How Christian Siriano created so many Dresses to Dream About

From Project Runway to fashion star, Christian Siriano has had quite a decade as a designer. Siriano, who will celebrate his tenth anniversary in the fashion business with a spectacular runway show in February at New York Fashion Week, has recently concentrated his efforts on a new book, Dresses to Dream About, that details his design and construction process, along with some spectacular gowns and dresses from the past decade.

In Houston recently for an appearance at Elizabeth Anthony, where admiring fans quickly gobbled up every book available for him to sign, the 32-year-old designer talked about the book, some of his favorite creations, his close friendship with Saturday Night Live star Leslie Jones, and his surprising new project.

CultureMap: How did the book come about and why now?

Christian Siriano: It’s celebrating my 10 years of production.

CM: I went to your first show.

CS: Crazy, right? So I wanted to do something that was celebrating my work and things I’ve done over the years. But also, I wanted to do something that was a little bit about escapism. Right now there’s a lot going on in the world, so I wanted people to have something beautiful that they could open up and transform into a dream and be in this fantasy world.

CM: What was the process?

CS: I didn’t really want it to be a celebrity book. There are celebrity dresses in it, but it wasn’t about that necessarily.  It’s more about the process, the work, and my favorites, even if some of the pieces no one even remembers or maybe some of them haven’t even been worn before. The point is, I wanted to show that all the work that goes into these pieces can still be beautiful, even if nobody wears them. That was the idea.

CM: How many pieces are featured in the book?

CS: There are 32 maybe. God, I can’t remember, I need to look.

CM: You also talk about the process of creating. Why was that important to you?

CS: I wanted to show people that literally, from my hand sketches to what it turns into, it really comes from nothing — a flat piece of paper — and turns into a 3-dimensional form.  I think it’s nice for people who don’t necessarily know much about fashion to see what goes into it.

CM: You are known for creating Leslie Jones’ red gown for the Ghostbusters premiere.  I was lucky enough to be at your show in September and see the energy that she had while watching it from the front row. What is it about the connection that you two have? 

CS: It’s very real. What’s real about Leslie is she is no fuss, no care in the world. Sometimes in the fashion industry, everyone can be so uptight. It’s nice to just have fun. Fashion should be fun clothes and getting dressed up. It should be the fun part of the day, not the hard part.  I think we share that.  I also think she was excited because she hadn’t been to a fashion show before.

She literally didn’t know what a fashion show was! So it was so endearing that she could just be herself. And it worked!  If other people did it, it wouldn’t have worked. But she is not a fashion girl. So for her, it is exciting.

And (supermodel) Coco (Rocha) had a big part of that, too. She is such an amazing model. She can literally transform a room, so that also helps, and Leslie was obsessed with her. 

CM: It had such a good energy, between Leslie being there and you featuring a large number of curvy models.

CS: I wanted to really show a lot of diversity on the runway this season. I think that is always important. Sometimes you have to put it in people’s face to get them to wake up about it.

CM: Do you think there’s a moment now for larger and more shapely models? You kind of started it.

CS: Yeah, it is. I’m so glad. I think people are changing and learning. Listen, some of the best customers are women of shape and size. Why wouldn’t you have clothes for them? It’s crazy.

CM: In the book, you included the dress you designed for Michelle Obama when she addressed the Democratic National Convention last year.  It’s a no-brainer that you would include her, but what was it about the dress, because it really wasn’t a gown.

CS: That’s why we wanted to call the book, Dresses. There are some short pieces in the book; they are the simplest but spoke volumes. Sometimes to show a beautiful piece can be simple and simplistic and still be powerful. I think that’s very important for people to understand.

CM: You also feature some dresses that maybe weren’t as well-known at first. Like the gown Taylor Swift wore that didn’t get a lot of attention until she wore it.

CS: People love that dress, clients love that dress, but editors pre-judged that dress. It was so funny, (they said) “it’s too big, it’s too whatever.” But when Taylor wore it, it was a different story. And we’ve sold so many of that dress and it’s expensive. It was a beautiful moment, it was her first fragrance campaign. It was an amazing thing to watch. So yeah, it’s nice.

CM: Because of the book’s deadline, you didn’t include some recent pieces, like the beautiful dress that Celine Dion wore to the Beauty and the Beast premiere.

CS: It was sad that it didn’t make the cut, but that’s okay, because my next book is going to be all about red carpet glamour.

CM: As fashion books go, it’s not exorbitantly priced.

CS: We priced it really well, so people could buy it. It’s $45. On Amazon, it’s $30.76, so people can get it as a great gift. We all agreed that we wanted it to be accessible, so that everybody could buy it. I wanted my mom’s friends to be able to buy it. I didn’t want people to say, “Oh, my god, it’s a $120 coffee table book.”

CM: You’re always doing something different. Your latest project is press-on nails. How did that come about?

CS: It came from fashion week. The problem with fashion week is that we’re backstage and the girls need their hair and makeup and everything done. But we were having issues when girls needed it to be done really quick. They would come in with black nails and it didn’t work with the collections. So I started working with this company, KISS Press on Nails, and they were amazing. They’re beautiful and you can pop them on and off. So it started with fashion week and turned into a bigger collaboration. They’re fun. For the holidays, people love them.

I have a big beauty collection coming out in January with e.l.f. Cosmetics, so that’s going to be really fun.  I’m excited about that.

CM: Looking back, coming up to your 10th anniversary, is this where you expected to be?

CS: I guess so, (laughs). Listen, the book, I’m really proud of it. I never really thought I would have some type of retrospective type anything. And from such an amazing publisher like Rizzoli, who publishes Dior and Oscar and everyone. So that feels nice.

It feels good. It makes all the hard days good. It’s nice to see the work in its beautifulness.

Have a question for Clifford Pugh? E-mail him here

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