STEELE INTERVIEWS: fashion designer Kelly Dempsey [Project Runway]

Project Runway contestant Kelly Dempsey

Project Runway contestant Kelly Dempsey

Fresh, honest, vivacious Boston fashion designer Kelly Dempsey is in the final four of Project Runway S14. The pretty and talented 31-year-old Bostonian has two consecutive wins including the Avant Garde Challenge [Kelly says: “that was my favorite dress so far I couldn’t wait for it to go down the runway
”]. She also won the Unconventional Challenge which puts her at three wins overall and in a solid spot at this point in the competition.

Kelly's winning Avant Garde design inspired by the Brooklyn Bridge

Kelly’s winning Avant Garde design inspired by the Brooklyn Bridge

Her style is edgy
blending street chic and vintage. I’ve been rooting for her from the first episode and not just because she’s from Boston like me. Her infectious positive attitude makes her such a delightful person. Like many cool Bostonians,  Kelly balances her independence and outspokenness with a sweet caring spirit.

another winning design by Kelly

another winning design by Kelly

I recently interviewed Kelly by phone where we bonded over our love of thrifting and The Middle East Club in Cambridge, Mass.

Amy Steele: How did you get into fashion designing?

Kelly Dempsey: Growing up my mom had a craft store in our house she was a very crafty woman and she made a lot of stuff and I kind of grew up watching her design I feel like a lot of clothes we had were second hand clothes like I kind of wanted to be different it was a small town and I didn’t want people to know I was wearing old clothes so I began designing my own things at 8 or 9 (years old)

Amy Steele: You haven’t had training or gone to school for fashion design?

Kelly Dempsey: I went to Mass College of Art for one year. I wanted to try all the avenues. I ended up not finishing because I had already gone so far and I continued on my own to get things moving.

Amy Steele: Where did you learn how to sew and develop techniques?

Kelly Dempsey: A lot of trial and error. I am always learning and you kind of teach yourself whatever you want to learn to mold yourself as a designer. Whatever I am curious about learning I do research on the internet and practice.

Amy Steele: Do you have your own company or line?

Kelly Dempsey:  I do. It was Kelly Couture for a while and I was making a lot of one of a kind designs. I wanted to do my new brand which is Rack Addik — a ready-to-wear urban street glam line . . . and fanny packs.

Amy Steele: Why do you like fashion and fashion designing?

Kelly Dempsey:  I feel like I’m a super creative individual. My mind is always going a million miles a second I do like all different kinds of art. I think fashion is the one I get the most excited about. A painting you just hang it on your wall and look at it and no one sees it. When you see people it’s your first impression of someone. I’m just very outgoing and like to embrace that and add it into my clothes

Kelly Dempsey sketching by the Brooklyn Bridge for the Avant Garde challenge

Kelly Dempsey sketching by the Brooklyn Bridge for the Avant Garde challenge

Amy Steele: What inspires your designs?

Kelly Dempsey: It’s the hardest question people ask and I don’t really have an answer.   Anything and everything inspires me. I just feel it comes from within and I’m super motivated with fashion design and I love it. Seeing different perspectives from different designers I just love the whole process of it.

Amy Steele: Who are some designers you admire?

Kelly Dempsey:  Alexander McQueen. Jeremy Scott. Betsey Johnson.

Amy Steele: Who are you designing for?

Kelly Dempsey: I feel like my market is not 90% of the people…it’s very youthful…the girl is young and she wants to stand out and look amazing all at the same time …demographically I’d say 15 to 35.

Amy Steele: How would you describe yourself as a designer?

Kelly Dempsey: I think as a designer I definitely have that craft store/thrift store embedded in me. I design very eclectic/ in your face but sexy and fun all at the same time.

Amy Steele: What’s it like being a designer in Boston? How does it affect you being a designer in Boston versus New York or LA?

Kelly Dempsey: If I was in Kansas it would suck because you have to go so far to get to any fashion capital…being in Boston it’s so easy to get to New York I could drive there right now…Boston is great because Boston needs me to launch my brand here. It needs more edgy designs. That’s my goal.

When you’re sifting through dollar bins you see things to put together that don’t necessarily belong together. I think it is part of my brain to see things differently. I’d rather be myself and have some people not like me than to be someone I’m not happy with.

Amy Steele: You’re tough.

Kelly discusses her design with PR mentor Tim Gunn

Kelly discusses her design with PR mentor Tim Gunn

Amy Steele: What have you learned being on Project Runway?

Kelly Dempsey: I have learned so much being on Project Runway. I think the experience of working with people who have been in the industry and talking with the other designers I have learned so much. I got more information here in one second than I did in my entire life. You talk to people who live it. Being on the show I had no idea of how I would do. That was like the most crazy thing where I am at this point– I feel being myself is what got me through. I didn’t conform. I took what the judges said and I added it to me. When I get out of here I’m going to need a market.

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Amy Steele: What’s the best part of being on the show?

Kelly Dempsey:  I feel like I’ve been struggling and trying to make this work for so long that I needed this in my life to take it to the next level. This is the best opportunity I could have gotten. Being here and making it to the final four is a dream to me. I feel like I have a lot of confidence but this has pushed me to a whole other level.

Kelly's winning design for the Unconventional Challenge

Kelly’s winning design for the Unconventional Challenge

Amy Steele: What are your favorite places in Boston?

Kelly Dempsey: I’m a huge baseball fan– I love Fenway Park. I really like the Charles River on Storrow Drive. There’s a path there by the water…it’s somewhere I can go and center myself. For the last thing I have to say the Middle East in Cambridge Downstairs because I’m a huge hip-hop fan.

Amy Steele: Thank you Kelly and best of luck! We’ll have to go thrifting. I’ll see you on twitter and Instagram.

Kelly Dempsey: Thank you.

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