Christian Siriano is the former ballet dancer kid turned fashion designer. He turned project runway upside down and then moved on to become one of the youngest and most successful entrepreneurs in fashion with his namesake collection Christian Siriano. Patricia Field a legend of the New York City avant guard, costume designer, stylist, and shop owner has been a friend and inspiration for Christian since his early days. Regardless of the age difference and life experience these two creatives have been able to connect through their love of bringing their designing visions to life.
CHRISTIAN: When was the moment you fell in love with clothes, style and design?
PATRICIA: I don’t know. First moment, of course that I can recall; I was about five and I had this favorite costume outfit, a cowgirl outfit, it was a gun and boots and a fringe vest…that was my favorite thing and I wore it and I wore it.
CHRISTIAN: Similar, I was obsessed with the wizard of Oz. I loved fantasy and Glinda was my favorite, and listen when you’re a five-year-old little boy, Glinda shouldn’t be your favorite. It was so inspiring and I loved the world of it. I would buy costumes, play with them, cut them up and I didn’t know why I was doing that but I know that triggered something I loved. I was probably 6 years old.
PATRICIA: my first memory of the Wizard of Oz, I was probably a little younger, maybe 5 and I remember going to see Wizard of Oz with my boy cousin and this dog flew up in the air and it was crazy! It was scary!
CHRISTIAN: It’s so interesting, they just remade it, it was a fantasy world but a lot about the characters was what they wore.
PATRICIA: But I couldn’t see through my freight to enjoy it…
CHRISTIAN: Why do you think that history is dictating fashion now? Style has become this circle of old, nostalgia pieces.
PATRICIA: First of all, is that so? Do you think that history is dictating fashion now? Does it always dictate? I think history has always mixed the visual, or even audible…it’s always in the mix; is the soup too salty? Sometimes it’s more prevalent.
CHRISTIAN: I do think that there are those people who are still creating interesting styles but it’s definitely prominent.
PATRICIA: I guess it comes from the need or comfort that you get from nostalgia.
CHRISTIAN: You think of an old movie you love and you immolate it.
PATRICIA: Like, right now it’s 90s and to me 90s was like two weeks ago and I’m like, “90s?!” Because to me vintage is 20s, 40s, 50s, and even 60s. But to a 20 year old they were an infant in the 90s. So that’s there time frame of nostalgia. I feel, if we talk 90s, there is a tremendous push about the 90s. We had this guy in the shop who about a year ago called us and he has a warehouse filled with 90s stuff and he wants to put it in the shop…and he keeps supplying it and people keep buying it.
But then you have these places like Gilt where you go on and some things are 10,000 dollars for vintage…that’s not fashion even, that’s for museums and stuff. But the kids are buying the 90s because it’s in the range that they can spend.
The need for nostalgia, I don’t know, I don’t have that need. If I were to guess why they do it, thinking about what their experience is so far in their young lives, that their prior experience was maybe a bit conservative, the colors – neutrals, black – and then they see all this 90s colors (I mean the 90s got ridiculous, let’s face it) but it’s like, “wow!” It’s new to them and different and it awakes the sleepy beiges and grays and bronzes…it’s those colors.
CHRISTIAN: What inspires your work?
PATRICIA: I wanted to ask you that, too…I think we have a relationship because we do share some of those basic things. What really inspires me, is the activity and hustle of business. Fashion, for me, was always easy so if I want to have a business fashion would be a logical business to be in because I liked it and it was easy. I learned business from my family and I picked up fashion – I had young aunts and I use to drag along with them as they went shopping. That was one of my inspirations. That was a big background for me but it was kind of a natural thing.
CHRISTIAN: I think it starts when you’re younger…my sister was a ballet dancer so I was thrown into this world of hair and costumes and makeup and I loved that world and it was a very weird dress-up world, it was make believe and I loved that. So I think as I was growing and developing, I wanted to make pieces that I felt that people would really want to wear and live their life in. You know you could live you life how you wanted but you were doing it in something I created which I found so interesting. I think that was the most inspiring thing.
PATRICIA: You stood alone on that show because it was obvious that, the integrity was there for you and it wasn’t for some stupid, trendy reason…that much was evident.
CHRISTIAN: I’m so curious: how do we survive in this economy? People aren’t shopping as much, how do we grow our business?
PATRICIA: I’m pumping because it’s one of the major loves of my life to keep at it. I get joy from it. But, ok, I get joy from, the business side. For years I rented stores and I would leave because the rent would go up and that takes so much energy from you and when this area came for sale, I said I was getting this place or I was going to be sorry for the rest of my life. I want to grow by business healthy, it must grow or it shrinks just by the nature of things. I want to be involved.
I thought I was bankrupt at one time, I got out of it and I figured it out. I’m in it because it gives me pleasure. This store and the atmosphere and the experience and the people I work with, they’re inspiring, they’re fun to be around and that for me is a big reward. And I notice when I come to your place, it’s not like you have this division and you speak to them and then they speak to someone else…it’s family.
CHRISTIAN: I think that’s for both of us, we have a similar thing. I pick that team in the beginning and it’s about the relationship. We’re successful because the team and I put ourselves into it. It is a hard economy, it is hard to sell product but if you love what you’re doing then you put good work out.
PATRICIA: In a bad economy, I have found that I can take advantage of a bad economy; we have an edge and in a bad economy it doesn’t affect that as much. If you have an edge, you have an advantage. And when the economy is rockin’’ and rollin’ and great and people want expensive clothes or whatever, I find that it affects me in the negative sense because what they wanted before to make them feel good, but when they want the design, investment dressing, then it becomes a harder sell for me, the really booming economy.
CHRISTIAN: That’s interesting, same with me. In this tough time, we sell more weird, eccentric, over the top evening pieces then we do a simple blouse, but we sell more of them…which is how I was able to grow the last few years because people were buying the 10,000 dollar gowns and not the sportswear as much.
PATRICIA: People in bad times need a lift and it we give them a lift, they come to us. We give them what they need. The first half of the 70s,mid 70s, and the movement was for better clothes, during inflation, and I had a friend who opened a store up on Madison Avenue and he would be like, “come on let’s go!” he was in that vibe of the time and so he kind of influenced me and I bought a few things, very expensive and they flew out my door. I couldn’t believe I was selling this pant, I couldn’t keep it in stock!
So we went to Paris, these two nobodys in Paris trying to buy whatever, and we bought some stuff and went to some shows. I remember, these chiffon blouses, very delicate, and this blouse was selling in my store for 175 dollars and Patty Smith use to live next door in 1 Fifth Avenue, right by my old store, and she use to come in all the time and she said to me one day, “you know, I know you must wonder what I’m doing with this clothing,” because she was buying all this expensive stuff. And she’s like stumbling down my steps in some wrinkled old pant and she said, “I wear them on stage.” And she invited me to her last concert before she retired, on 14th street, and there she was in this gorgeous chiffon thing and it was all wrinkled and wrecked and it gave me an insight onto what was happening.
But when I saw those pants I thought, I’ll do the same thing in stretch fabric everywhere…and I created leggings and they flew out the door! They cost my seven dollars and I would sell them for 28 and at the same time Grease came out and then it was like a revolution. So I put all the expensive stuff on sale in the store because it was becoming a museum, not a store, and I got rid of all this stuff. Then a ll of a sudden the POP, 80s, world, BOOM….and now here we are, and 90’s are vintage!