When word got out last fall that designer Christian Siriano was this year’s Fashion Meets Art celebrity guest, the buzz began and reservations started pouring into the Vero Beach Museum of Art. Siriano, who burst onto the international fashion scene when he won Project Runway’s fourth season, will share his fresh, fun and “fierce” (as in becoming your personal best), style philosophy on Feb. 23.
Fashion Meets Art co-chairs Karen Loeffler and Melinda Cooper are excited to welcome the multitalented Siriano to Vero Beach. It’s been five years since the two women founded the annual fundraising event that features fashion personalities guaranteed to attract an audience. They came up big this time.
As Loeffler enthuses, “Christian Siriano is truly a visionary, a global talent with collections that continue to inspire season after season. He was on our short list right from the very beginning.”
It’s no wonder. Siriano has been making headlines ever since he became Project Runway’s shining star at age 22. If you’re not familiar with the television series focused on fashion design, you need to know it’s fast-paced, stylish fun as contestants, restricted by time, materials and theme, compete to create one-of-a-kind garments.
The pressure mounts as one by one contestants are eliminated until only three or four remain. Their next challenge is to create a complete fashion collection for New York Fashion Week. After the glitz and glamour of runway shows, a panel of judges announces the name of the winner.
Not only was Siriano Project Runway’s hands-down winner in 2008, he used the cash prize to open his own design studio. He has shown his collections each season during New York Fashion Week, receiving high praise. In addition, he recently set a Met Gala record for having three of his pieces displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute show “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.”
To top things off, the now-35-year-old designer has come full circle, returning to Project Runway’s 19th season in the coveted role of mentor.
Siriano has described himself as a musical theater kid whose love of costumes inspired him to try his hand at fashion design. He had just turned 13, working as a hair washer and styling assistant at Bubbles Salon in his hometown of Annapolis, when he started sketching dresses and gowns, then taking needle and thread in hand and stitching them himself. His designs were so popular that it didn’t take long before they were featured in the salon’s annual hair shows.
Then came his big win on Project Runway and Siriano became an overnight sensation.
Not long after, he was tapped to be lead designer for the Disney animated film “The Pirate Fairy.” Siriano admits that being in charge of creating ensemble costumes for 7-inch fairies, especially Zarina, the high-spirited main character, was a challenge, one he says he thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from. “Any work I do for Disney is such an honor because I know it will become iconic and memorable when I’m old and retired.”
From fairies to celebrities and divas to first ladies, Siriano’s fashion designs have continued to receive rave reviews. In 2015 he was a member of Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30”; three years later, Time magazine recognized him as one of the “100 Most Influential People” of 2018. Heady praise and well deserved.
When asked what inspires him, Siriano can’t contain his enthusiasm. “Everything and anything! I like to look at architecture, art, furniture, and places around the world. I like to have fun with fashion. I think a fashion show should transport the audience to another place. For that short 15 minutes our customer gets to live in a dream fantasy world of art, culture, and beautiful clothes on different types of bodies, ages and genders.”
In his book “Fierce Style,” Siriano tells the reader how to “Be Your Most Fabulous Self” as he offers advice on how to create a personal style and build self-confidence, along with a list of fashion dos and don’ts. He shows how to use one’s strengths to go from what he calls “tickity-tack” to being totally flawless. The beauty of it is that he makes it look oh, so achievable.
In his latest publication, “Dresses to Dream About,” Siriano takes the reader through the creation of some of his favorite gowns, from initial sketch to fantastic finish. The designs are frothy and fabulous, pure Siriano. Faceless figures with long willowy torsos and billowing skirts of shimmering tulle, layers of ruffles and a profusion of feathers enchant. Magical and elegant, they’re the stuff Cinderella dreamed about while sweeping the hearth and waiting for her fairy godmother to appear.
To appreciate all that has gone into making Fashion Meets Art a success story, it’s important to go back to the beginning, and Loeffler does just that, musing over how everything came together.
“When Melinda and I created FMA we had a game plan. Our vision was to bring a nationally recognized fashion editor, a supermodel, and a fashion designer to the museum within our first five years.”
“The first year we invited Simon Doonan, ambassador at large for Barneys New York and window dresser extraordinaire. I had worked with Simon, so I knew everyone would love him, and they did. It was Simon who led us to potter and home-furnishing designer Jonathan Adler, who was our guest presenter the following year. He inspired us with his designs.”
By then the word was out: Fashion Meets Art was the kind of event you didn’t want to miss.
“For year three we welcomed Hal Rubenstein, best-selling author, designer and one of the founding editors of InStyle magazine. Hal charmed everyone with his quick-witted repartee and fashion introspective.
“Last year we were delighted to welcome a supermodel who regaled our live and virtual audiences with stories about her artistic magazine photo shoots with iconic fashion photographers. And this year we are over-the-moon excited that the award-winning fashion designer Christian Siriano will be joining us,” says Loeffler, who can’t stop smiling.
“Melinda and I have had so much fun together planning Fashion Meets Art, always striving to top the year before. It’s my way of supporting the outstanding programs the Vero Beach Museum of Art offers.”
Proceeds from Fashion Meets Art benefit a number of educational programs serving seniors with cognitive and physical challenges; teens and young adults on the autism spectrum; Museum Explorations, a touring program for county students; and programs for young families, including the Art Zone, Museum Studios, and Museum Stories. It’s a win-win for the community as well as the museum.
Robyn Orzel, the museum’s director of development and associate executive director, couldn’t agree more. “When we inaugurated this event I knew we had a winner. Not only does Fashion Meets Art celebrate fashion as art, it has also helped us engage a new audience. The community support for Christian Siriano reinforces the upward trajectory for this signature event.”
That trajectory will continue to soar as Leslie Bergstrom and Gregory Allan Ness, this year’s vice co-chairs, assume the leadership role.
As Loeffler explains, “Melinda and I thought it was time to step aside and open the doors for other actively engaged committee members to lead the way. Leslie has been an FMA committee member for five years, and Gregory has been a loyal sponsor right from the inception. They have the talent and creativity to propel FMA forward. Melinda and I look forward to working on the event committee and helping out in any way we can.”
Bergstrom, a museum trustee and docent, first learned about the event when she sat next to Loeffler at a luncheon. “Karen and I started talking and she told me about her idea for Fashion Meets Art. I had lived in London, was a working artist while living in the Cayman Islands, and have always loved fashion, so I thought it was a wonderful idea and wanted to do whatever I could to help out.
“When Hal was here, we asked our fellow FMA committee members to bring in dresses reminiscent of those featured in his book “100 Unforgettable Dresses.” I bought mannequins and we created displays with over 20 looks. They were fabulous!”
For Ness, it was a desire to support the museum that prompted him to support Fashion Meets Art. “I believe the museum is integral to our community; it’s one of the bedrock components that draw like-minded residents and visitors to Vero Beach,” he points out.
“As principal designer of Coastal Interiors, I realize that fashion and interior design go hand in hand. That’s why having Christian Siriano, who has launched his own line of home furnishings, is just a great fit. I’m honored to be co-chairing FMA 2023 with Leslie. We intend to build on the legacy Karen and Melinda have set in motion.”
And what a legacy it is. Fashion Meets Art is one of those success stories that started with an idea five years ago and has grown into a major fundraising event. And now, it’s time to welcome Christian Siriano.