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Christian Siriano

The fashion phenom talks about success, style, the industry, and ferocity

By Raymond Cummings | Posted 1/6/2010

Fierce Style: How to be Your Most Fabulous Self

By Christian Siriano, with Rennie Dyball

Grand Central, 256 pages

Prior to evolving into the gravity-defying-coif-sporting, catchphrase-spouting enfant terrible who walked away with Project Runway's fourth season title, Christian Siriano was a self-described "little fairy white kid walking around in giant FUBU jerseys" in Annapolis. Today, the bespeckled imp is a full-fledged fashion designer who sends models down Fashion Week runways wearing his frocks, has dressed everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to Heidi Klum, and has deals with Payless Shoe Source and Victoria's Secret, among others. Given the buzz that continues to surround this 24-year old Baltimore School for the Arts graduate, an opportunistic foray into the book world was probably inevitable. In Fierce Style: How to be Your Most Fabulous Self (Grand Central), Siriano offers a generous serving of self-help fast food, sketches of and glimpses at his post-Runway looks and pieces--miles removed from the '80s nightmare-vampire-in-clubland concepts of yore--and biographical bits that are just revealing enough that readers outside of the book's target audience of Project Runway devotees, aspiring designers, young women, and gay men won't come away feeling fleeced. Divided into sections with titles such as "Every Day Is a Runway . . . Work It" and "Finding Your Inner Ferocia," Fierce airily guides readers through the work of defining a personal style in terms of hair, clothing, accessories, and make-up, finding a path in life, feeling good, and so on, liberally sprinkling Siriano's prescriptions with idiosyncratic catchphrases--"fierce," "truth," and so on--that are helpfully explored in a back-of-the-book glossary. ("Ferosh" is "the state of being when something is totally fabulous but not necessarily fierce," for example.)

While The Wizard of Oz was young Siriano's primary cinematic inspiration in his formative years, the "punky, feminine look of scarves, supertight jeans, vests, and weird pointy-toed boots" favored by Aerosmith's Steven Tyler inspired the couture he rocked as a Runway contestant. He derides wire-frame glasses, hoodies, and fake leather in a section entitled "10 Things Not to Wear If You Want to Be Fabulous," and makes reality-based suggestions for fashionistas on limited budgets--insisting, for example, that Kenneth Cole heels are a reasonable alternative to pricier models from Louboutin, Manolo, or Jimmy Choo. And in case you were wondering how Siriano was able to breeze through Runway projects so swiftly--and win so many contests--he attributes his efficiency and work ethic to an "extremely hard" Alexander McQueen internship while attending the American InterContinental University in London. In an e-mail interview, Siriano took time out of his busy schedule to answer questions about returning to Maryland (he now lives in New York), the fashion world, the state of his hair, and what's on his iPod (Lady GaGa and Rihanna, it turns out).

City Paper: I have to ask this: Are you--and your hair--feeling fierce today? And if so, massively fierce, medium fierce, or just slightly fierce?

Christian Siriano: My hair is always feeling fierce, and I try to keep that up every day!

CP: What made you decide to write Fierce Style, and when did you start work on it?

CS: We [Siriano and Fierce Style co-author Rennie Dyball] started working on the book about a year and half ago. It has been a process, trust, but an amazing one.

I think when this opportunity came, I really felt like it was such a wonderful way to inspire all the young fans who are so interested in my journey/experiences and to just have something fun to read and enjoy. I think so many people can take away that having a dream and making it come true is important in life.

CP: I'm sure that often, when someone recognizes you in passing, you hear your various catchphrases regurgitated, sometimes in ridiculous ways. Does any one incident stand out for you?

CS: I think every day I hear something fun. It is usually "fierce," "tranny," or something to that effect. I think sometimes people just don't know what to say. I like it more when people say "I love your work" and "your collection was beautiful," because who doesn't love a compliment?

CP: In your book, you describe how easily and often inspiration comes to you, in unexpected forms and at surprising times. Do you ever have fabric or pattern dreams? Or nightmares?

CS: I think about fabric, styles, and shapes all day every day and night. I think that dreaming is the best way to develop, and no, never a nightmare.

CP: Is the real fashion world as harsh as it appears on fashion reality shows? Or is it worse?

CS: I actually think that after the show, starting a business and really working in the industry it is soooo much harder than they make it [out to be]. Fashion is a very hard business, and it is a lot of work. The time and love that goes into this business is something so overwhelming; I can't believe I can get up every day and do it!

CP: Have you been watching the current season of Project Runway, on Lifetime? Do you have any favorites designers in that group so far?

CS: I have not been watching this season; I have been so busy with my collection and this book tour.

CP: In your book, you single out Crocs as a big fashion no-no. What style trends are huge right now that should be destroyed?

CS: I think that style is coming around, and I think everyone is trying a bit harder every day, which I'm so happy to see. I haven't seen Crocs in while.

CP: What's it like to return to Annapolis these days, to the haunts and shops and workplaces--like Bubbles hair salon--that were so crucial to making you into the person you are today? Or to the Baltimore School for the Arts? Does it all look or feel different now?

CS: I love going home to see old friends and family! It is wonderful to go home and feel that life is the same, and that everything I do is totally different from the world that, at one point, I thought was so stressful and important. It's nice to see that people have other things in life than just work--because all I do is work.

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