With his win on the fourth season of Project Runway, designer Christian Siriano firmly lodged himself in the middle of the pop-culture landscape. Since his victory, he's become the show's most successful alumnus, showing collections for New York Fashion Week since 2008. We caught up with the 2008 Out 100 inductee to chat about catchphrases, his Craigslist conundrum, and tough criticism.
Out: Are you watching this season of Project Runway?
Christian Siriano: That's so funny. I watched the episode that I was on. Other than that, I haven't caught much of the show because it's always Thursday night -- the worst night I work.
Are there plans for more specials like this spring's Having a Moment on Bravo or perhaps a series?
No, no. When we did the special, it was like I was trying out what it would be like. With the special, I felt like we did so much with the one episode, for me, it didn't really make sense to go on and do a full series. And it was very invasive. It was hard. With my fashion business growing, it just didn't really work, unfortunately.
So you're done with reality TV then?
I think there will always be little things that come up here and there. I do cameos every now and then. I'm sure in the next couple years there will be something that will come up again. I have to say, I've been asked to do some of the craziest things, the craziest shows, the worst shows ever. None of them were the right fit.
On the special you replaced 'hot tranny mess' with 'having a moment' as your catchphrase. Did you stop saying 'hot tranny mess' because of the backlash from groups like GLAAD?
No, really for me. Obviously, I respect what everyone was saying, but no, it was because you grow and you mature. I was on Project Runway almost three years ago, so you kind of do a lot within that time. You grow and mature as years pass. I just kind of stopped saying what I used to say. It wasn't like I said those things all the time -- that was an edited TV show. That's kind of how it works.
Do fans still come up to you and say it?
Yes and no. It's funny. Some people remember and they'll say the craziest -- anything that I've ever said on the show. And then other fans want to talk about me on Oprah or they want to talk about other things. It just depends. Everybody always has their little thing that I remind them of that they will say to me.
How was doing Oprah?
Oh, it was amazing -- the most amazing experience. Oprah took the most press, and it was the most work. It's a lot that goes into it -- people don't realize. It was like four days of prepping for this 10-minute segment, which is kind of crazy.
What's your catchphrase now?
I don't really have one. I guess whatever I'm saying. There's nothing too specific. 'Having a moment' is still around and it makes a cameo every now and then, as do all the others when I'm in the studio making something.
What was that Craigslist scam thing about? Did you work it out?
We did work it out. It was horrible. So crazy -- someone using my name to attract models. It's hard when you're a public figure in some way, people can definitely take advantage. So yeah, that was bad. But we definitely worked it out. They found the person and everything got taken care of, which is great.
In the November issue of Harper's Bazaar Christina Hendricks says she stands behind the Golden Globes dress that fashion people hated and you designed.
What's so great about Christina is that she is such a chic and sophisticated woman -- just herself. That dress was like 'a moment' dress for her. Christina was still new to the game. It was only like her fifth carpet ever, so it was a big 'wow.' So for me, it was an amazing moment. And I think she looked amazing. She felt amazing. At the end of the day, the most important part is if the client is happy. And obviously she was because I dressed her for the Creative Arts Emmys just a few months ago. That's how you have to take it because fashion is so subjective. There are so many people that will love it and so many people will hate it. That's just how it works. Nobody ever loves everything -- we just don't. In society, we all have snotty opinions.
Speaking about the dress, New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn said, 'You don't put a big girl in a big dress. That's rule number one.' Is that fair?
I think that comment was just something that came out of her thinking very quickly and trying to get a comment out very quickly. What's hard for me is that I think full-figured women in dresses that have more of 'a moment' -- that are more sculptural and that have a 'wow' factor -- that's what makes it even more special. Because these women are really dressing themselves. They're not afraid to show off their curves and their bodies. I've obviously dressed Christina and Whoopi Goldberg and Kimberley Locke -- none of them are these tiny, thin women. But I've also dressed the Pussycat Dolls. It's kind of hard to listen to criticism like that because I think she's an average size 10. I don't know if it's good to bash that shape [laughs].
Is criticism harder to hear now or back on the Project Runway stage?
No. Now that it's like a real business, you have to make sure the collections are up to par and it's hard. You put so much work into something and spend so much money and time. I always say now that Project Runway was like a dream. It was such a breeze compared to the real business and reality of it.
Are you working on any pieces for celebrities right now?
Gosh, we're always doing something. I mean, we just made some things for Sia for her performance in Australia. We're working on some stuff for Estelle. Everyday there's something that comes up. And we also send out from the collection all the time. I dressed Selita Ebanks the other night. We sent things to Kerry Washington. So it's just every day. It comes and goes.
Do you keep in contact with celebrities after you dress them?
Yeah, Christina and I definitely keep a voice together. We'll text each other every now and then. I just sent her a little message saying she looked amazing on Harper's and things like that. You have to, because if it's not personal, it's hard to build a relationship in any way. Definitely Christina's one, and Mena Suvari, Veronica Webb, Maggie Grace -- all those girls -- I try to keep in touch with them as best I can. Otherwise it's just clothes.
The Wall Street Journal called your collection closing paprika-colored dress 'Elmo-like.' What was your inspiration behind that -- was it Elmo?
No, I mean, obviously [laughs]. Actually, a lot of the inspiration came from China. We took these old Chinese lanterns that were made of paper, and that's how it was inspired.These shapes from the lantern were kind of sculptural and weird. They almost looked like coral in a way. They were all made from paper, and we wanted to give that kind of light, airy feeling, but very sculptural. The Wall Street Journal's review was very good and then they said that. So you're kind of like, "What does that mean? Is it being funny?" You kind of don't know. And then, on the other hand, after the show that dress was pulled by some really amazing people. So you have to take one thing and move on from it.
Why do you continue to partner with Payless for lines when you're already so successful on your own?
Payless is a big part of my success in a way. It was really funding so much of the business, first off. It's also such a great way for my fan base -- a lot of my fans are younger and they can't afford my clothing -- so it's a way that they can get a piece of the brand. So that's kind of why I do it. And they're so amazing to work with. We basically create anything I want, which is kind of amazing.
Tim Gunn once called you the next generation's Marc Jacobs. Do you feel pressure to live up to that?
[Laughs] Sometimes. I feel pressure coming from a show and starting my career in a different way than other designers. It's hard to make it in a business like this and an industry that's very closed. So when Tim says things like that, it's hard. But it's also amazing and such a great compliment. The best of both worlds.
Do you ever feel like people write you off because you got your start in reality TV?
Yes and no. I think what people don't realize is that I went to design school in London. I worked at [Alexander] McQueen, I worked at [Vivienne] Westwood. It wasn't a reality show to me, it was a design competition -- which is hard because people get stuck in this world because so many reality shows are trash. I think that's the sad part, but that's why I keep going and doing collections and building the business. You have to prove them wrong.