it was the night before. I can’t remember. But it just popped up. I don’t follow that many people, so I follow just people I love and it’s so random and Brad, my husband, was like, “You need to respond because she’s amazing. We love her, and we watch her.” So it was such an easy thing. And it was nothing. I didn’t even respond with words. I just responded with like a little “hello” thing. [LAUGHTER]
Givhan: Like the hand emojis.
Siriano: Yeah, because I didn’t want to be also like, “Well, love you, but you didn’t ask me”. [LAUGHTER] So I just was like, “Hey”. But I wanted to lend a helping hand and it was so fun. She’s such an amazing person. It has led to a nice also friendship. She did come to my show this past season. It was very intense. [LAUGHTER]
Givhan: We’ll get to that in a moment. Yes, we will.
Siriano: But she’s just a really real person, she’s a great actress and she deserved to look amazing.
Givhan: Again, I am like flipping through it because you said something interesting about her in the book, actually, because the red dress that she wore is in the book and it stands out because it is one of the least embellished dresses.
Siriano: Yeah, it’s very simple.
Givhan: It’s incredibly simple.
Siriano: It’s actually my favorite in the book.
Givhan: It’s a beautiful shade of red and it follows the curves of her body and you described it as saying that, “It was important that she be seen.” And I wanted to ask you whether or not—did you just mean that literally, that she would be a photographer magnet in this bright red dress or were you thinking in a much broader sense that this tall, dark-skinned black woman needed to be seen in her full—all of her dimensions?
Siriano: Yeah. I think that was what it was. Also, I wanted people to understand that also, Leslie is not—Leslie has a beautiful body also. She’s different. She’s very tall and she’s broad but has a gorgeous, amazing figure that I felt like needed to be embraced for her night. I don’t know. I just wanted people to not think about her as a—I think it’s hard for every SNL actress because you pigeonhole them as characters in a way and I really wanted people to not have that thought when they would see her and any move actress that’s having a big premiere, that’s what it should feel like for them, too.
Because it’s exciting for her, too. It’s her first major blockbuster movie so it was sad for her to be like, “Oh, God. I’m so excited.” And then to not be able to get something to wear. To find a dress to wear should be the easy part of your day. It’s so dumb. [LAUGHTER]
Givhan: [APPLAUSE] And now, I’m going to be the devil’s advocate, though.
Siriano: Yes, please. Oh. [LAUGHTER]
Givhan: Why should actresses get free dresses?
Siriano: Well that, I’ll tell you I don’t know. [LAUGHTER]
Givhan: Whenever you get an actress on the red carpet to having purchased her dress, it’s almost like this shameful kind of, “I had to buy my dress.”
Siriano: I know. It’s so weird.
Givhan: Poor Hayden Panettiere bought a Tom Ford dress because he only dresses one person on the given red carpet and she really wanted to wear Tom Ford.
Givhan: Bryce Dallas Howard purchased a dress from Neiman Marcus, a Jenny Packham dress because she wanted more choices than she’d have if she had gone—
Siriano: Yeah, it’s so interesting—
Givhan: —the borrowing route.
Siriano: It’s so interesting. Even this past Emmys where Rachel Bloom bought a Gucci dress to wear. What’s interesting is I’ve dressed Rachel a ton of times, too. I dressed her when she won her Golden Globe, click. [LAUGHTER] What’s so nice is that—I think we even might have even had dresses. But she really wanted to wear this dress that she found because she felt good in it. That’s what it’s about and that is an interesting thing. The free dresses thing, it’s hard. It is part of the business because, at the end of the day, it is part of branding. It’s part of marketing. That’s just how it is in our world because people like famous people.
They look up to them. It just is what it is and I’m okay with that. I don’t like the annoying people that want free clothes so that we try to stay away from. [LAUGHTER]
Givhan: What makes them annoying?
