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Q&A: 'Project Runway's' Christian Siriano talks Starbucks, Payless, more parts of his fashion empire

November 12, 2009 |  1:09 pm

Christian-siriano What's pocket size, full of energy and can be everywhere at once? These days, both fashion designer Christian Siriano and his new Starbucks holiday gift cards fit the bill. As if the mini-mogul doesn't have enough on his plate with projects such as a Saks clothing line, a more affordable capsule collection for his own website,, a maternity line for Moody Mamas, his Payless shoes and a new book on fashion tips ("Fierce Style: How to Be Your Most Fabulous Self"), he also has a thirst to get his name in the restaurant industry.

Siriano is the first designer outside the company to create a Starbucks holiday gift card (which hits stores Nov. 17). And just like its soon-to-be-24-year-old designer, the shiny silver card is compact and ready to go at a moment's notice, as it can be attached to a key chain for on-the-go swiping. In honor of the collaboration, Starbucks has made a $50,000 donation to the Art of Elysium, a nonprofit that brings working actors, artists and musicians together with children who are battling serious medical conditions. For his part, Siriano is working with budding fashionistas in the program to design their dream dress.

Despite his hectic schedule (he's also busy with his coinciding "dark, edgy" Fall 2010 ready-to-wear runway and his "really, really fabulous, you're-gonna-die-over-it" Payless collections), Siriano found the time to chat with All the Rage about the Starbucks partnership and his other endeavors.

Christian-Siriano-Spring-20 You have so many projects going on. We were just wondering, do you sleep?

I know. I do have a lot going on. Some days, yes; some days, no. I try to take on whatever I can when I can. Sometimes it gets overwhelming, but you know not too busy.

How are things going with your Saks line?

We're doing an exclusive dress for spring for their New York store. Within the collection, different stores will ask to do something special. For them, we're doing a tiered, layered chiffon cocktail dress, but it's going to have a signature color. I don't want to say what color it is yet because obviously it is special, but it's just something that wasn't in the collection, wasn't shown in the collection and no other store will have it, which is really great.

You also have a more affordable line on your website?

Yeah, recently we did a little collection. I've been on my book tour the past couple weeks, and I had literally e-mails all day long, every single day. All they wanted was "we want your clothes, we can't afford them. What do we do?" So we did a collection. A lot of the collection is almost sold out, which is great, but it was for those really true fashionista fans who didn't want something too festive and they could have, like, a piece. I might do that limited collection every so often each season so people can be able to afford something from the brand.

Bluefly had also mentioned that you guys were in talks to do another capsule collection. Is anything going on with that?

You know, I've been meeting with different companies like Bluefly, and I might do something with Gilt and other clothing sale options. But nothing's set in stone for me because I also have to make sure that my actual ready-to-wear collection sells well and is in stores at the right time.

So, is there any more word on your Bravo show? Are you thinking of hiring Taylor Jacobson [previously from "The Rachel Zoe Project"] now?

It won't be for a while anyway. Love Taylor -- shes' very sweet. But I actually use this really cool stylist named Masha who lives in New York, and she's very edgy, very chic. Obviously, Taylor is that way as well, but I wanted this more elegant styling and not so much grunge or hard because I do a lot of evening wear.

You've done a lot of stuff for a budget-conscious audience. Why are you focusing on that?

I'm really just doing it for the plain, simple reason that a huge, massive part of my fan base and the people who support me are younger and just have a smaller income, and they can't afford the work that I normally do. It was just so that a mass audience can have a piece of the brand. Obviously, with my designer collection, we sell in great cities, but they are a more higher-end customer -- which I love and is fabulous and exclusive. But people who are buying my book are probably younger and are not going to spend over $500 on stuff. But they need something too!

Do you think the budget-conscious lines are important when you're building your empire?

I wasn't sure, because obviously there are the brands that don't have a lower end -- they do it with licensing with fragrances and shoes and bags and sunglasses and things like that. That's kind of why I did the Payless collection, because I don't design shoes and bags with my own label, and I think it's kind of the best of both worlds for me. All those types of projects that I do are building the awareness of what I do in every way possible because, while I would love to do a shoe that's $600 or $1,000, right now I don't know if every woman is out there buying that. I adapt to situations.

So this was your plan all along? It has nothing to do with the recession?

I mean, that's what's interesting. It never for me has been that way because I came off of the show, and immediately I jumped into a high-end collection, and it sold in great stores, but the thing is, I'm not going to deny that I came off of a reality television show where the fan is young and can't afford those clothes. I came from a different world from other designers because I already had such a strong fan base that was interested in fashion. You have to give the little divas something.

Fierce-style And then there are the Payless shoes that were on your Spring 2010 runway. The shoes on the runway were inventive and perhaps a bit painful -- our fashion critic called them bullhorns -- but the Payless collection that's in stores is a bit more mainstream. Are we ever going to get a chance to try on those shoes?

I'm so glad you asked because I have to clear this up, because four of those styles -- the crazy pump with the bullhorn, the one with the beading -- will be in Payless stores. They won't be in every single Payless store, but they'll be in select Paylesses and online in January when spring ships. People are always like, "Oh, they don't look the same?" But you know we didn't show flats, but we'll do a flat for the store. Collections on the runway are really limited. You show a look and a vision, but we do flats, we do slingbacks, we do a boot that we don't necessarily show in the collection because it doesn't have anything to do with the collection. I wasn't feeling flats for the look of the [models], but that doesn't mean I don't want women to wear flats. Payless is more about bringing a lifestyle and bringing what people will wear every day.

I just think it's great to show a gown that's $8,000 and a shoe that's, like, $25 -- but still look fabulous together.

So your book, "Fierce Style," is all about fashion tips. What's the biggest fashion faux pas you're seeing right now?

I see a lot of under-dressing because I think people are so freaked out about their budgets and the economy and they're stressed that I think people are becoming more and more casual -- which I think is fine, but just because things [are bad] doesn't mean the evening is dead. There are still places to go, there are still dinners, there are still parties, and you can still get dressed up. That's part of having fun in fashion. I see more sweatshirts. ...

What's the best piece of fashion advice that you've ever been given?

I think maybe mine has been more styling-wise -- just to make your look more real and not so forced. Sometimes there's under-dressing and overdressing, and there needs to be more mixing. Sometimes in the collection, we don't want to over-style a look because then it becomes so unrealistic.

Starbucks-gift-card I also noticed that you have a maternity line and you're working with Starbucks, which makes coffee. ...

I didn't even notice the irony until you brought it up. Well, the maternity line is a capsule collection that I did the last couple seasons. At least I'm not making a drink or something. The gift card is fun. For me, it was exciting project to do just for the charity that was involved, because that was such a great partnership. If any designer had the opportunity, hopefully they would say yes because the charity donation is something that's hard to get.

So, do you have any plans to continue with Starbucks? Like maybe you can revamp the barista uniforms?

Maybe if they have a really cool idea. ... I mean I'm all about a special project. You put it in there, and then maybe the whole Starbucks world will get excited about it.

Done! Start the rumor mill going!

-- Whitney Friedlander

Photo (top): Christian Siriano at his Spring 2010 runway. Credit: Frazer Harrison / Getty Images for Payless ShoeSource

Photo (second from top): A model walks the runway in Siriano's Spring 2010 dress and Payless shoes. Credit: Christian V. Siriano Ltd.

Photo (third from top): The "Fierce Style" book cover. Credit: Grand Central Publishing

Photo (bottom): The Siriano-designed Starbucks holiday giftcard. Credit: Starbucks