STEELE INTERVIEWS: Project Runway designer Christopher Straub

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Season 6 of Project Runway takes place in Los Angeles. Hosted by Heidi Klum, with mentor Tim Gunn and judges Michael Kors (leading fashion designer) and Nina Garcia (fashion director of Marie Claire magazine). The designers use workspaces at Los Angeles’ Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM).  Finalists will show their own lines in front of an audience of fashion industry insiders at New York Fashion Week. 

PROJECT RUNWAY: SEASON 6 started with 16 Designers and this week it is down to six:

Althea Harper (24) -Brooklyn, NY [hometown: Dayton, OH]

Carol Hannah Whitfield (24) -Brooklyn, NY [hometown: Anderson, SC]

Gordana Gehlhausen (45) -San Diego, CA [native of former Yugoslavia]

Irina Shabayeva (27) -New York, NY [native of Republic of Georgia]

Logan Neitzel (26) -Seattle, WA [hometown: Blackfoot, ID]

Christopher Straub (30) -Shakopee, MN [hometown: St. Louis Park, MN]

I spoke with the energetic, sweet, and very positive Christopher Straub by phone on Monday.

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Christopher Straub at his work station/ PR

STEELE: I want to talk about the last challenge. I know you’re all done wrapping. Oh what was it called?

 

CHRISTOPHER STRAUB [CS]: Around the World in Two Days–I think that was the name of the challenge.

STEELE: The things that motivate you although it was the things that motivate or inspired Michael Kors more. What did you think when they said that these are places that he likes to go and travel to and they might be places you’ve never been to?

CS: I really can get my inspiration from anything. Whether it’s the smallest thing like a location or a fabric. I had no problem taking a photograph of Santa Fe and designing what I thought that woman in that temperature, in that climate would wear. And so I had a lot of fun with it.

STEELE: But they said no one there would wear what you ended up designing. I thought it was really cute.

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Matar models design by Christopher Straub

CS: You never know what the judges are going to be looking for at that moment. I did what I did. I did what I thought was right. Sometimes the judges don’t get it. Sometimes you don’t get a chance to explain what you were really going for. I took my inspiration from the photograph and the colors and the landscapes and I don’t know anyone from Santa Fe and I’ve never been to Santa Fe. So I had to use all my own references to create a look that I thought was appropriate for the challenge.

STEELE: I watch Project Runway with my mother every week [writer’s note: is that pathetic of me to admit or nice that I spend quality time with my mom] and whenever you guys are at MOOD my mother says [and I use my mom voice]: “They never have enough time. They seem so rushed.” So is it the way that it looks or at the beginning are you allowed to get familiar with the store? Do you know what’s where?

CS: I don’t remember ever getting a tour of the store saying, “These fabrics are in this section.” but there are signs that say Organza or silk so sometimes if you know what you’re looking for you can look in those sections. But there’s never enough time. If you came to me and said “Let’s design an outfit for me,” you would never take a half an hour just to pick out fabric. That’s a huge part of the challenge. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, you have to make a concession at that moment to pick something that’s going to work for you and work for your garment. Otherwise you have to change your plan right away if you don’t find the right fabric.

I’ve had to do that a few times where the initial garment wasn’t the fabric or color I was looking for. A good example was the first challenge. That dress was actually supposed to be orange and white and it ended up being gray and black. So it’s all about whatever fabrications you can find in that small, small timeframe. Especially if you are looking for several different materials because it’s what is going to work and what is going to go together.

STEELE: And when you sketch are you also thinking what kinds of fabrics you are using?

CS: Yeah. I remember going one time to MOOD and thinking, “I like this fabric. I should try to find a way to work that in to the next challenge. But you forget that fabric by the time you get to the next challenge. I remember thinking that I wanted a leg up and to be inspired by the fabric but you never know what the challenge is going to be. You never know if that white fabric with the pink orchids is going to work.  You can never get exactly what you have in your head but you can usually get pretty close. There’s a lot of stuff.

STEELE: What do you think is the best part of being on Project Runway?

CS: For me, it’s the relationship part of it. I love meeting people. I think that the bonding experience with those 15 people, some more than others, no one is going to be able to share that with me. I’m really good friends with Carol Hannah and Ramon-Lawrence and only they know the intensity and that odd boiling pot that we had to know each other in. Because in one respect, you have to have people around you that support you and in another respect, that’s your competition. Those are the people that are keeping you from being in the number one spot.

