CHRIS­TIAN SIRI­ANO was dress­ing women of all shapes and sizes long be­fore in­clu­siv­ity be­came fash­ion­able. Now he is reap­ing the re­wards

InStyle (USA) - - Directory - Pho­tographed by Alexan­der Neu­mann.

Sia, in a Chris­tian Siri­ano gown, Com­mer­cial Cos­tum­ing bow, and Tonya Brewer wig, with Siri­ano.

Re­mem­ber that one time I sang for the pres­i­dent?” asks Sia, the global pop su­per­star, singer, and song­writer who has fa­mously hid­den­most of her face un­der a crazy wig when­ever she has ap­peared in pub­lic over the past four years. Early on a mon­day morn­ing in Los An­ge­les, she takes a seat in a di­rec­tor’s chair. Un­masked and nat­u­ral, she’s re­laxed and look­ing ra­di­antly mois­tur­ized, rec­og­niz­able only by her bold red lips, which are at this mo­ment speak­ing to the de­signer Chris­tian Siri­ano.

“That was my fiercest mo­ment,” she says. “I’ve never looked hot­ter.”

“Never! Never!” Siri­ano shouts. “You laid it down! It was so amaz­ing!”

“It was a black fish­tail …” Sia re­mem­bers, de­scrib­ing the dress she wore while per­form­ing at the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee’s LGBT Gala in New York on June 17, 2014, which was at­tended by Pres­i­dent Obama. “… bustier, like sexy, tight,” adds Siri­ano. “I felt more beau­ti­ful singing for the pres­i­dent than I did on my wed­ding day,” Sia says. That day hap­pened two months later, when, she says in a quick aside, “I mar­ried some­one I didn’t know,” re­fer­ring to film­maker Erik An­ders Lang. The bride wore Siri­ano on that oc­ca­sion too. “That was a fun phone call,” Siri­ano dead­pans. “You’ve got two days to make me a wed­ding dress!” Sia says, retelling the story. “We’re get­ting mar­ried, like, to­mor­row! So he whipped me up two, which I wore. It was a great wed­ding. I felt amaz­ing. I felt re­ally gor­geous. It was such a whirl­wind!” Sia and Lang di­vorced two years later. “Whoops!” she screams, and Sia and Siri­ano break out laugh­ing.

The most im­por­tant thing to know about Siri­ano, who has styled him­self as the de­signer for ev­ery woman since the day he started his com­pany, is that for bet­ter or worse, he will be there. For richer, for poorer, for thin­ner, for fat­ter, for older, for younger, for cis­gen­der, for trans­gen­der, for fa­mous, for not so fa­mous, for just might be fa­mous some­day, he will be there. For 10 years he has been there, de­sign­ing gowns that make women feel beau­ti­ful, or bet­ter about them­selves, or at least not com­pletely over­looked, in­sulted, or oth­er­wise ig­nored by the fash­ion in­dus­try. When Les­lie Jones called out de­sign­ers for re­fus­ing to dress her for the première of Ghost­busters in 2016, Siri­ano was the first to raise his hand—lit­er­ally, in emoji for­mat on Twit­ter. He has done this for hun­dreds of celebrities who have come to rely on him to de­liver a bit of glam­orous ar­mor that will help steel them against the hy­per­crit­i­cal, im­age-ob­sessed en­vi­ron­ment of to­day’s whatare-you-wear­ing world.

“Chris­tian has dressed me in ev­ery per­mu­ta­tion my body has ever gone through,” Sia says. “Even when I wasn’t very suc­cess­ful or over­weight and no­body else would dress me, he has al­ways been there say­ing, ‘I’ve got some­thing for you.’ ”

Dur­ing the past few years, there has been a re­mark­able, if painfully slow, awak­en­ing among de­sign­ers to the im­por­tance of pro­mot­ing more di­verse rep­re­sen­ta­tions of beauty. This has been es­pe­cially no­tice­able on the red car­pet since the #Me­too and Time’s Up move­ments in­spired a back­lash against the same old bitchy dis­course of best-dressed lists of yore. But Siri­ano made in­clu­sive­ness the cor­ner­stone of his com­pany long be­fore it was con­sid­ered fash­ion­able or cool, and while it is tempt­ing to de­scribe him as pre­scient, well, the fact is that it never would have oc­curred to him to turn a cus­tomer away.

“I just started do­ing what I thought was right,” he says. “I can’t imag­ine say­ing no.”

All young de­sign­ers face chal­lenges in this busi­ness, which of­ten re­wards hype over tal­ent, but Siri­ano, who be­gan his la­bel in 2008 af­ter a star-mak­ing turn on the fourth sea­son of­pro­ject Run­way, has had to work much harder than most to be taken se­ri­ously. Never mind that he had stud­ied des­ig­nattheam­er­i­can­in­ter­con­ti­nen­talu­ni­ver­si­tyin­lon­don, where he in­terned for Vivi­enne West­wood and Alexan­der Mcqueen, and could sketch and sew a dress with great agility. The fash­ion elites, at least at the be­gin­ning, snubbed him as a by-prod­uct of re­al­ity tele­vi­sion. Crit­ics saw only a car­i­ca­ture and ques­tioned why Siri­ano con­cocted so much frothy, fan­tasy evening­wear rather than as­pir­ing to create some­thing ei­ther more prac­ti­cal or edgy—or … di­rec­tional. This al­ways struck the de­signer as funny since his clothes were sell­ing so well.