Siriano: Yes, I will tell you. [LAUGHTER] No, my biggest challenge with now being over 10 years in the business, we’ve dressed a lot of people and now, what I try to focus on is—I hate saying no. Nobody wants to say, “No, we don’t want to dress you.” But I will say that there are new actresses, new musicians that can be a challenge. They expect a lot, whereas people like Kathy Bates or Julienne Moore are sending flowers if you just send them a dress. Maybe they don’t even wear it. They’re appreciative. It’s so interesting that sometimes it’s the people who have been around for a while that are respectful, understand what goes into clothes and sending clothes and awards season is a tough thing. There are dresses flying around the world and the newer generation doesn’t get that yet.
So those are now the people that I actually work less on.
Givhan: They tend to think it’s a right as opposed to a perk.
Siriano: It is. We all have to remember that it’s a little bit of like, obviously, we need a great actress and a great musician to promote our work. But they also need our work to look great on them. Some clothes have changed careers so that has happened, and I think that’s where I come from as a creator. Which if you don’t look good in a dress, that’s your fault for picking that dress. [LAUGHTER]
Givhan: Do you ever think about the sort of contradiction in which there was the hashtag that was being used for a while with the red carpet, you know, #AskHerMore, meaning ask her more than just about, of course, the dress.
Siriano: Of course, her clothes. Which I agree.
Givhan: On the one hand, yes, you do agree and it makes sense. But on the other, part of the reason why you get the dress for free is because you’ve agreed to tell people who you’re wearing. So to borrow a dress and then not want to be asked about the dress seems a little—
Siriano: It drives me—
Siriano: I go to a dark place when that happens. [LAUGHTER] Because it does happen. I think that there is enough for everything. There is enough that you can ask, “What are you wearing? You look stunning. Oh, my God, how”—
Givhan: And what do you think about world peace?
Siriano: Yeah, exactly. It’s easy. It’s easy—
Givhan: Two thoughts—[OVERLAPPING]
Siriano: It is but I think that’s why I think the interviews should be a conversation. I think it’s more interesting for people watching. I think all of the above. So yes, and we have had where there’s no promotion of what they’re worn whatsoever. And yes, that can make me really—it’s hard. It’s hard because it is sad.
Givhan: And it’s a cost for you.
Siriano: It’s a huge cost. We work so hard to get the clothes to them. If we’re making it custom, that’s a whole other world and then nothing comes from it because maybe they don’t even promote it. It can be very frustrating. But what can you do? What I do is love a strong email. [LAUGHTER] I really do.
Givhan: With an attachment.
Siriano: I’m not good at attachments but I love a great email. It is grammatically horrid. I’m just saying it like I’m thinking it so there are no commas anywhere. It’s a mess. But I will say, I’ve learned over the years that those emails actually go a really long way because some days, it’s like—I’m like, “Okay, we all have to like”—I go back to my place and I’m like, “I’ve dressed a lot of great people.” So now, it’s almost like it can be a frustrating conversation that I don’t need anymore. It’s not the only thing that sells clothes and I think the stylists are definitely the person that they need to be taught that as well. It’s that people still buy clothes even though that one actress doesn’t wear them and that is the challenge that I think that world, the Hollywood world, needs to understand.
Givhan: Leslie Jones, though, has turned out to be a terrific ambassador, it seems.
Siriano: And I love dressing her and—
Givhan: Did you hear her at your show?
Givhan: If you don’t know this—
Siriano: Please watch this video because it’s genius. [LAUGHTER]
Givhan: It was the highlight of all New York Fashion Week. It is basically Leslie Jones watching Christian’s show.
Siriano: She’s at the Knicks.
Givhan: She is watching the Knicks. [LAUGHTER]
Siriano: And it’s really not the place.
Givhan: I was on the other side of the room and I’m like, “Is that Leslie? What?”
Siriano: It is so interesting, too, because she came in the next day for a fitting for the Emmys because we dressed her for the Emmys and she walks in and she was like, “Baby”, she goes, “I didn’t know. I thought they were your friends.” [LAUGHTER] I don’t think she knew who was really there. Because Vogue is sitting across from her and I don’t think she knew. But that’s why it’s great. It feels very real and authentic. She was just so excited. She had never been to a fashion show before. I think that was in itself exciting and the clothes obviously were exciting for her.
