Christian Siriano has long been an advocate for diversity in the fashion industry, creating designs to make everyone feel beautiful. For the Bravo’s Project Runway mentor, making sure his work is inclusive has always been a no-brainer.
“I was such a fan of all these different types of people, all these different types of cultures, and I just wanted to work with them,” Christian shared during the June 29 Instagram Live panel, Amplify Our Voices: An Open Dialogue on Racial Inequality in America. “When we put Billy Porter in a dress on the red carpet at the Oscars, I didn’t think that it would have a backlash; I just wanted to do it. So I don’t think the same way, because I’m excited about it, and I’ve always been that way.”
Christian said during the conversation with E!’s Daily Pop! host Justin Sylvester that he realized early on that he wanted to take a different approach with his career than how things had typically been done in the fashion industry. “Definitely luxury fashion for a really, really long time was for a very specific woman who was very close-minded… I felt like sometimes it was like, god, I’m selling clothes to horrible people sometimes,” he said. “And that was really hard, which is why, actually I kind of stopped doing what everyone wanted me to do, and I kind of just started doing my own thing, which is why I put curvy women on the runway. Everybody told me not to do that. I just stopped listening to that because it wasn’t working for my world. And now I feel like all these years later, success, I found it a different way.”
However, Christian noted that “the whole fashion industry has a lot to do” in this arena. “Some brands are doing nothing, so that’s insane. I think they have a lot to do. I think it’s clean house time. I think it’s who are you shooting in your editorials, what models are wearing clothes, who’s on the cover of magazines… What are you putting out there? What does your employee ratio look like? It’s kind of all the above, and I think that that is the most important part,” he explained. “Everybody needs to reset and think about what’s important to the consumer, and I think the consumer is very boisterous right now. And I think that she or he or them is really passionate about, especially what they’re paying their money for. So I think that’s very important.”
Moments like the aforementioned show-stopping gown Porter wore to the 2019 Academy Awards have helped spark a cultural conversation, although Christian admitted that he didn’t realize the impact his design would have until later. “We did it so quickly, and we were excited, I didn’t think we would understand the impact that it had on the young generation being like, ‘Wow, I can see a guy in a dress [be] comfortable and confident.’ I think that inspired them to be like, ‘Oh, I can go to school and wear what I want to wear.’ So that I think is the best part of it. It had a bigger impact that means more,” he said. “I think fashion is also in that place. It’s not enough to just make pretty dresses; you have to make sure they actually mean something or say something or have something behind the work, and I think that that’s why that Billy moment, just culturally, we needed it.”
Christian also spoke about the importance of being an ally in times like these, especially to the current Black Lives Matter movement. “I think it’s so important to make sure everyone is very educated. The most important point here is it’s not just enough to maybe be on the sides and supporting; you have to actually really know what’s going on,” he said. “It’s all gonna benefit everybody in the end because otherwise we’re gonna literally tear each other apart, and that’s just not a good solution. I hope that that’s what happens in the world. And I think people also need to be exposed to all of these different types of people. And I think that is a big part of it.”
He also noted how important it is to include the trans community in the Black Lives Matter movement. “It’s really such a frustrating thing because the whole trans community, the whole non-binary community, everyone is really struggling still for acceptance. I think what’s really hard is that people are always afraid of the unknown. I wish that was something we still didn’t have in our world is things that we don’t know about really scare us,” Christian said. “We’re all kind of the same in a way, and I think that that’s the biggest thing that I hope people take away from everything that is happening because I think that’s, I would assume, [what] most trans people want, they just want to be like everyone else… I think they just want to be humanized.”
Looking ahead, Christian said he will further this movement by becoming more educated and encouraging others to do the same. “We all need to be as educated as possible, but being educated means asking questions and not being so close-minded to a bigger picture… Definitely that is my goal in the new year,” he said. “I have Black employees or half my client list is, and I think that I kind of ask them, too: What’s comfortable, what’s not? What’s important, what’s not? I think that that is something that hopefully we can all do.”
For the latest reporting on the Black Lives Matter movement from NBC News and MSNBC’s worldwide team of correspondents, including a live blog with minute-to-minute updates, visit NBCNews.com and NBCBLK.
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