Christian Siriano Is the Hottest New Museum Acquisition


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Christian Siriano cannot move.

The Maryland native has been swarmed by fashion students at the Savannah College of Art and Design, all scrambling for TikToks, or advice, or internships, or—the ultimate ‘get’—a compliment on their (truly excellent) outfits, which range from Dolly Parton-esque gemstone denim to full-out prom tulle. Two kids in Clueless-inspired plaid skirts knock into a chic blonde woman while trying to get close to their idol; only then do they realize the blonde is none other than Alicia Silverstone. She’s here to see Christian like everyone else, albeit as a friend instead of a fan. It’s his first-ever museum show, after all, and that is, as Silverstone puts it, “a huge deal, and so deserved.”

It’s also a bit of a trip, at least for Siriano himself. “I cringe when I hear the word ‘museum retrospective,’” he says. “I’m only 35! I get that to these kids, it sounds ancient—remember when we were students? Thirty was this impossible number. Now, it’s just, like, life!” he laughs. “So I’m not going by ‘retrospective.’ I’m just calling it, ‘The First Decade.’”

scad savannah – fall 2021 – exhibitions – christian siriano – "people are people" – teaser documentation – photography courtesy of scad

Aman ShakyaGetty Images

Call it what you want, but the exhibit is a big one. Formally titled “People Are People,” it’s officially open at the SCAD Museum of Art. Among the pieces on display are Lizzo’s glimmering Grammy gown, Lili Reinhart’s recent Met Gala look, and a lime green tulle dress worn by Céline Dion in concert, complete with a matching microphone pocket in the back. The whole show is arranged by color, a Skittles moment made with couture; it opens with Billy Porter’s black velvet Oscar gown from 2019, which will next appear in London’s V&A museum.

“We start the show with that look because it was something that turned into a cultural shift,” Siriano says. “No man had ever worn a gown to [The Oscars] red carpet like that. It’s crazy to think about now, because it doesn’t seem that radical. But that dress is why! It was the same thing when I started showing pieces for every body size on the runway,” he continues. “Now it seems obvious, but only a few years ago, I was the only designer to do it. I’m following in the footsteps of Carolina [Herrera] and Oscar [de la Renta] and Dior, here, but they haven’t done that. And even though I’m a young designer and this is a young brand, it was very important to me to show the next generation, ‘You can do this. You must do this. You must include every shape—every person who wants to look beautiful!’ That’s why it’s called ‘People Are People’—it’s a mantra.”

hollywood, ca   february 24 billy porter attends the 91st annual academy awards at hollywood and highland on february 24, 2019 in hollywood, california photo by dan macmedangetty images

Dan MacMedanGetty Images

To be fair, Siriano’s clothes are inherently luxurious; they are rarified luxury goods with price tags to match. On the runway, his shows expertly toe the line between an “all-in-this-together” ethos and a super elite front row with style icons like Cardi B, Katie Holmes, and Lil’ Kim. Models may come in all shapes and sizes, but they all dazzle in the same pricey designs from Siriano and his latest jewelry partner, Luminous Diamonds.

But although Siriano’s creations are (justifiably) costly, his advice is often free, whether it’s to the SCAD students eagerly awaiting to speak to him, or to viewers of Project Runway, where Siriano serves as a mentor to the contestants—even (and sometimes especially) when they think they’re above any feedback. This makes him an indisputable man of the people.

“I understand wanting to be true to your own creative voice,” Siriano says, “but because fashion is also a business, new designers—these kids at SCAD, the contestants on the show—they need practical advice! So many [Project Runway] designers say they want to dress celebrities. And look, when I leave the set, I go to my office and I’m reading emails from Lizzo’s team about a dress she needs. I’m texting Ariana Grande’s stylist. So when I tell you, whether it’s on TV or just in a class, that Ariana Grande isn’t going to wear something, it’s not a guess! It’s experience. I think they forget that sometimes.”

new york, new york   september 13 lili reinhart heads to the 2021 met gala with audi, the official electric vehicle sponsor, on september 13, 2021 in new york city photo by eugene gologurskygetty images for audi

Eugene GologurskyGetty Images

When asked whether it’s hard to give young designers criticism, knowing it wasn’t so long ago that Siriano himself was just beginning his brand, he responds with a laugh. “I still get it every day! On the internet, criticism never ends. I get tagged in critiques literally every day. And I’m successful! So learn how to handle it with grace. Because criticism never stops.”

los angeles   january 26 lizzo performs at the 62nd annual grammy® awards, broadcast live from the staples center in los angeles, sunday, january 26, 2020 800 1130 pm, live et500 830 pm, live pt on the cbs television network photo by monty brintoncbs via getty images

CBS Photo ArchiveGetty Images

Neither does Siriano. “I’m approaching my newest designs more like a painter would,” he says. “It’s not for everyone else anymore. I can’t be everything for everybody, and I’ve finally figured that out. That’s the biggest mistake that young fashion brands make in their early years—trying to be everything. Now, I really only want to make something if there’s a love for it, and if there’s a place for it in my life, and in the lives of the people who wear my clothes… I think the advice everyone needs, even me sometimes, is that you can’t be everything,” he says. “Because if you’re everything, if you’re everyone, then you’re not going to be someone.”

Especially not someone with their own museum exhibit, and decades of dresses to come.

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