With designs appearing on the world’s biggest stars and most prestigious red carpets, Christian Siriano counts entertainment’s leading ladies as clients. Following the launch of his eponymous collection in 2008, the opening of his flagship store in 2012 in New York City and his induction into the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2013, Siriano more recently began designing eyewear, including as Transitions Optical ambassador and with the launch of the Christian Siriano x Transitions Collection. VCPN’s John Sailer met with Siriano to discuss eyewear design, fashion, where it is and where it’s headed.
1. During your first experience designing eyewear, what were the highs and lows, the unexpected pitfalls and unpredictable accomplishments? I was more focused on making sure that the eyewear went with the clothes and the collections. Now, I design it based on what I think people would want to wear as opposed to making it make sense to the clothes. It’s grown into a bigger thing. I have eyewear at such different types of retailers now, which is fun to see. I still want it to make sense, but I also like it to have more range. I like that we can have something for a lot of different types of customers, a lot of different price points and a lot of different types of distribution.
2. Do you think in terms of who the end wearer is when you come up with a particular design? I definitely think about that a little bit more. What is this person? What’s their life? What do they do? I’ll make up a story: She works here and does this. I make up little dream scenarios.
3. How does designing eyewear differ from designing clothing and other accessories? It is different. When I’m doing clothes or designing a handbag, I start with a specific theme. When I dive into an eyewear idea, it’s not necessarily a theme. I start more with fabrications and colors. I’ve also learned how many options there are in eyewear, thousands upon thousands. You can choose a tortoise frame, but there are like 100,000 versions of that tortoise. I’ve also learned that the smallest detail can make the biggest difference. The logo, is it gold or silver? Is the screw in a certain spot? With clothes, you can hide some of those things. With a frame, you think about that more. For something that’s so simple, there really are so many options, which is why it’s an interesting industry. A lot goes into it.
4. Have you embraced eyewear as one of the accessories you design? Yeah. I’ve had to wear glasses my whole life, so I’ve always been interested in it. I’ve always thought of it as a way to express myself, and I think people do now more than ever. As a kid, there just weren’t cool things in eyewear. Now, even if you don’t need glasses you wear them.
5. What trends are you observing right now in fashion overall and eyewear specifically? This always comes and goes, but definitely the embrace of color and texture and print I think is more than ever. People are definitely going bold in their clothes and eyewear. We have all these amazing, cool colors to play with and mix and match.
6. Have you incorporated texture into your eyewear? A little bit, yeah. I did some really cool frames in my last fall collection. They were all velvet, kind of like wearing a really beautiful frock. I like the idea of having some texture to them.
7. Where are you distributing your eyewear? We have a lot of different retailers. A lot of them are mass. We have products at Walmart and Sam’s, National Vision is a huge carrier, and then obviously in great independent stores everywhere. We have a pretty great business online too.
8. What was your first impression of eyewear overall as a business and as a fashion? It’s such an interesting industry. The technology behind it has been really cool to see. Now that I’m working with Transitions I’ve learned so much that I didn’t know. It’s a lot broader than I thought. There are so many options and so many things you can do. As a designer, I’m always onto the next thing, and what’s nice is the whole eyewear industry is also always onto the next thing. They’re always looking for how they can improve people’s lifestyles.
9. You mentioned Transitions, you’re currently a Transitions Optical ambassador. What does that entail and what kind of impact is that having on your career and on your design? I’ve loved it. I didn’t know that I needed the option of the Transitions lens. My lifestyle is I work all day or I’m running around to fittings all day. I live in New York City, so for me it’s been very helpful that I wear one pair of frames and can live my life in them. I don’t have to switch to sunglasses. It’s a whole new world for me. I travel a lot, so I’ve noticed that they’ve made my life a little bit easier.
I hope that people also feel inspired by what I’m doing. We’re trying to make something feel more fashionable and cool. I want people to feel great when they put on a frame. I want them to feel like they look good and feel confident.
10. There are a number of new Transitions colors available. Have you incorporated them into your design? Yeah, when we were designing my Resort Collection. They have all these friendly, really beautiful pinks and this really beautiful purple, and I’m wearing the emerald green. It’s been nice to have something different to play with. It’s not just like the same old thing anymore.
11. When did you first know you wanted to be a fashion designer? I was pretty young, eight or nine years old. My sister was a ballet dancer, so I was always really inspired by backstage, the costumes and hair and makeup. I liked this idea of transformation. People would be wearing something and then turn into something else. That was always inspiring to me. Then I just fell in love with the idea of making clothes and making people feel great in them. That was a really interesting concept that I could make a form of art and people then could go live their life in them.
12. Wedding gowns were first? I started in bridal I think because it was very fantasy. I loved this idea that it was the one day you could wear the most over-the-top thing. You can go all out.
13. You studied abroad at the American InterContinental University in London. What influence has that had on your career and your design? A lot. Living in London was a big step. People approach the creative process in a different way, a little bit more risk-taking. That culture was open to more things. When I was in school, I felt like I could be me. I could be as creative as I wanted. There were no boundaries, and there were a lot of different cultures. Being in Europe, there were people from all over the world. That was very inspiring to see people from all different countries and cultures. Going to school in London you’re really thrown in the world of people. I definitely would be living and designing in any one of these cities, London, New York or Paris. My team’s in Paris right now for Fashion Week.
14. Now you’re based in New York, which is the world of people too. What brought you to Manhattan? It is the world of people too. New York is where you go if you want to follow your dreams. As a designer, the fashion industry is obviously there. Every major publication is there. Every major brand is basically functioning out of New York. The garment district is there. Yeah, that’s why I moved there.
15. What about other influences; you interned with Alexander McQueen. What kind of impact did that have on your career and fashion design? McQueen is a very eccentric designer inspired by anything. I learned that there are no rules, which is very important in fashion, especially when you’re creating something. You can make whatever you want as long as you figure out who your customer is.
16. Do you have any predictions for where fashion is headed? Who knows? Technology is going to have a huge play in our world for sure. I don’t know what that will turn into clothing-wise, but I think definitely it’s a big part of people’s lives. You’re not only wearing it because it looks good, but you’re also wearing it because maybe it feels better. Cooling, heating, all those different things will affect the whole industry as it continues, for sure.
17. Broadly, what keeps you up at night? Ideas keep me up every night. I always have ideas in the middle of the night. It’s so annoying but good because I definitely do not run out of ideas. I sketch a lot at night.
18. Then what gets you up in the morning? The idea of creating something. I do get very excited to go to the office and make something because when you have a lot of ideas, you have to get them out or it makes you kind of crazy.
19. What would you be doing if you weren’t a fashion designer? I’d probably be an interior designer. I like creating. I like fabrications. I also worked in the beauty industry. I was a makeup artist for a while. I liked that, so something still creative.
20. What’s next for Christian Siriano? Who knows? So many things. We are just growing and building. I think what’s next is just making sure that our customers always have something new and exciting to buy or to be a part of.