When a designer sets out to create a brand, they want to be known for one thing — their designs. However, when it comes to Christian Siriano’s 10-year career, he’s earned prestige not only for his innovative collections, but also for what he does beyond the garments. Between his diverse runway casting choices and the stars he chooses to dress on the red carpet (a range of superstars that include Jennifer Lopez, Celine Dion, Viola Davis, Oprah Winfrey and countless others), he’s developed a positive reputation for his work pushing the body and age inclusivity in fashion agenda forward — which he’s both proud of and slightly frustrated that it’s still a big deal.
“My goal is to hopefully change people’s perceptions of what’s beautiful and what women should wear,” the New York designer tells PEOPLE when we caught up with him for our new 100 Reasons to Love America special featured in our new issue, on newsstands now, as his support of dressing women of all sizes and ages is truly something to love. Here, he tells us how this reputation developed — and how much further he wants to take it.
HIS GOAL STARTED IN EARNEST
“In the beginning of my career, I just was so excited when anyone who I was a fan of wanted to wear something, so I didn’t really about it as much,” he says. “ Like, if Oprah called, that was just so exciting I didn’t care about what size she is,” he continued. “I said, ‘We have to figure out how to make it.’ Now, I’m just trying to continue it. My biggest thing is just putting it out there — putting it in people’s faces as much as I can. It’s nice that people finally are starting to recognize it. It took a while.”
HE MAKES A STATEMENT ON THE RUNWAY
“The opportunities really are obvious during Fashion Week when we’re showing our collection, and that’s why I have diversity and size on the runway. It’s my chance to show people that this is beautiful, this is amazing, this is what luxury fashion should be. Our customer inspired this decision — I just felt like it didn’t make sense anymore to just show representation of the same type of girl. That’s just not who’s buying the clothes or who’s wearing the clothes. My woman is everyone. She’s all these different people, and I think that that was becoming more and more important in the business for sure.”
HIS RED CARPET DESIGNS TURN HEADS
“And then, there’s the red carpet. I don’t go after the young, new It Girl. They’re fabulous, but what’s exciting to me is seeing someone different on the carpet looking amazing, like Leslie Jones or Meg Ryan or Danielle Brooks, whom I love so much. She loves her curves, takes risks and tries new things, and her shape doesn’t hold her back. And then there was the Emmys. We dressed so many great women and such a diverse group — the same with the whole awards season. That’s just our goal — to create a diverse group of women and make them feel great.”
BUT THERE IS STILL MORE WORK TO DO
“Honestly I just love that I get to help change people’s perceptions, and I’m proud of what we’re doing. And on the flip side, there are some days that I wish it wasn’t always such a big topic, so it goes both ways. It’s great, good for business, but some days it would be nice if it didn’t have to be such a thing. But it took me 10 years to get here, and it will take another 50 years to have my position become a little bit more of the norm. That would be really exciting.”
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NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS, HIS GOAL IS ALWAYS CONFIDENCE
“I’m about celebrating yourself before anything. When we’re making clothes, we imagine how women feel if they can’t find something that they feel good in. So that’s the challenge. I think women are becoming more confident, they’re embracing their bodies and celebrating themselves. But there’s so much going on in our world politically, and just there’s so much craziness that I think fashion should be your one outlet to have fun and play. It’s a feel-good thing. It’s an escape from the rest of the hate going on. So that’s what fashion should be. I think that’s what hopefully most women feel like more and more now.”
For more of his interview and for 99 more reasons to love America, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.