Now 32, Siri­ano wears tight jeans, a black blazer, and a black T-shirt that says “Le­gal­ize Dreams,” a not-so-sub­tle re­join­der to any­one who has ever doubted him. In­deed, it could be his motto. His sec­ond book, pub­lished last year by Riz­zoli, is called dresses to Dream About and fea­tures page af­ter page of pas­tel om­bré tulle ball skirts and sparkling crys­tal-em­broi­dered gowns that are in­spired by wed­ding bou­quets, sun­sets, ex­otic or­chids, pearls, and cit­rus—the ethe­real vi­sions of a de­signer with his head in the clouds.

“I love this T-shirt,” he says. “It’s from For­ever 21. It’s the most hi­lar­i­ous, stupid phrase. As a lit­tle kid, I wanted to dress all the Dis­ney princesses. That was my dream. And now I feel like I do get to do that. So.”

It is fair to say that Siri­ano is hav­ing the last laugh.

“We dressed 17 women at

I want to play make­be­lieve, but there is al­ways the bal­ance of ‘How do I make fan­tasy clothes that work in real life?’ ” —CHRIS­TIAN SIRI­ANO

the Os­cars,” he says. “Dior didn’t do that.”

Be­sides his count­less dress­ing coups (Jones at the Em­mys, Cardi B for her preg­nancy re­veal on SNL, Michelle Obama for her 2016 DNC speech), he has dis­proved the old rules of fash­ion time and again. He took a big risk by sell­ing fancy dresses at Neiman Mar­cus and mak­ing in­ex­pen­sive shoes for Pay­less at the same time, “and I’m so glad I did,” he says. “Ten years later I would def­i­nitely be bank­rupt with­out Pay­less.” This year he has de­signed an­other col­lec­tion of clothes and home goods for dis­count store TJ Maxx and opened The Cu­rated NYC, his own multi­brand lux­ury store in a posh brown­stone across the street from the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art ( his friend Ali­cia Sil­ver­stone wants to open a ve­gan bak­ery on the roof). Al­though he has al­ways of­fered a large range of sizes, he now de­signs dresses up to a 28. And he is fi­nally be­ing rec­og­nized for his ef­forts, hav­ing been in­cluded in Time’s list of the 100 most in­flu­en­tial peo­ple for 2018, a rare dis­tinc­tion for any de­signer.

“No­body will ever be able to take that away from me,” he says. “Ev­ery artist feels at some point that their work isn’t good enough, so to get some­thing like that makes me re­al­ize that some­body out there sees what I’m do­ing and thinks it’s good. So at least there’s that per­son.” Ob­vi­ously, there are oth­ers. Many, many oth­ers.

Christina Hen­dricks was one of his first ma­jor cham­pi­ons and has spo­ken out against any­one who dared dis­miss him. When her 2010 Golden Globes dress, a peach strap­less gown with a cas­cade of ruf­fles slashed across the­front, drewtheire of the fash­ion po­lice, she re­sponded that she felt like a god­dess.

“When I wear his dresses, I don’t feel like I’m be­ing ma­nip­u­lated or made to fit into some­one else’s idea of what is beau­ti­ful,” she says. “I don’t want to be cri­tiqued or ridiculed. I don’t want to have to think about the dress but the oc­ca­sion and go to the party and have peo­ple talk about the work I did this year.”

She re­mem­bers dis­tinctly what Siri­ano told her the first time she vis­ited his stu­dio: Let’s play. “There’s just no ego,” she says. “It’s re­ally not about him. It’s about the dress and the woman.

“We’re Chris­tian’s girls,” she says. “We find each other on the red car­pet and say, ‘Oh my god, are you wear­ing Chris­tian? It looks amaz­ing.’ We feel likewe’ rea­part of some­thing, and we all sup­port each other.”

An­other reg­u­lar is Whoopi Gold­berg, whose ad­ven­tur­ous fash­ion spirit is a per­fect match for some of Siri­ano’s zanier cre­ations, like a fuch­sia pantsuit she wore to the CFDA Fash­ion Awards in June with a match­ing wide-brimmed hat. De­scrib­ing his 10th-an­niver­sary run­way show in a re­view for In­ter­view, she wrote that there was some­thing there for ev­ery woman in the room, in­clud­ing “the girl with the butt and the breasts.”

“This is what fash­ion should be,” she wrote. “It should be in­clu­sive and make ev­ery­body feel like they could look like a mil­lion bucks.”