She loves Coco Rocha. [LAUGHTER] I mean, you know. Anyway, so—
Givhan: Coco actually tweeted that she would like for Leslie Jones to just cheer her on when she’s making toast when she’s doing the grocery shopping.
Siriano: Oh, my God. The best hype woman in the world. But I will say at the beginning, I’m backstage and I see nothing that’s going on. I see it on a little monitor and I thought somebody got hurt so I was like, “Oh, it’s over.” I’m like, “Pack it up.” [LAUGHTER] And we spend so much time on Fashion Week and the shows are 12 minutes and so it’s very stressful and it’s all happening in such a quick moment that it felt really good even though Leslie was over-the-top and crazy. It felt actually like a nice relief because, at the end of the day, I was like, “If everyone hates it, who cares? At least she liked it.” [LAUGHTER]
So that helped me, I will say. I got through the rest of the day without having a breakdown.
Givhan: In a moment like that, it does feel like fashion suddenly stops being just about the clothes but about something bigger. It was about helping Leslie Jones to sort of step out of this niche and be seen in a different way publically and with her cheering. It was also this delight and pleasure that fashion gave her. How do you see fashion’s role in popular culture? It defines people, no?
Siriano: It’s such a huge role and it’s a big part—yeah, it’s a big part of our world in everything. In politics; listen, we’re here in D.C. It’s unfortunate sometimes how they matter so much or what it’s judged for. But yeah, it matters. But that’s what’s exciting. It’s the same thing with so many industries. Music—music shapes cultures. Yeah, so which is why I think right now, it’s a very exciting time to be a designer and see people just appreciate things. To take a step away from everything else. At least clothes, you can get to have fun with it. They should make you feel good. That’s, I think, what it should be about.
Givhan: One of your other big customers, Michelle Obama wore a beautiful cobalt blue dress. It was during the Democratic National Convention. A lot of designers came out one way or the other in their feelings about the current first lady. How did you feel about that? In terms of dressing her. Not that she can’t go into any store and buy whatever she wants to, but sort of creating something specifically for her. And have your feelings changed in the last—what’s it been? Nine months, eight months?
Siriano: This is a tough group.
Givhan: [LAUGHTER] Oh, now people. And they say politics isn’t involved in fashion.
Siriano: Yeah, listen, this is Washington Post, people. I was actually just looking at the Washington Post Twitter and I’m like, “I don’t know if I fit in here, but we’ll go with it.” [LAUGHTER] But dressing Michelle Obama, I dressed her a few times. Obviously, for me as a young gay American boy with a dream—cliché, but what the Obama’s stood for was for all of those things and supporting all of those things. So dressing her for me, it was an iconic moment even if no one cared, I cared because what she believed in, that speech she gave that night. I believe in those same things.
So with obviously the new world that we’re living in, unfortunately, I don’t believe in their choices, so I don’t feel like it would make sense for me to be a part of that. [APPLAUSE] And everybody can kind of take that whatever—and then I think, it’s the same thing with an actress, a musician. If you’re posting on social media you don’t like gay people, then why am I sending you a dress? That’s just life. That’s just normal. Who you’re friends with. If they don’t support what you support, you’re not friends with them. So that’s what it is. It has nothing to do with anything else but that. I think that’s the most important thing. You have to, I think, support what I believe in: women’s rights, gay rights, all of those things.
It’s a very important thing and as a designer, the only thing I have is my clothes to put out into the world, so that’s the choice that we have to make. [APPLAUSE] That was my diplomatic answer. [LAUGHS]
Givhan: One of the interesting blurbs on the back of the book comes from Zendaya and she—
Siriano: We love. She’s really amazing.
