AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Christian Siriano has been designing clothes since he was a teenager. He's 31 now, and he's built his company making clothes for women of all shapes and sizes. And right now he's having more than a moment.
Christian Siriano is shaking up the world of high fashion. Michelle Obama wore one of his dresses to the Democratic National Convention. He dressed nine stars for the Emmys spanning races, ages and body shapes, from Kathy Bates to Angela Bassett.
CHRISTIAN SIRIANO: It just was really exciting. I was, like, this is what I mean. This is what I'm talking about. It's going to be so great that on one red carpet night you're going to see one designer brand that can, like, really highlight all these women. It's so much more fun.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Christian Siriano's show for New York Fashion Week featured five plus-size models, and off the red carpet, he has a clothing line with Lane Bryant, the national chain for plus-size women. Christian Siriano told me that his inclusive approach to fashion goes back to the women in his family.
SIRIANO: You know, I had my mom, who was, you know, super fashionable and - but my mom was a size 16 growing up. And my sister was really into clothes but a size zero. So I had this really interesting world always around me. And then, yeah, like, my first adventure into the business, you know, we just had every size customer coming, asking for things. So it just felt very normal from, like, day one in the company.
SHAPIRO: Well, I wonder how much of it is commercial, you know?
SHAPIRO: This is a large population of women who buy clothes. If you want to make money selling clothes, sell to those women.
SIRIANO: Yeah, literally that's just what I thought, especially for, like, a young designer who's, you know, competing with massive brands. You have to kind of find what works for you, you know? And what works for me is celebrating everybody and having something for that every customer.
SHAPIRO: OK, so I want to talk about your approach to some of these clothes because...
SHAPIRO: I happen to wear very large shoes, and I've learned the hard way that you can find a shoe that looks really great in a size 7, but by the time you get to a size 13, it looks like a clown shoe.
SHAPIRO: How are you designing different clothes for different kinds of bodies that are not just a larger version of the clothes you would design for a small person?
SIRIANO: Yeah, I think it's super important to figure out. You know, we have dresses that I actually think look better if you have more of a bust or more of a hip. And then there are some pieces that, you know, maybe are supposed to be if you have broad shoulders or whatever it is. That's why in a collection, it should be as diverse as you can be. I think there should be options for a lot of different types of bodies and women.
SHAPIRO: Correct me if I'm wrong. You're 5-4. Is that right?
SHAPIRO: Does any of the desire to make women who may not fit the runway standard feel beautiful connect to experiences that you had as a kid being smaller, you know, not being a jock, an athlete?
SIRIANO: Even though I was none of those things, I was, like, very confident as a child.
SIRIANO: I'm sure everyone was like, what is this, like, little fairy running around doing? But I had a lot of friends that were different types of girls. I had, you know, cheerleader-type girls, and then I had, you know, the weird kids. And I had a lot of different friends growing up.
And then my sister was a ballet dancer, so I was, you know, backstage with my mom. And we were in, like, costumes and hair and makeup. And a performance was like a fashion show. It was, like, they were getting ready. It was, like, you know, changing. It was, you know, dress rehearsal. I just loved that world, and I didn't really know why I loved that world. But I knew I loved that fantasy idea.
SHAPIRO: Most people first heard your name in association with "Project Runway," which you won at age 21. And I think I would be mortified for the world to have judged me based on what I did when I was 21 years old...
SIRIANO: (Laughter) Exactly.
SHAPIRO: And for that to have been sort of, like, my national coming out party.
SIRIANO: Yeah, exactly. Trust me. And I auditioned when I was 20 - so even more so. I always think that's such a funny thing because I mean, like, I'm turning 31 this year, so obviously people are different when they're in college as opposed to when they're having a real life, running a multimillion dollar company. Obviously you're different.
SHAPIRO: But you're a mentor for "Project Runway Junior."
SHAPIRO: Tim Gunn has spoken very highly of you. I know you're still in contact with Michael Kors. It sounds like that it's not something that you've left behind completely.
SIRIANO: There's parts of it that are always going to be around. You know, and I chose to, you know, mentor that younger generation to change a little bit of the what happens afterward.
SHAPIRO: What do you mean by the after?
SIRIANO: Well, I mean afterward, you're literally thrown into a marketplace with millions of fans that, like, want to buy product, and they don't know how to buy product. And they want - you, like, have a brand instantly without having a brand, which is a really - which...
SHAPIRO: Without having the infrastructure behind the (inaudible).
SIRIANO: You have nothing. Like, you literally - I mean for me, I just was really good at pretending like I knew what I was doing. But you know, I had no idea. I never - my first retailer was Saks Fifth Avenue. I didn't even know how to ship a box to a retailer. Like, how do you pack it? How do you send it to make sure it gets on the floor? Like, you figure it out as you go along.
SHAPIRO: So we're talking to you because in some way you represent a break from what the fashion industry typically does. You take a much more sort of open-minded approach to who can look beautiful wearing fashion.
SHAPIRO: Do you think that the rest of the fashion world will follow where you are leading?
SIRIANO: Yeah. I mean I think so. I think definitely it's changing already. I think people are, you know, really - I mean I hope because I'm kind of throwing it in your face (laughter). And you know, that's a big part of why I decided to work with Lane Bryant because I think what they're doing also is kind of like throwing it in your face and saying, like, you know, we should really celebrate all these different types of women. I think it's just so important.
I also just think there's so much hate. There's so much craziness going on in this world that clothes and fashion should be, like, fun and fabulous. Like, it shouldn't be a stressful, horrible, intense thing. And that's I think, like, my new look on it - that that's what it should be about.
SHAPIRO: Well, Christian Siriano, congratulations on all of your incredible success. And it's...
SIRIANO: Thank you so much.
SHAPIRO: ...Really great to talk to you.
SIRIANO: Thank you. Thank you - hope you have a great day.
SHAPIRO: You, too.
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