Siriano's most fabulous self

As he prepares for Fashion Week, former 'Project Runway' darling Christian Siriano juggles a new boutique, celebrity clients and his spring collection.

  • Christian Siriano in his new New York store
Christian Siriano in his new New York store (Brad Walsh, Baltimore Sun )
September 05, 2012|By John-John Williams IV | The Baltimore Sun

It's noon, and Christian Siriano has already accomplished a lion's share of work on what he calls his "laundry list."

With his spring collection fashion show a little more than a week away, he started the day with a quick trip to his Manhattan boutique, which he opened less than a month ago. Then shoes for his spring show arrived a few hours ago and needed to be matched with garments. Also on the day's list: shipping out his fall collection to international retailers and getting ready for the looming awards season — the Emmys, to be exact. Siriano said he had a number of starlets he's dressing for the event

"It's not the most glamorous of days," the 26-year-old said by phone from his New York studio.

Siriano's tempered response might come as a surprise to "Project Runway" fans who remember the Annapolis native as an extremely colorful, larger-than-life personality. But that was almost five years ago. And a lot has happened.

Siriano has become a popular designer — and, more important, an accomplished businessman. His clothes are carried by retailers such as Neiman Marcus and specialty boutiques throughout the country. They are also sold across the globe.

In 2009, his "Fierce Style: How To Be Your Most Fabulous Self" was published, which led to a national book tour and an appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." His shoe collections for Payless have made him the retailer's top-selling design collaborator ever. In March 2010, he became the youngest person ever to be named to Crain's New York Business "40 Under 40." He co-founded accessories e-commerce retailer Send the Trend and served as chief curator until 2011. In addition to creating a makeup line for Victoria's Secret, he also collaborated on projects with Starbucks, Puma and Spiegel. And in August, he opened Christian Siriano, a 1,000-square-foot boutique where he sells his frocks, shoes and purses.

"No one going into this apparel business realizes that it's going to be this much work," he said. "There are so many little things that go into a dress — it's insane. We ship all around the world. All of those countries have different shipping formats. I really am running the business — the day-to-day is me. It is hard. Ask any young designer — there are so many things that you don't think about."

He has built his burgeoning empire with hard work, a measured aggressiveness, smart decisions and calculated risks.

Ruben Cruz, professor of fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, calls Siriano the total package. "He's an original," Cruz said. "He has an aesthetic. He has a sense of style. He's made his persona and his brand trademark. It's the way he looks and comes across. But most of all, he is talented. He's what people think of when they imagine a designer."

Siriano says his tenacity is what has made him so successful. For example, after his fourth-season "Project Runway" win, he acknowledges "stalking" the show's producers to take advantage of all the prizes and resources available to him.

"When you're done, it's over," he said. "Everyone is on to the next season. I wasn't afraid to email and ask questions. Part of winning was having a management agency to work with you. I was constantly emailing the assistants. I took initiative. That is why I was able to do a little more. You have to stalk them."

Siriano says he's not afraid take a similar approach when it comes to reaching out to a celebrity and offering his services.

"Heidi [Klum] says she loves that I reach out to her," he said. (Klum wore one of his dresses to the 2011 Emmys.) "She can get clothes from any designer she wants. I have to put it in their head to think about me."

Siriano has been known to follow up with celebrities he has met at parties or spotted in the pages of magazines. He has also used social media to reach out to celebs he has wanted to work with — especially up-and-comers.

His approach landed him a gig dressing Lady Gaga for her first television appearance on the "Today" show in 2008. "That is something I am proud of," he said.

Most recently, Siriano reached out to young starlet and former ballerina Nicole LaLiberte, an actress he predicts will have a tremendous future. "She was just shot by Drew Barrymore," he explained, refering to a photo shoot Barrymore did for V magazine. "I love her personal style and red hair. I love new talent. I love finding the new, quirky girl."

But celebrity endorsements are not enough — as Siriano soon discovered. In order to better court fashion editors, Siriano grudgingly hired a stylist to help him with the presentation of his seasonal collections.

"I didn't want a stylist," he said. "Every designer loves putting a look together."

But Siriano soon discovered the benefits of having another set of eyes on his work.

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