Color Is Beautiful
By Jordan Staggs Photography by William Waldron
“You must have so much going on in your head all the time. How do you create all these beautiful things?” This was the question posed by Broadway and television star Kristin Chenoweth as she swatted affectionately at the head of fashion designer Christian Siriano. He knelt to adjust the hem of her gown—one of many she tried on at Christian’s New York City studio last October in preparation for VIE’s November/December 2015 cover photo shoot.
It’s a valid question, to be sure. For Christian, things have only gotten bigger since 2008, when he launched his eponymous line at New York Fashion Week. Collaborations with big brands such as TRESemmé, Payless ShoeSource, Victoria’s Secret, Disney, and, most recently, Lane Bryant and Bed Bath and Beyond, along with his own lines of women’s clothing, shoes, handbags, and home accessories, have served to grow the Christian Siriano label to a near-global level.
However, it’s not just the elegant, classic feminine designs with a modern flair that make Christian’s label so desirable; it’s the undeniable charm and tenacity of the designer himself. The Annapolis, Maryland, native, who is now an esteemed member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, has a signature go-getter attitude and honesty that have not faded over the years. Christian’s business model, coupled with a knack for deducing what looks good on women—all of them, it seems—has also boosted him into stardom among celebrities looking for their next red-carpet or event gown. He’s dressed everyone from Michelle Obama to Heidi Klum and Lady Gaga, along with countless film and TV stars including Ghostbusters’ and Saturday Night Live’s Leslie Jones, Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner, Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, Oprah, Scarlett Johansson, Danielle Brooks, and many more. “It takes a real designer to design for real women,” Jones said on the red carpet at her Ghostbusters premiere on July 9 in Los Angeles, wearing a stunning red Christian Siriano off-the-shoulder gown after other designers reportedly turned down the opportunity to dress her. “Christian hooked me up.”
Prior to launching his brand, Christian graduated from the American InterContinental University in London and went on to intern for global fashion labels Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen. His ability to dress women of all shapes, tastes, and sizes, and his love for making them all feel beautiful and put together have become just some of Christian’s superpowers since his foray into the design world. “I want everyone to be able to find something in the collection that they like,” he says. “They don’t have to like everything, but I hope everyone likes at least one thing.” It’s a mission he says has not really changed since he started out, though his styles and his love of color and prints have evolved through the years.
Those loves have translated flawlessly into an array of home accessories, as the Christian Siriano collection launched at Bed Bath and Beyond in June this year. It’s a reflection of the designer’s personal home style and his love of bold colors, prints, and patterns, he explains as he sits near the windows in the great room at his weekend cottage in Danbury, Connecticut. Christian and his husband, musician Brad Walsh, bought the home in 2013 and were married in the backyard on July 9 of this year. As the pair lounge in the colorful great room, their two small dogs relax as well—Bear sitting on top of the printed sofa and Topper chasing a stuffed bear as Christian tosses it. It’s a far cry from the hectic work life that surrounds the couple’s apartment in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, even though it’s just shy of two hours away.
The four-bedroom, three-bath country home, built in 1860, is a charming New England–style cottage on the outside, but the interior is an explosion of color, art, and eclectic furniture and accessories that Christian and Brad have had fun collecting together over the years. Although it contrasts greatly with the loft-style Manhattan apartment that also doubles as Brad’s recording studio, Christian says that both homes are still reflections of his and Brad’s personal styles—just different sides of them.
I think because I’m a designer, I like different things. I like to look at vintage things, and I like to look at modern and clean things.
“I think because I’m a designer, I like different things,” Christian says. “I like to look at vintage things, and I like to look at modern and clean things. Every collection I design, the style changes, so that’s kind of how I look at the houses; I like to try different things. The reason this one is so colorful and so print-heavy and fun is because I like that idea for a weekend house. You come in, and you feel happy no matter what. I had a very modern apartment when I first ‘had money.’ I thought buying very modern things was the right thing to do at the time, but now, I love just everything bold.”