It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me.

STEELE: How much interaction do you have with the models and especially with the spin-off show [Models of the Runway], how does that affect your designs?

CS: I think for me the model did not have a huge effect on my designs. Of course you like to work with a model that you know you’re comfortable with and you know their sizing and all that stuff. Models are really good transformers. If you want them to have a natural sun-kissed look or you want them to have a Goth look, they usually can get into those roles. I never had a problem. In this last challenge, when I had Santa Fe, Matar was the perfect model for that because she already has that bronzed skin and that beautiful wavy hair and highlights of gold and brown. It was perfect for my design.

STEELE: I would think most models are built like racks that you can just hang clothes on pretty much.

CS: Yeah. The thinner the model, the more beautiful your stuff looks sometimes.

STEELE: Kojii– I really like her look. I wondered why she said she had a hard look to work with because she’s pale and has dark hair. She’s the skinniest of all the models and she has a daughter!

CS: Oh, by far. By far! That was a hesitation with picking her because I had seen when a designer would make a garment for her specifically and put it on the bust for her it would have a six inch gap from the shoulders all the way to the bottom. It couldn’t close on our forms at all. Typically there will be some odd measurements here and there. But Kojii was literally six inches less than every measurement and it was difficult to make clothing for her. You couldn’t do any draping because you would literally have to custom make it for her body.

STEELE: So there are three episodes left and you’ve been either in the top three or the bottom three. I have to ask you about it.

CS: [laughing…] I was getting a lot of visibility. I went onto the show never, ever, ever wanting to play it safe. I always wanted to push the envelope whether it be good or whether it be bad. Sometimes it’s praised like the first challenge and sometimes it’s not so praised. But this is what I do. I’m an artist. I never went to school and I never got the critiques from the instructors. So this is all a new world. I’ve never had boundaries. It’s difficult for someone to say your ART is good or bad. I’ve never had it put in that perspective. Someone’s going to be telling you you’re good or you’re not so good. And it’s completely subjective.

On the first challenge: I won it, but I still got some people saying, “I hate your dress.” And then other times when I’m almost going home people will say, “I’m surprised you didn’t win.” There’s always going to be someone who’s going to love and hate everything you do. So I don’t really take it personally. At all. I’d rather be in the bottom three, then safe. At least I get to talk about my design, my point of view and my story behind it.

STEELE: At the beginning you seemed really paranoid that everyone else had all this training that you didn’t have. You’re very hard on yourself. I’m like that too. We are all our own worst critics. You’re constantly comparing yourself to other designers. Of course, it is a competition. I was trying to think of a way to phrase this question. Obviously you are on a show where you are competing with other designers, so I’m just wondering WHY you feel that way.

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Katie models design by Christopher Straub

CS: I guess the best word is just HUMBLE. I’m so happy to be a part of it. That everyone at home can see my point of view and my story. I just wanted to be able to compete. I didn’t necessarily go in it to win it. It was a great opportunity to share my story and share my point of view. I didn’t want to make enemies. I didn’t want to be arrogant or cocky in any way. I wanted to be the BEST ME.

STEELE: You come in and you already have your own sense of style and your own way of doing things but do you learn things and take things away from the show?

CS: Absolutely. Some stuff I had done on the show I had never done before. And what a weird time to try something new but some of the things I did on the show I used after that. I learned what I was capable of doing.  Up until the show I’d never put 20 hours into a dress and all of a sudden when you have a two-day challenge, you find out what can you do in 20 hours versus five hours. I now know I’m capable of doing some high art pieces.

STEELE: So you live in Minnesota still?

CS: Yes, I do.

STEELE: How’s the fashion there?

CS: The Twin Cities is in no means a fashion Mecca. There’s a lot of talent around here though.

STEELE: It’s cold! A lot of UGG boots.

CS: A lot of Columbia jackets. All the girls wear skimpy outfits but put huge parkas on over them. It’s so funny.

I’m getting a lot more aware of the Minneapolis fashion culture. Just now I’m getting taken in by that community so that’s fun too.

STEELE: Good luck with the rest of the episodes. Thank  you for talking to me.

CS: Happy to.

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