Once Jones con­nected with Siri­ano on Twit­ter, she says she imag­ined that in per­son he would be a diva from the Zoolan­der school of out­landish be­hav­ior. “I thought I was go­ing to come in and as­sis­tants were go­ing to be fly­ing around like birds, but he was just nor­mal,” she says. “He ac­tu­ally gets it.

I love this dress. I feel like I’ve got to get a deal with Mat­tel now and be some kind of Bar­bie doll.” —SIA, on her dress pic­tured op­po­site

That’s what I call a real de­signer, some­one who de­signs for ev­ery­one, you know, skinny, fat, tall, short, which I would think all de­sign­ers would do any­way. Don’t you want to make a lot of money? That’s why I like him, be­cause he’s smart.”

“He can do any­thing for any­one,” says Kate Mara, “and make any­one feel beau­ti­ful.”

“Chris­tian has more de­sign ideas than he has pa­per in his house to fill,” says De­bra Mess­ing. “I know that any­thing I wear of his will fit per­fectly, and that goes a long way to mak­ing women feel beau­ti­ful.”

“He’s pre­sented as the friendly, funny, adorable guy peo­ple re­mem­ber from TV,” says Selma Blair, who be­came close with the de­signer af­ter ex­chang­ing pleas­antries on so­cial me­dia. “But, no—he’s a pow­er­house. When he is put- ting on a show or even tak­ing an In­sta­gram photo, he is so aware of his sur­round­ings that noth­ing that is hap­pen­ing is by hap­pen­stance. He’s in charge.”

Grow­ing up—siri­ano was born in An­napo­lis, Md., and went to high school in Bal­ti­more—he was sur­rounded by women. He of­ten notes how his mother, a read­ing teacher who is curvy and has a taste for bright clothes and bold red and pink dé­cor, and his sis­ter, who danced bal­let and was al­ways fo­cused on her body, shaped his vi­sion. He thinks of them when he de­signs, whichis pretty much all thetime. He sketches hun­dreds of dresses ev­ery cou­ple of days and still does ev­ery­thing the old-fash­ioned way with pen­cil and pa­per, pin­ning fabrics on a dress form. He thinks of his role as that of a “trans­former,” ask­ing him­self, “If she puts this on, what is she go­ing to feel in this shape?”

Part of what makes Siri­ano so spe­cial is his nat­u­ral em­pa­thy, which he at­tributes to his own ex­pe­ri­ences of fac­ing re­jec­tion. Much like step­ping out onto a red car­pet, show­ing clothes on a run­way is an open in­vi­ta­tion for judg­ment.

“I try to keep my orig­i­nal love of an ethe­real, magic, sug­arplum-fairy dream world, be­cause that’s what I re­mem­ber as a kid,” he says. “I want to play make-be­lieve, but there is al­ways the bal­ance of ‘ How do I make fan­tasy clothes that work in real life?’ I think it turns out to be a good thing, mak­ing sure that peo­ple feel good about what they’re wear­ing, so even if other peo­ple aren’t into it, I know that the per­son wear­ing the dress is.”

In real life dreams don’t al­ways come true. Re­la­tion­ships don’t al­ways last. ( This sum­mer, Siri­ano and his hus­band, artist and mu­si­cian Brad Walsh, split af­ter two years of mar­riage.) Dresses don’t al­ways fit. Crit­ics don’t al­ways love them. But some­times they do. Peo­ple like Siri­ano should keep on dream­ing, shouldn’t they?

“Right now I’m go­ing to dream about hang­ing on,” he says. “We’re com­pet­ing with mas­sive com­pa­nies, and it’s not just hard; it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble. But I feel a lit­tle more ac­com­plished to­day, and i can say, if itall ended to­mor­row, I would still be proud.” n

From left: Ali­cia Sil­ver­stone, De­bra Mess­ing, Kate Mara, Laverne Cox, Christina Hen­dricks, and Les­lie Jones, all in Chris­tian Siri­ano . All jew­elry, worn through­out, their own. Sil­ver­stone: Hair: John D for For­ward Artists. Makeup: Rachel Good­win for Streeters. Mess­ing: Hair: Mar­cus Fran­cis for Star­works Artists. Makeup: Elaine Of­fers for Ex­clu­sive Artists. Mara: Hair: Mara Roszak for Star­works Artists. Makeup: Coleen Camp­bel­lOl­well for Ex­clu­sive Artists.

On Selma Blair: Chris­tian Siri­ano bustier and skirt. Neil J. Rodgers san­dals. Hair: Mar­cus Fran­cis for Star­works Artists. Makeup: Rachel Good­win for Streeters.On Jones: Chris­tian Siri­ano coat and belt. Hair: Den­nis Bai­ley. Makeup: Lola Okan­la­won. Man­i­cures: Mazz Hanna and Hang Nguyen for Nail­ing Hol­ly­wood. Set de­sign: Gille Mills for The Mag­net Agency. Pro­duc­tion: Kelsey Stevens Pro­duc­tions.

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