From his first job working at a hair salon at age 13, Christian Siriano has paved a path that is all his own. “I was a funny, sassy boy who wore fishnets,” the designer recalled.
Siriano is coming off an eventful year of expansion: a bridal debut, the introduction of a vegan handbag line, the launch of two plus-size collections with Lane Bryant and the continuation of a Payless partnership.
“We did so much in 2016. It was quite intense, but it was great,” he said. “It was a year of building steps to bigger things. Now we are nurturing those moments and figuring out [our next steps].”
Siriano plans to open a New York store and launch more fashion-forward product with Payless, including special direct-to-consumer styles that will walk down the New York Fashion Week runway. “Through this partnership, we’ve sold millions of pairs of shoes [overall] to customers over the years,” said Lorraine Hitch, SVP and GMM of buying at Payless.
These initiatives are helping the designer stand out, but it hasn’t been easy. “Young brands are still struggling because we are all competing in the same space,” said Siriano. “We’re not Dior, we’re not Gucci, but we’re being held at the same level in a way. We have to have the same quality and ship the same way. It’s hard to be in that place.”
Siriano spoke candidly about the heat in shoes, celebrity style statements and more.
Footwear News: What’s on the top of your agenda this year?
Christian Soriano: “Our biggest yearly goal is to open a bigger flagship retail space, hopefully in the next couple of months. That’s the area for the most company growth, which is exciting. Retail is super-crazy right now, but designers have to figure out a way to grow, and that’s what we’re going to do. We had a store downtown in New York City that was a test store, and our flagship will be uptown in the 50s.”
How do you draw consumers to the store in a challenging retail climate?
“I plan on carrying different parts of the collection — shoes from Payless and the Lane Bryant collection. It will be a multibrand store with people that are partners on my product. We will have a private bridal suite area. It’s a space where you can get a Payless shoe for $40 and evening wear that’s $8,000 to $10,000. I want a department-store feel but in a newer and younger way. That’s the goal.”
What’s new with your Payless partnership?
“We’re in almost 4,000 stores. I keep my core collection [of shoes] tight because we do so much work with Payless, and I focus on that because it works. The goal now is to introduce more fashion and relevancy with the new product.”
What inspired you for fall ’17?
“Our collection has a romantic boudoir feel in general, which is what’s happening. It’s the idea of sexy romanticism and deep velvets. We have gone away from the chunky platforms to a single sole and a sexier heel for fall. Statement shoes are still important in the designer space. That’s what consumers are spending the money on. The market has changed, and in the designer world, people are spending over $1,000 for a shoe.”
How has the shoe market evolved since you started out?
“It’s very diverse. Gucci is creating lavish, ornate and interesting shoes. Celine is making the most clean and modern shoes. I don’t think there was as much variety before, when everyone had a gladiator. Brands are being true to what they want, and hopefully the consumer will be into it. I don’t think the market is as trendy as it used to be. It’s also interesting with girls on the red carpet. Before, it was all about the sexy black platform because it looked good; now it’s about a cool shoe to wear. It’s changing.”
New York Fashion Week is around the corner. What can we expect?
“We’re doing a direct-to-consumer idea again, but we want to try it with two styles for Payless. They have huge lead times normally, and we wanted to figure out a way to have two styles in stores and online ready to go so that people can be excited in the moment. Last season, we did it with clothing. This season we are focusing on shoes. It will be cool for the Payless consumer. They are not used to getting something like that.”
How have you evolved your strategy?
“Any young designer has to figure out who their customer is, and that’s a challenge. Everybody wants you to be everything — and be young and cool. At the end of the day, we stopped listening. We started doing our own thing and it helped. Fashion is a business. We’re dressing people on the red carpet, and we have beautiful ad campaigns, but it’s to sell product or else we don’t exist. We can’t be too serious.”
Anything you would have done differently?
“Not necessarily. I’m pretty happy with the choices we made early on. I knew we had a strong interest from the Middle East, and it’s a huge part of the business. Our first buy was in Kuwait and in Dubai in 2008. Not a lot of brands were doing that. I wouldn’t have known that was successful early on, but it’s a choice I’m glad we made.”
You have gained a lot of attention from the celebrity world. How important has that been to the business?
“I don’t need a fashion it-girl. Issa Rae [star of “Insecure”] is a great example. Her first awards show was the Golden Globes. She had one of the most amazing, impactful red carpets for us. We have people requesting that dress every day. I approach it in a way where I dress who I like. If Kathy Bates needs a dress for the Emmys, I will dress her because I love her.”
After dressing Leslie Jones for the “Ghostbusters” premiere, you received coverage as a designer who dresses women of all sizes and celebrates body positivity. What was that moment like?
“We don’t think about it that way. I think people will be surprised that a lot of actresses are not sample size. Viola Davis is not a sample size, but who is not dressing Viola Davis? There are a lot of amazing people that still need a fabulous dress. That’s a great thing to think about. I have learned very quickly.”
What has dressing Michelle Obama meant to you?
“Michelle Obama was so impactful. She’s worn a couple of our dresses, but obviously the Democratic National Convention was the most impactful. The dress was simple, but it was her speech and what she was standing for. We get to be a part of history, which is great.”
What are your expectations for growth this year?
“We doubled wholesale sales in 2016 and were profitable in 2016, 2015 and 2014. Hopefully 2017 will be even more profitable. We’re in a nice place, but obviously we could grow so much more.”