Backstage with Christian Siriano

At New York Fashion Week, there are darlings whose impressive pedigrees instantly grant them access to the in-crowd, and then there are black swans whose eccentric beginnings lead to skepticism and snark. Designer Christian Siriano is in the latter camp. The petit prince who earned instant infamy on Project Runway has had the cards stacked against him since first uttering his signature adage: “Fierce!” Sure, he’s funny, but can he design?

At his spring 2012 runway show on Saturday, Siriano proved he’s a force to be reckoned with. Putting sleek—dare we say minimalist?—ensembles down the runway in unexpected pairings like sweeping Technicolor skirts with Breton-striped tees, he gave a fresh take on his sometimes over-the-top cocktail attire. Working with stylist Danielle Nachmani, who’s spun her magic at The Row and Suno, Siriano produced a clever mix of glamour and cool, The Talented Mr. Ripley meets Malibu it-girl. We caught up with the 25-year-old backstage to find out how he deals with TV fame, combats those haters and what word he can’t stand (it’s not fierce)…

What were you most anxious about with this collection?
It’s a lot of color! Playing with color is scary. We’re not safe in this season. There’s chartreuse, citrus, coral and you never know if people will love them. But I’m into it. I think color is great for spring.

How was this year a departure from last season?
Last season was quite dark, serious and almost creepy. I really wanted this to be light and fresh. This girl has a cool hip attitude to her.

What is your definition of cool?
Pairing separates with things that I would never pair them with. The looks are quite simple but still beautiful. I love all the T-shirts. They’re striped and feel nautical, but not nautical. I hate that word.

Who is the Christian Siriano girl?
I will always have my cocktail dress customer, but I also have the girl who needs everyday things—blouses, great T-shirts and trousers that she can throw on with anything. It was very important to have beautiful pieces that look like you just put them on and they look great in an effortless way.

What is the biggest challenge for a young designer?
Being young, I’m going to make mistakes. That’s going to happen. The scariest is at Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue where you’re hanging next to Oscar de la Renta, Monique Lhuillier and Naeem Khan. You’re like, “Wow, do you really fit in with those other brands?” But then it sells and it feels good.

Has Project Runway helped or hindered your career?
It’s tough because not everyone in the industry is my supporter so I have to prove them wrong season after season. Not every designer has that. There are some designers that come right into it and they’re instantly the love child, so that’s hard, but we’re moving forward.

What’s your plan post-show?
We’re going to party! I love an after-party. I just want to dance to good music. And I like to eat.

Where’s your dinner reservation?
I’m going to Subway right after this. I don’t want anything fancy. I just want a meatball sub.

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