Samantha Black is cool. She stood out for me from the first episode of Project Runway S11 and I was rooting for her. I like her personal style and the clothes she designs. She’s laid back yet edgy. Plus she’s smart and genuine. The 28-year-old Brooklyn resident and Pratt Institute graduate runs two clothing companies Sammy B Designs and Samantha Black. In 2011, Black presented her first show at New York Fashion Week [NYFW]. Solange did the music for the show, attended and sat in the front row. “I’m really excited when people want to wear my clothes and people see it,” Black told me. She’s shown at NYFW nearly every season since. Named “designer to watch” by both Essence and Ebony magazine, Black created garments for celebrities such as Kerri Hilson, Brandi, LaLa Anthony and Angela Simmons. She’s back on Project Runway: All Stars which airs Thursdays at 9 pm on Lifetime.
I spoke to Sam by phone last week.
Amy Steele: I was a really big fan of yours during your season (11) so I’m so happy to speak with you. And I just really like your style and everything.
Samantha Black: Thank you!
Amy Steele: When did you get interested in fashion design?
Samantha Black: I always liked clothes and when I was 16 someone said I should take classes in fashion design. ‘You know you like to doodle.’ So I took a pre-college fashion design course and I loved it. And ever since I thought ‘I want to be a fashion designer.’
Amy Steele: Did you go to fashion school?
Samantha Black: I went to Pratt. I got a bachelors in fine arts but my major was fashion design.
Amy Steele: What did you take away from going to a design school?
Samantha Black: It’s actually really intense. At least Pratt’s program is really intense because you still have your liberal arts program and you have your major classes. [AS note: this sounds like Berklee College of Music] So fashion classes are six hours long. Serious projects. It’s a serious, intense program. You lose half the class. Pratt puts out more entrepreneurs. That’s the path I want to take eventually.
Amy Steele: What inspires your designs?
Samantha Black: I get inspired by art, architecture. I live in New York so you see such crazy style every day. Even my personal style. I dress funky one day and preppy another day. I wanted to create a line that embodies all those things because you can dress that one girl who likes a lot of things.
Amy Steele: I was going to say who are you designing for? So she sounds eclectic.
Samantha Black: She’s definitely an eclectic woman. She’s into all different kinds of music and culture and things like that. Some people say the IT Girl’s closet has to have something from each genre and that’s kind of my line all-in-one.
Amy Steele: So Sammy B is your line?
Samantha Black: I started off with Sammy B and I also have Samantha Black. Sammy B is a little more funky and easy to wear pieces. I’ve really been pushing my Samantha Black line for the last couple of years. In 2011 I started working on the Samantha Black line.
Amy Steele: And this is all on your own.
Samantha Black: I originally started in the industry working [corporate] and I did that for about four years. When they closed my division I started working on my own line. I started working freelance too. I don’t have any investors. All the money I make I literally put into my line. It’s a hard struggle to balance the two. Sometimes I freelance and have to go to an office depending on who the client is.
Amy Steele: What is your greatest challenge as a designer?
Samantha Black: It’s the business side. I definitely don’t think from that side of my brain. I’m an artist. Over the past few years I’ve taken business classes [Macy’s Business Program] so I can really up that side of my business for it to really be something. I’m getting into programs and learning how to be a fully functioning business. To really prosper I have to do it the right way. Budgets. From the ground up. It’s more important than designing because even if you have a good design, if you can’t get it sold . . .
Amy Steele: What is a little bit of your process? Are you setting aside specific time to design? Do you carry around a sketchbook?
Samantha Black: I have three sketchbooks in my purse right now. While I’m riding the subway I use it as my sketch time to try to get some ideas. I might have swatches in my bag. I like to get a few ideas and then I like to search the market. I get inspired by my fabrics. Then I start working on patterns and things like that.
Amy Steele: Who are some designers you admire?
Samantha Black: McQueen, LAMB, Alexander Wang. I think they’re young and hip and edgy at the same time.
Amy Steele: How would you describe yourself as a designer?
Samantha Black: I think I design feminine with an eclectic edge. I try to make the designs flatter a woman’s body and be sexy and be comfortable at the same time. Easy to wear. Details. I like prints. I like patterns. My clothes are a direct representation of my personality. The way I dress, the way I design. My personality comes out in my clothes. I’m usually the loud fun one. I have a big personality. Sometimes I wonder if people can really see it on the show.
Amy Steele: It’s the editing but you can see it in your clothes. You said you’re loud but you seem very laid back. How are you under pressure?
Samantha Black: I’m very chill. I grew up with a lot of boys. I kinda grew up as a tomboy as well. I’m not really into drama at all. I could care less about it. I tell people how I feel right away so I never really talk behind someone’s back. People always know how I feel.
Amy Steele: What was your takeaway from season 11? [Season 11 was the Project Runway: Teams season]
Samantha Black: That season was a little different. A little interesting. Because things are happening so fast and you’re always so stressed out it’s hard to stay true to yourself as a designer all the time. It’s important to make something but always stay true to your vision at all times.
Amy Steele: What interested you in coming back for Project Runway All-Stars?
Samantha Black: Season 11 got a bad rap for being teams and the way it was set up. I wanted the experience of working by myself. I wanted the experience that every other season had. I didn’t make it where I wanted to in my season so it was another opportunity. This is people from seasons 10, 11 and 12 and Chris and Jay from the Bravo seasons. I kind of knew everyone’s skills and visions. It’s good knowing that.
Amy Steele: What is the best part of being on Project Runway?
Samantha Black: I love seeing people actually work. It’s a special thing to see other creatives in the same field and see how they work. In corporate fashion you’re on a computer. I’m the only one of my friends who has my own line so I don’t get to see others work. There aren’t that many of us that have our own lines. I don’t get the same out of it as everyone else does.
Past seasons were surprised by how close season 11 was. It ended up being the closest season. I think because of working in teams we had to get along. Other seasons you start off everyone to themselves. We’re a lot closer than other seasons. This season of all-stars we’re close. We are younger and newer seasons so we have a bond.
Amy Steele: Good luck with everything. It was really nice talking to you and I’ll talk to you on Twitter.
Samantha Black: Thank you. Have a great weekend.
You can follow Samantha on Twitter
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