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''Project Runway'': A visit to ''Elisa Land''

We talk to the show’s latest castoff about her kooky persona, the design that sent her home, and, of course, the spit-marking

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Project Runway
Barbara Nitke

After sewing up an unspectacular brown velvet dress that the judges described as ”boring,” Elisa Jimenez was auf’d by Heidi Klum and Co. in a Project Runway challenge that found contestants constructing looks solely from materials taken from the Hershey’s store in Times Square. It’s a bittersweet goodbye: In addition to the level of quirk she brought to the show (using spit to mark her garments!), she was one of the sweetest contestants (how fitting for this week’s candy-centric challenge). Now it’s her turn to get in the last word.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you watch the episode last night?
ELISA JIMENEZ:
I have a confession — it’s the truth. I don’t have cable; I don’t actually have a television. [So] I haven’t been watching it. After February, I’m going to sit down with pizza and M&Ms and popcorn and I’m going to have a complete marathon.

Get out! I can’t believe you didn’t watch your big denouement.
Even so, I have been experiencing it: Every night that it’s been on, all my friends and clients and collectors, they will text me what’s going on or their responses to what’s going on. The next day, they talk to me about it. I’ve been having this whole other layer of experience with the show that is really incredible and very beautiful because it’s their responses to what they’re seeing and how they saw me do what I did. I was there!

Have there been any surprised reactions about your techniques, like spitting on clothes?
Not by my clients. My clients have been there while I work. It’s not just spitting! I’m not a linguist, but I’m definitely a word person, I love verbiage. Okay, spitting is like where you chuck a loogie. These are marking spots. It’s a private thing and not a lot of people understand it, but it’s very successful for me. With the spit-marking — it’s gentle like, here’s a point, here’s a point — but has anyone done any research on what dry cleaning does? If you want to get into a big stink, let’s talk about that.

I think people were just surprised by it. Were you anxious about putting those little idiosyncrasies on display?
I really appreciate that question. Every single moment before I would open my mouth or I would do something, I did do like a check-in to really see what was worth exposing. My intention was not to try to go in and change everybody else’s perception of how everything was made. My intention was to go in and truly be a good example of someone who continues to try to do the right thing to themselves, to their heart.

Last night, you revealed more about your personal story — how the car hit you in London and the ensuing injuries. Did you make a conscious decision to reveal that?
I didn’t feel I needed to explain myself, but there were two very important reasons that I wanted to go on Project Runway. The first was my daughter, because I was chosen as one of the original 14 on the first season of the show.

Wait — sorry to interrupt — you were asked to be on the first season?
Yes. I chose to turn it down. First, because my daughter was 8 years old, and you have to live with everyone, and I couldn’t be with her. I went off to London instead, and I get hit, and I’m in a coma for five days. So then, okay, you come back and you’re all banged up with a severe head trauma and a broken neck. People loved me back to life! For my daughter, she wanted me to try for Project Runway again because she wanted to see what the difference was. The other part was that I wanted to share my story. I wanted people to see that you can come back, that you can make it back.

NEXT PAGE: About that brown dress…

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: About the brown velvet dress you made last night: Do you feel like that was the dress that deserved for you to be cast off?
ELISA JIMENEZ: Deserve is such a tricky word. I was raised in critique format, so the whole runway and wanting to be a part of the dialogue was something I asked for. I don’t consider them judges, but to have those other people — Heidi, Michael Kors, Zac Posen, etc. — critique me, I don’t see them as above me. You take what you can use, and you discard what you can’t. So as far as that particular dress, I still stand by that dress. I like that dress. Do I agree with what they said? Not necessarily, no. Do I see the points that they were trying to make? Yes. What they don’t realize is all the suggestions that they’ve made, I’ve already done 10 years worth of work like that. So why would I do the same thing over again? I’m not interested in that. Any way you can play with fairy and light and happy and sugar and honey and chocolate and things that are sweet and consumable and sensual has been part of my work — that’s one of the things I do — so to go back and do that over again, just for Project Runway, is not very interesting. I personally need to be challenged.

They made comments that it was boring and wasn’t joyful. Do you think that was fair?
I just think of it as critique. I don’t really accept it as mine. I don’t think my dress was boring; I actually quite love it. If you really think about what the dress is, I basically made her a chocolate bar. I made her consumable without actually using chocolate. I made what I wanted.

You said you could definitely make it to the top three if you wanted. You just had to put your mind to it. If you had the chance, what would you do differently?
It’s hard to look back on the past and say, ”Oh, I would have done this and I would have done this.” If wishes were fishes, we’d all cast nets in the sea.” It’s a very true thing. I’m very happy with how I approached the show. One of the things I learned that was crucial for me to learn as a creator is that I will never be that person in the little white box. Ever. No matter how hard I try, I’m good at being the person outside the little white box.

Were you offended when Chris said you were from another planet?
He actually turned to me and asked if I was offended. I said, ”You know, Chris, if you had been the only person who’d ever said, maybe. But I had people who loved me for years, and that’s what they love about me.”

Of the designers left on the show, whose style do you admire?
I love Chris’ designs because how can you not? He’s extremely young, but if he stays true to who he is, no matter what happens, he will have an incredible career. Jillian — love her. Love her whole thing. She’s not in the Land of Elisa, but I told her I’d love to wear one of her dresses and see what she’d do with me. I would love whatever that is. Kit, of course. We joke about the fact that we’d probably have been friends if we ran into each other in L.A. And Victorya, I admire her. She has this whole way of mapping out everything before she makes a garment, and I was a sucker for that.

What are you up to now?
I just put on three shows in the past month and a half — full-on fashion shows. I’m working on marionettes, and I have a show coming up, and I’m doing New York Fashion Week. Elisaj.com is my website that my genius friend put up for me. He said you can’t be on Project Runway and not have a website. He was like, ”It’s just wrong.” I haven’t seen it, so everyone tells me that it looks really good.

You haven’t seen your own website?
You know, I’m attached to certain things, like making things, but I’m not really attached to other things, like the Internet.

Want more? See our TV Watch recap of Elisa’s last night on Project Runway