Christian Siriano -- whom basically everyone on the planet knows not only won season four of Project Runway back in March and was then pronounced by the show's host Tim Gunn the next big American designer after Marc Jacobs -- is definitely bucking the trend of P.R. winners fading off semi-gently into that good night.
He presented a full, well-reviewed Spring '09 collection at Fashion Week in New York last month. He's doing more events and endorsing more products than you can shake a fierce tranny stick at. For the Emmys, he designed one of Heidi Klum's dresses and co-designed the "trophy girls'" clothes with Hills star Lauren Conrad. In a move reminiscent of the famous fashion show in the original The Women, he's designing a whole collection for a runway show that will appear in the upcoming movie Eloise in Paris, starring Uma Thurman.
On the eve of P.R.'s season five finale, Siriano talked to Out about working hard for the money, what actual transgendered people think about his GLAAD-chided "hot tranny mess" catchphrase and how Sarah Palin should tweak her look between now and the election.
Out: So you travel a lot these days. Are you in New York right now?
Christian Siriano: Yeah, I'm in Williamsburg. I moved here recently from the Lower East Side because I needed a loft space. It's right off the Bedford Avenue L stop.
Where do you hang out? That's hipster central.
I don't hang out. We go out to eat a lot but I don't go out anywhere. My life is either red carpets or work. So sad.
You're still dating photographer/music remixer Brad Walsh, right? Do you guys live together?
No, but almost. We spend pretty much every day together. He's an editor at a book publisher during the day, but when I go to these different benefits and things, he usually comes. It's good.
So you can believe that at this time last year nobody knew who you were?
It's pretty crazy. It's fabulous when I go to events and celebrities come running up to me and know who I am. You can't buy that.
Is there anything you miss about pre-fame?
A year ago, I was struggling but I really didn't know any better and I wasn't necessarily stressed about what event I needed to go to and what I'm supposed to say and if I'm showing at Fashion Week.
So there was about a three-week lag between when you know you won the show last year and when it aired. What was that like?
What was more horrible was knowing for five months I was a finalist in the top three. I had to get a job and move to L.A. I was interning at Marc Jacobs for a week.
So everybody who wins or does well on the show complains about how they're still broke after, but you must be doing okay by now, right?
Yeah, I mean it's good. Luckily the personality really helped and I make money off doing a lot of these events and appearances and endorsements, like this project with LG [Lotus, designing a women's cell phone]. They were my sponsor for Fashion Week.
Did you buy the new place in Williamsburg?
I didn't buy it but the rent is not cheap. Definitely my bank account is very different now. Trust me, I'm doing pretty well, and I have employees now that I have to pay.
The stuff you showed at Fashion Week in September for Spring '09 is really cool. What kind of a zone do you go into when you design?
I'm really decisive, so when I'm sketching, I want it this way. And when I'm talking to my sample makers, I'm like, "Okay, it has to be like this." If I were indecisive, I would have a really hard time putting out a collection, because I have no time.
Do you sketch quickly?
I'll sketch out the whole collection in a day, then I go back and add this and change that. Some of my best selling pieces of this collection, I sketched the week before [they showed].
So you won a Saturn car when you won the show but because you live in New York, you declined it and took the money value. Still I saw this Saturn ad, and it was kind of sad how they packaged up your personality to sell a car. Do you regret putting the whole "fierce" catchphrase hing?
At the time [of the shooting of the show], it was really great and funny and exciting and I loved the people. When Amy Poehler did [her impression of me] on SNL it was hilarious. Now -- I don't think it bothers me. I'm always the same. I still say "fierce" all day long when I'm talking about my clothes.
You've had no personal backlash against it?
No, I'm okay. I wouldn't say that I walk around all day long saying catchphrases, because I don't. That was just edited into two-minute [snips]. I'm sure that everyone for the rest of my life will say "fierce" [to me].
Then GLAAD called you out for your constant use of the word "tranny" and for equating "drag queens and trannies" with "white-trash women and trailer parks" in an interview. And you issued a clarification/apology. Did they pressure you to do that?
It wasn't really that they pressured me. My words were kind of completely disjointed and whatever [in that interview]. It was ridiculous because I couldn't be gayer -- I'm probably the most gay person on TV.
So you think it was ridiculous that GLAAD called you out?
I understand why, because of how [the interview] was worded. But I've been to a lot of gay bars, and let me tell you, the first people that run up to me are the diva drag queens and trannies and they want a picture. They don't care, they love it. If they took themselves so seriously, they wouldn't be able to do what they do. Trust me, I talk to Candis Cayne all the time and she never once said it was rude. People are just so judge-y.
Should they lighten up?
Yeah, I -- no, I wanted to make sure that everybody knew I didn't mean it to be that way at all. I'm glad I said something with GLAAD. Then I did a big benefit with Human Rights Campaign and I've done a bunch of promotional things, so hopefully people realize I'm not a transsexual hater.
You're not even 23 yet. I read this interview where you said, of all the work and commitments, "It's killing me." Really?
It's a lot of work. It's tough. I don't know, sometimes I really want to do absolutely nothing. But when I do, I feel like I shouldn't waste my chance to be a success. I'm fortunate enough to get a lot done during the day, so in the evening I relax after seven or eight o'clock. Or if I have an event to go to I'll try to get home by ten or eleven. Then I do nothing. I watch movies. But my relaxing time is also just answering e-mails all night long. The traveling is what is killing me. I have to do all these other things to make money to fund my company.
Are you in talks to find one major backer?
I don't want to sell my name and have a big somebody taking over just yet, so we're waiting a little bit for the right thing to come through.
What do you think of this season of the show?
I've kept up with it as much as I can. Our season was definitely a tough act to follow. I don't think [season five] is really up to par, but for what it was, it was great. Leanne is definitely the most talented and hopefully she'll win.
Are you watching the last presidential debate tonight?
It's so annoying, there's a breast-cancer award benefit I have to go to. I'll watch it online.
Are you following the presidential race?
I haven't because it basically started when my whole whirlwind started. My boyfriend and my friends keep up with it.
Who are you voting for?
I missed [registering in] New York so I have to do an absentee ballot for Maryland [where he's from]. It's so embarrassing, I don't know who I'm voting for yet. But I can't vote for McCain because that's an abomination, so I guess Obama it is.
Give me a fashion read on Sarah Palin, who's gotten famous even faster than you did.
She's crazy and out of control but she's kind of cute, she has a look. It kind of reminds me of -- oh God, I don't even know what that look is. It's not horrible. She's got a little bit of style. Hillary...what was she about? But I don't like to get political -- it's too scary.
But how would you tweak Sarah Palin's look?
The shoes sometimes kill me. They're not cute. And I think the hair is a little large for this year and this situation. How long do you think she spends on it every day? There's some serious spray, and of course she's got to put some hot rollers in there. Maybe she needs a cute little bob or something.
Speaking of hair, you've said that underneath your daily hair-straightening, you have super-curly Italian hair. Why don't you go natural? I think you'd look cute.
Trust me, it's not cute. I've tried. It's not good. It's not pretty curls. It's ugly, wavy, frizzy and gross. I need to go do my hair right now.
Project Runway: The Complete Fourth Season will be available on DVD on November 4.