That boldness is evident from the moment one walks into the Connecticut house, starting with a charming foyer featuring a table full of books, paintings resembling Topper and Bear, and another painting by Charleston-based artist Teil Duncan, a good friend of Brad’s. From there, the home branches off to the small rustic yet chic dining room and, to the right, Christian’s favorite room, a formal sitting room draped in green, palm-leaf prints, fresh flowers, and books and art galore.
“When we first found it, we looked at the house but weren’t quite sure we were ready to buy it,” Christian recalls. “Then the homeowner was driving down the road in North Carolina, and on the side of the road was a painting of my face on the outside of this antique store—which is just crazy.” He laughs. “She sent us the photo on Facebook and was like, ‘I really think you guys should come look at the house again. I think this is a sign, so let me know what price you guys want it to be.’ And we ended up getting the house for an amazing deal, and it all worked out because she was kind of like a mom, and she really wanted us to have it, like we were her sons, and she just wanted for us to have a nice life here. She and her husband lived in the house for forty years.”
Ever since Brad and Christian bought and renovated their home in Connecticut, they have very generously and welcomingly opened the doors to their close friends, and it has been such an amazing place to escape to on weekends or for special events.
Although Christian and Brad renovated the kitchen and totally gutted the attic, turning it into a chic master bedroom and bath, the couple retained the home’s original floors and much of its character. Paint and wallpaper throughout the home brought a fresh feel and more of their style, as did the myriad works of art and other collected items. “I like that it has a mix; it has a lot of character,” Christian says. “There’s a big tapestry in one of the rooms that we got in Qatar that’s really special. I really love this big quilt that we got in Tokyo. I love my drawings that I got in Paris from a really cool local artist. My Teil Duncan paintings, they’re really great. Oh, and I love the mural room that Brad’s friend Anna Hafner painted. It’s something you can’t replicate, so it’s very special.”
Plenty of Brad and Christian’s friends have contributed their artwork, photography, gifts, or just their presence to the home with visits and parties. Brad spends most weekends there and says they frequently have friends sleeping on three air mattresses, as well as in all the guest bedrooms and on sofas. The large backyard pool and cabanas add a sense of beachy flair to the country retreat. “It’s our weekend house, so it’s just fun,” Christian says. “We can come here and we don’t have to worry about anything, and it’s really nice.”
It’s our weekend house, so it’s just fun.We can come here and we don’t have to worry about anything, and it’s really nice.
“Ever since Brad and Christian bought and renovated their home in Connecticut, they have very generously and welcomingly opened the doors to their close friends, and it has been such an amazing place to escape to on weekends or for special events,” says fashion blogger, designer, and brand strategist Nicolette Mason, a close friend of Christian and Brad, and a frequent contributor to Vogue and Marie Claire. Christian has dressed Nicolette on multiple occasions, including designing her stunning custom wedding gown, and Nicolette walked as a model alongside Ashley Graham and Candice Huffine in Christian’s runway show this year at the United Nations to debut his collaboration with Lane Bryant. “We’ve developed some of our own little traditions as a group of friends—spending summer weekends there, the Fourth of July, birthdays—everything. It’s so beautiful and everything is perfectly decorated, but not to the point that you’re scared to touch anything; it’s a home that’s designed and created to be lived in, enjoyed, and loved.”
Of course, one of the most special events friends and family have enjoyed at the country house was Brad and Christian’s wedding. “I cannot even begin to describe how beautiful the entire wedding was,” Nicolette continues. “Brad and Christian completely transformed their backyard into the most enchanting, magical, all-white garden. It really blew me away. We’ve spent so much time at their home, especially enjoying their backyard and the pool, and it was like we were transported to an entirely new space—and somehow it felt even bigger.”
I cannot even begin to describe how beautiful the entire wedding was. Brad and Christian completely transformed their backyard into the most enchanting, magical, all-white garden.
