Interview with Alicia Hardesty of “Project Runway”

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Project Runway, now in its tenth season with no signs of going out of style anytime soon, has had so many gay men on it, they could fill a Pride float draped in Italian wool, cut on the bias. Lesbian designers, not so much.

Photo credit:: Lifetime Television

This year, the show features out lesbian designer, Alicia Hardesty. The last (known) lesbian contestant was Zulema Griffin in Season 2, and she was famously made to appear straight in the edit room. Whether or not Alicia will get the same treatment, eight years later, remains to be seen, but considering Alicia cites Huckleberry Finn as a style inspiration, I’d love to see Project Runway try and de-gay that.

We talked to Alicia recently about her experiences on the show, her plans to launch her own collection called Original Tomboy, and how much she loves being mistaken for Whitney Mixter. Congrats on getting on Project Runway, Season 10. As we know, the show is not only about creating designs, it’s about being able to finish those designs. Are you a fast sewer?
Alicia Hardesty: I am pretty fast. In some of the challenges, I was impressed with myself. I didn’t realize how quickly I could sew! You always worry about problems [like] machines not being threaded right – there are one million things that can pop up and slow you down – but as far as the sewing process goes, we were on industrial machines, so the sewing goes pretty quick.

AE: Since you have the speed-sewing under control, what is the hardest thing about being on the show?
AH: The hardest thing is getting everything done in the amount of time you have. It’s insanely stressful and there’s so much pressure because after a couple of challenges, you know what these judges are like. You know you’re going to be on TV and everyone is watching. So you’re thinking about all those things as you work. The pressure is crazy and you have to put something good on the runway.

AE: What’s Tim Gunn like? He’s not exactly Mister Effusive, but he seems like a nice guy.
AH: Tim is really cool and easy to talk to. Even if there are some things he doesn’t like about [your design,] it’s easy to talk to him and figure out what you can do to make it better.

AE: Did he say anything to you that you remember being especially eye-opening?
AH: There was one thing I was working on, where he made me think I had some other options. And it made me change a couple things about the design. Honestly, there are times when you want to go with Tim Gunn’s critique, because he has a good sense, not only about the design, but what the judges are looking for. You go the way of Tim Gunn a little bit because he’s always really on it.

Photo credit:: Lifetime Television

AE: Does your mind ever go completely blank?
AH: It hasn’t yet. That’s the thing. You have to keep your creativity up and stay on your toes. You got to keep it fresh and keep your mind open and let the creativity flow. You know what I mean?

AE: I usually just let the vodka flow. Hey, you’re also working on launching your collection, Original Tomboy. Great name! Is it available now?
AH: It will be soon. I’m in the process of getting production together. This is the first collection that I’ve designed for Fall: a small collection of pieces that will be available online and in a few boutiques.

AE: You’ve described Original Tomboy as a “modern Huck Finn.” What does that mean? Is it a time, a place, a way of life? A state of mind? A banned book?
AH: For me, it’s more like a state of mind. It’s also like a lifestyle. I grew up in Kentucky as a tomboy and I carry that through to my life today. I like being outdoors and just being very “Huck Finn.” A modern Huck Finn is a modern version of a tomboy. I also like being very fresh, forward, socially conscious, and being involved in the world, but still having deep roots. So vintage, country, Kentucky.

AE: Is your Kentucky background a major influence in your design?
AH: Yeah it wasn’t always like that. When I was growing up, I was striving to get out of Kentucky and see the world. [But] when I moved away and was living in different places, I had an appreciation of where I grew up and what it’s done for me. So, it’s been more of an influence on me.

Photo credit:: Original Tomboy

AE: How old were you when you realized you didn’t want to wear what the other girls were wearing?
AH: I’ve always had an aversion to wearing what I was supposed to wear. I always hated dressing up and doing the whole dress thing, and tucking in my shirt. I just wanted to do what I wanted to do.

AE: Wow, you really are Huck Finn. When’s the last time you wore a skirt or a dress?
AH: [Laughs.] I was asked that a lot when I was on the show. I tell people I think it was high school, but it was probably just a couple of years ago.

AE: So, you’re basically lying to people, is that it? Maybe you’ve blocked it out of your mind.
AH: It was a photo shoot for a photographer friend. And my girlfriend – she’s into styling as well – they threw me into a couple of dresses. The [shoot’s theme] was putting tomboys in all these vintage dresses because it looks really awkward. You know, tomboys just look really awkward in dresses. So, I’ve done it, but never for my own styling purposes. Just photo shoots.

AE: Only when they make you?
AH: Only when they make me.