Christian Siriano dresses a lot of women — rarely does a red carpet happen without one of his pieces being seen on an A-list actress. But this week, the designer hit a new high when he dressed the first lady, Michelle Obama, for her speech at the Democratic National Convention. “I’m sure the stylist who works with Michelle Obama was totally over me by the end of it because I was emailing her every day,” Siriano told students at a talk in New York City hosted by Berkeley College on Wednesday. “It was like I was back to square one when I was working with her.”
Siriano might have been a nag, but his persistence paid off, seeing as the royal blue number FLOTUS wore will certainly be remembered for years to come. And while dressing such an important figure’ is meaningful to Siriano, he noted that individuals don’t need star power to have a piece of his world. Instead, from the beginning of his career, he set out to give something to everyone.
It has been 10 years since Siriano graduated from reality TV and since then he’s produced 25 collections and additional collaborations with big-name brands including Victoria’s Secret, Lane Bryant, and Payless. While the latter’s shoes might not make it onto a client such as Heidi Klum, it’s not just about luxury or prestige for Siriano. “I couldn’t imagine saying no to a company like Payless,” Siriano said. “Why would you alienate a customer? Why would you not want that fan?” And, according to Siriano, the business strategy, one of total acceptance, has paid off in many ways.
This idea — designing for every size at every budget — has been the core of the business since day one. Following his winning turn on Season 4 of Project Runway, Siriano invested about $50,000 into starting his company. With two employees, the young entrepreneur was eager to get into the market. And while the team knocked on doors, it wasn’t until a very specific email that he had a breakthrough. “[Our sales intern] was emailing Saks every day for four months,” he said. “But the email when we finally got a response was when we weren’t just saying, ‘Come see the collection, you have to come by!’ We got a response when we said, ‘We will produce any size you want and you can put it in any store.’ I think that was interesting to her.”
While Siriano is no longer with Saks, the partnership did set a precedent for his future business endeavors. For example, his recent Lane Bryant collection allows Siriano to truly dress all sizes on a mass level. “Lane Bryant was something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. The project allows for a diversity in body shapes and body types, while his Payless collaboration, which was recently expanded to all 4,000 Payless stores, lends itself to a diversity of incomes.
But for Siriano, he sees the mass market as an investment opportunity. According to the designer, customers can begin as Payless shoppers during their school years, buying the collection at a lower price point. But once they graduate college and move into the corporate world, where their disposable income swells, that brand allegiance could turn into a situation in which that same Payless customer begins to buy significant portions of the Siriano main line. “That has happened!” he admitted giddily.
“I think everyone should be able to have a great piece of clothing if they want it,” he said. “We really wanted to have this idea [in our business] that everyone can find something.”