For the wedding, a quaint ceremony area was set up in the backyard, which is surrounded by an original stone wall and towering pines. Christian and Brad both dressed in simple black suits, while all their groomsmaids and guests wore white. For the reception, the pool became an illuminated dance floor, covered in Plexiglas, and the party continued into the week after the marriage as friends stayed at the country house to celebrate.
“The reason for having the wedding at our vacation house in Connecticut was that it’s a large, calm, inviting space, and many of our friends and family had been there before,” Brad says. “But once we put up the tents and covered the pool for the dance floor, it felt like another place entirely! Even I was surprised by how great the place looked. I have already had a book printed of photos from the wedding, and it’s really fun to look at when we are at the house because all sorts of things from the wedding are still in sight, and the memories are easy to replay. It certainly makes our pool even more fun and special now when we visit to think that all of our family and friends were there, dancing like crazy above it, celebrating our marriage.”
What’s next for the happy couple? Brad’s working on an album due out in September, while Christian’s expansion into the realm of home decor and lifestyle is in constant motion alongside his fashion lines for spring/summer, pre-fall, and fall/winter 2017. Also in the works is a coffee-table book with photographs shot by Brad, featuring Christian’s gowns. His collaboration with Bed Bath and Beyond will continue with more products in the coming year as well. “We’re going to be doing candles, fragrance diffusers, bath towels, and soaps.” Christian says. “Those are fun; it’s just something that I like to do when I’m not doing clothes. It’s a hobby of mine that’s turned into a business, and that started when I was designing cell phone cases for Best Buy and using photographs and prints of my clothes that we turned into packaging. I think that’s going to turn into a signature, hopefully, so everything feels like ‘fashion’ and feels like what I’m doing with my clothes, but it fits into your home and your lifestyle.”
One thing’s for sure: you can still expect bold colors and exciting prints from Christian’s coming collections, which are often inspired by his world travels and the women he meets and designs for along the way. “It changes a little bit every season,” he explains. “We just made a lot of clothes for Michelle Obama, which is amazing and kind of fun, because obviously she’s leaving the White House soon, and it was nice to have a moment with her because I think she has such amazing style, just so chic and elegant.
I like a room that’s decorated and I like a dress that is a dress, but I want to make sure there’s always some quirky playfulness to it.
“There are always my favorite people whom I love to dress,” he continues. “We’re doing another project with Kristin Chenoweth, which is going to be fun, and we just sent a bunch of things to Céline Dion for her tour, which is kind of cool. And then, we always work with people we love, like Gwen Stefani and Jennifer Lopez. It’s funny because it’s just such a random mix of women and I just love all of them, so that’s the best part.”
“I think something that sets Christian apart from many designers is his ability to listen to clients and their needs, paying attention to their personal style and still creating something that is true to his aesthetic and vision,” attests Nicolette. “He has an incredible understanding of body shapes and how fabric lays on those bodies—and he’s sensitive to every person’s level of comfort and personal style needs. So many designers work in a vacuum and create clothing that a person needs to fit into, with no variation or customization (as if we’re all mannequins that come in a standard size), but Christian truly creates with a person and their body in mind.” She goes on to describe his lifestyle brand. “I think Christian has become such a respected authority in style and design that it is only natural that the brand is extending into other industries, especially home decor, fragrance, and so on. Fashion will always be the core of his brand, but his design sensibility and personal style are so strong that they translate really naturally.”
I think something that sets Christian apart from many designers is his ability to listen to clients and their needs, paying attention to their personal style and still creating something that is true to his aesthetic and vision.
Christian says he’s still figuring out just where his home decor audience lies, but his current fans can expect not only more of what they already love about his work but also different styles and looks that will suit their varying tastes in home decor as well as clothing. “I always say that I want things to feel playful, but also a little bit romantic and glamorous,” he explains. “I like a room that’s decorated and I like a dress that is a dress, but I want to make sure there’s always some quirky playfulness to it. I think fashion and interiors in general should never be too serious; you should have fun—you should express yourself. I think those are really important things.”
— V —