To say designer Christian Siriano is busy would be something of an understatement. On Monday, he presented a runway show of his designs for plus-size retailer Lane Bryant, at the United Nations of all places — and just a few weeks ago, Kleinfeld presented his first full bridal collection. There's also his ongoing collection with Payless Shoe Source, which appeared on Monday's catwalk. And that doesn't even touch his eponymous line, which includes a booming custom business.
"High-end retail is a little bit scary — there's stores closing and things are really changing — so I just want to diversify when I can," he explains. "I think that's maybe why older brands are having that challenge [in retail], because it is a struggle." In 30 years, he says, it might be too difficult to do these high-profile collaborations, so why not try everything while he's still in the early stages of his career and see what sticks?
While he cautions that not everything he's tried has worked, that hasn't been the case with his Lane Bryant line: most of the pieces have completely sold through since launching last week ("I love a sell out," he says with a giggle). It's interesting, then, that he showed the clothes on the runway after they became available. In fact, the experience has made him consider the "see now, buy now" movement much more seriously. "I will say, watching what happened with Lane Bryant launching a week ago and seeing how items sold so quickly and in the moment, it's kind of amazing."
"This show, we are a little bit late, so people will obviously be able to shop, and that's what's great: You can see it on the runway, and you can go buy it. I didn't think it was as important [before], but I think it's a great strategy," he says, adding, "It's just challenging – we'll see."
Of course, the runway show was about more than just Siriano: The show kicked off the first-ever Empowering Women Summit, presented by Lane Bryant and stylist Susan Moses. The event was a who's-who of the body positivity movement, with supermodels Ashley Graham and Candice Huffine, as well as bloggers Gabi Fresh and Nicolette Mason, hitting the runway. Glamour Editor-in-Chief Cindi Leive and Poet Jill Scott offered keynotes, and expert-packed panels tackled the issue of body diversity across the industry. It's part of an effort by Lane Bryant to expand the conversation surrounding plus-size issues beyond the boundaries of fashion.
"I think today is opening [the conversation] on such a grand level that it's not just about plus or skinny models — it's not even really about models anymore," says Huffine. "It's about people, it's about women being healthy and safe practices for living, being comfortable with their bodies, and spreading the universal positive message, and that's a win on all levels."
"For so long, we've been talking about, what does it feel like to be plus-size, what does it feel like to be curvy, what is it like to be in the industry that, for so long, hasn't liked you, and I hope in the next few years it won't be such a big conversation," adds Graham. "We're going to be talking to women about what they're doing — not talking to them about the number in their pants."
And while plus-size has always been a part of Siriano's business — from custom red-carpet designs to offering extended sizes of his collection through retailers like Neiman Marcus — he believes the success of his collaboration with Lane Bryant could motivate other designers to join him.
"I think there will be new designers that will also embrace this — I'm sure there will be some coming out of the woodwork soon that you would never imagine, just because it's a big business and a big customer base, and fun," he says. "This customer loves fashion and couldn't have it for so long, so they're not as jaded when they get it — they're excited and happy."