Dreaming the Dream

Fabric bolts with various types of fabric

Yesterday was a day of contrasts.

Earlier in the day, I participated in a live chat on Huffpost Live with Christian Siriano, the fashion designer who was catapulted to fame after winning Project Runway. Siriano, age 25, has come a long way from those early days, launching an eponymous label and retail store, designing custom wedding dresses and collaborating with other brands such as Payless Shoes. His most recent venture is a lower priced line for HSN, which debuts next week. Known for his big personality and the taglines “fierce,” and “hot tranny mess,” Siriano came across as amicable, yet surprisingly serious.

His conversations leaned towards the business minded, and he appeared wise beyond his years. While Siriano wants to shed his reality show stereotype and be taken seriously as a designer, his career path has been defined by his television persona.

Ruminating on the story of Christian’s success, I wandered back to my office.

When I arrived, I got a panicked phone call; “Tommy is coming!”
The fashion equivalent of an air raid drill is the frantic call to arms when the namesake designer of a brand comes by for an unexpected visit.

I dashed upstairs to make sure that our presentation was up to snuff.

Mr. Hilfiger arrived shortly thereafter, with a group of young aspiring designers in tow, to talk to them about his company and how he got started.

I was lucky enough to be able to sit in, and hear him share his story with the group.

The career trajectory of today, as seen with Christian Siriano is unique: Go on a reality show, have the public fall in love with you and hopefully your designs, and parlay that into a business.

Mr. Hilfiger, more than twice Mr. Siriano’s age, started in a more humble way: with a small amount of money and a big dream.

As a young man, he invested $150 in the inventory of a New York City street vendor selling jeans. He took them back to his hometown of Elmira, New York, and opened a store he called “People’s Place.” He blasted loud music, lit incense and sold out his entire stock. Later, he decided to make the product more personal, and worked with a local seamstress to distort the classic jean and create an item that was unique to his store. As time evolved, he added other denim items to the mix, keeping his niche and expanding it slowly until it became the international phenomenon that it is today. He speaks of stepping outside his comfort zone, as he explored brand marketing and the expansion of his business.

The audience (myself included) was mesmerized, as he offered advice to young designers just starting out.

Tommy generously shared his knowledge, and a few self-deprecating tales of the less stellar moments in his career. His success came from finding a niche, having a strong vision for the brand, and being consumer-centric. He took on partners to help him with the areas of his business he did not excel at, and surrounded himself with young, like-minded talent.

The contrasts and similarities in the two men were stunning.

Both men have a passion for their work. Both began at a young age, and pursued their dreams. One started on a shoestring and built an empire. The other became an instant household name through reality show notoriety. One has their stellar career behind them, and is using his time and resources in a philanthropic way. The other has their whole future ahead of him, and is exploring ways to grow and develop as a designer.

Both proved to be inspirational in their own right.

The lesson was clear:

Vision and drive are essential on the road to success. How you choose to travel is what makes each journey unique.

Who inspired you today? Share your story in the comment section below.

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