Givhan: Her quote is, “Christian and I come from backgrounds that make us have to work extra hard to be seen so we speak the same language.” What was she referring to? What makes it that you have to work extra hard to be seen?
Siriano: We talked about this. I maybe started differently than other designers. And the same with her. She started being on the Disney Channel. So different than another young Hollywood actress and I think that’s kind of what she thinks. I dressed Zendaya before. She was literally 15 years old. Nobody knew who Zendaya was, but her stylist was really supportive and was like, “Please, whatever you have, we’d love to start a relationship.” That’s really what he said, and I really felt that from him and from her.
They were so supportive from day one and I was supportive of them. It was the relationship I was talking about. That she was supporting me because I’m giving her clothes when she’s nothing and then now, it’s complete vice versa, which I love dressing her. It’s amazing. Because anyone, everyone wants to dress Zendaya and they do. And that’s amazing for her. She’s a great actress. She has a million things coming out. So that’s the relationship that I love. It’s very important in this world where it can feel very fake and weird.
Givhan: And now that you’ve had your first Vogue cover, the cover of British Vogue, do you feel like you’re being seen?
Siriano: Some days. No, it was a great moment because yes, it was a really, really just like nice day when we got it. It was really, really great and so I think days like that would like make all of the hard things worth it for sure. It’s nice. And this book, I’m really proud of the book. The whole point of it was really to take people, transform. Because of what’s happening in the world, there’s a lot going on. I think it was to kind of take that 10 minutes flipping through and you kind of transform yourself into like a dreamlike place; that’s what I wanted.
Givhan: I think the audience might turn on me if I don’t take any questions. I learned my lesson. Let’s see.
Siriano: From Twitter.
Givhan: This is an interesting one.
Siriano: Can’t wait.
Givhan: Which couture house would you like to hold the reins to if you were given the chance?
Siriano: Oh, if I ever was to go somewhere? Oh, so many.
Givhan: You know, in two years when they start doing the whole musical chairs thing.
Siriano: Oh, yeah. They love a switch. [LAUGHS] I don’t know. A lot. There are so many brands that I admire and think they make beautiful things. For me probably for a long time, it would probably be Dior. That would be my favorite place to be just because of what the history is, for what they’ve done for so long. But I think there’s so many that I think are interesting in their own ways. I would like a challenge, though. So even something random like designing for a brand like Céline, which maybe isn’t normally what I would do, but—
Givhan: Well, the word is you might get a channel [ph]. There might be an opening.
Siriano: There might be an opening.
Givhan: Rumors. Rumors, people. Rumors.
Siriano: And that would be exciting. I’m open to anything, though, really.
Givhan: And the last question that I will take from Twitter is, “Is it hard for American designers to make it on the world stage?” And by making it, I’m assuming that means to be able to sell globally and be seen through the same lens as a designer based in Paris.
Siriano: It is a challenge, for sure. It’s a big world out there and I’m really happy and fortunate that we have a great business and international business, which is exciting. But it takes time. It grows every year because every country is like a whole new world. The challenges are so—they can be very difficult because—
Givhan: Do you think you could remain independent and grow like that or would you have to have a corporate owner? Like an LVMH or a Kering.
Siriano: It depends on how big of a scale I would want it to be, but yes. It’s a challenge, for sure. Also, think about certain countries. You can’t just open a store in certain countries. It’s a licensing the name to that country, in a way. We have a huge business actually in the Middle East and that’s how it works there. I couldn’t just open a store tomorrow if I wanted to. So there’s definitely the challenges there. But that will be the 10-year plan. Lots of plans in the next few years, so we’ll see. But we’re still focusing on the U.S. We’re opening a great new store in New York this coming year. So it’s exciting.
Givhan: Thank you all so much for coming.
Siriano: It went so fast, sorry.
Givhan: I know.
Siriano: We barely talked.
Givhan: And I should tell you that you can find more about upcoming programs and highlights from tonight on WashingtonPostLive.com. Thank you.
Siriano: Thank you, guys.