With picnic baskets, Christian Siriano puts on backyard show

WESTPORT, Conn. (AP) — Christian Siriano, who turned his atelier into a mask-making machine, took to his Connecticut backyard Thursday for a cozy fashion show complete with picnic baskets for his small in-person crowd, masks on the faces of his models and a dip in his pool for pregnant muse Coco Rocha.

“We just needed an escape,” he told The Associated Press after his cheery parade of ball gowns, prints that included panels from comic books and looks emblazoned in black and white with a simple message: “VOTE.”

For the rest of the fashion industry, Siriano livestreamed the show on a sunny, mild day, with his garden as backdrop and his grass as runway. It was a rare New York Fashion Week show to include physical guests, something he said both he and his clothes sorely required.

“I was scared people weren’t going to come all the way out here,” he said. “I just felt like my clothes, they need to be seen, and I’ve been sitting at home depressed. Really, I just wanted to have some fun.”

Siriano’s spring-summer collection, not quite as expansive as usual, was inspired in part by some of the things he’s been doing in quarantine, watching movies that he loved as a child (“The Wizard of Oz” and “Clueless” among them), reading old comic books his mom sent, and painting and sketching in the home he moved into in April. His new digs have already made it into Architectural Digest.

The daisies in his garden led him to dangle flowers that bounced on a sunny yellow tulle gown. His comic books became gray and black cartoon panes on a trouser and jacket set. Rocha took her dip in a tight red gown with a train after she and the other models walked Siriano’s lawn in a circle wearing spiky heels. One fell, but she gracefully righted herself with a smile on her face.

Siriano has been cooking more in quarantine, shopping for produce at a farmer’s stand near home. The ripe heirloom tomatoes he finds there inspired the red of Rocha’s look, along with others. His painting translated to brush strokes of red, yellow, green and blue in one print, while other looks came in a red picnic check.

Like so many others in fashion, the pandemic hasn’t been easy for Siriano business wise. He quickly converted his operations to making masks for essential workers (about a million so far) after the pandemic hit, but he had to furlough workers and close a store.

So how has he survived in quarantine?

“Staying in this house, and just trying to create,” Siriano said. “Doing this, honestly, is what got me through it. I was sketching every day, just trying to play around.”

Gone this fashion week were the hordes of celebrities and influencers usually seated on front rows. Billy Porter, who sparkled in a silver suit with a huge hat and high black boots, showed up for Siriano.

The designer and “Pose” star bonded at last year’s Academy Awards when Porter took to the red carpet in a huge tuxedo gown Siriano designed. Now, Porter is waiting out the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards after his best actor nomination for his Pray Tell character on the FX series.

“I’ll be sitting in my new house on Long Island that I just bought with my husband and enjoying the evening,” Porter told AP of Sunday’s Emmys. “I’m dressing all the way up.”

Porter said he’s been keeping busy in quarantine writing his memoir. Celebrating the Emmys and attending a fashion show are both “a little strange,” he said.

“It’s a real exercise in learning how to hold space for multiple emotions simultaneously,” he explained. “The world has to continue to move forward and we have to continue to live while dealing with all the stuff that’s happening. This is a breath of fresh air, to be able to safely come in fellowship with people. It’s nice to see human beings gathered.”