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''Runway'' exit Q&A: Chris

The big guy with the big laugh talks about his hairy designs, his Oscar-winning fan, and his pick to win

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Project Runway, Project Runway (Season 4 -- Episode 13: Finale Part 1)
Virginia Sherwood

Hair-raising is one way to describe last night’s episode of Project Runway, especially when it comes to the collection of cast-off Chris March. The genial designer — a fan favorite, even though he didn’t win the actual title, but more on that later — used human tresses as a skirt in one outfit and lined a collar in the stuff, too. Heidi called his work ”special and unique,” but ultimately, the hair didn’t make the cut. How’s he feeling about the whole thing? The big guy, hyena-laugh and all, called in to let us know.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you watch the episode last night?
CHRIS MARCH:
No. [Lets loose that crazy, signature laugh] No, I’m kidding — of course I watched it! I was actually quite impressed with the episode and how nicely my exit was portrayed and everything. I’ve said this before, but I feel like the producers were very kind to me.

Right. As sad as it was, it wasn’t like a disgraceful exit. The judges were going on and on about how you are an incredible designer.
Yeah, it definitely took the sting out of it — to have Heidi say, ”We just think you’re an incredible designer.” I may not be exactly the right fit for what they were looking for the finale, but for me, that’s not necessarily a big negative thing.

When everyone came back from Bryant Park, where you showed your collection even though by that point you knew you were off, they were all like, ”Chris used human hair!” And then Tim was even concerned when he visited. Did you ever think about snipping it off?
I did consider it. But I thought that one of the main things I had going for me, competition-wise, was my ability to think way outside the fashion box. So I thought I wanted to use things that were interesting and provoking, and then I decided to leave the hair on the outfits because it’s not necessarily about winning or losing the competition. It’s about showing your work and your creativity as well. So I didn’t want to compromise that. Certainly, using human hair in fashion isn’t unprecedented.

Really?
The fact that they were shocked — shocked with a little s — was, you know, I thought a little bit odd. I guess that I did something that was fashion-forward and they kind of didn’t get it or they didn’t look at it that way.

Where do you get human hair? Can you buy it at wig shops?
Yeah, you can just buy it at a wig shop. It’s just what girls use for hair weaves or to make wigs with. I got some of it off Christian’s head — the one side that’s shorter.

No you didn’t!
[Laughs]

The hair was the focus of the discussion by the judges, but how’d they react to the long, crocheted velvet dress?
They definitely loved the look of the dress. They thought it was a little extreme, but it was my finale look. They thought that it was really interesting because they were like, ”We cannot tell what it is!” I had this idea about a spine, something that would look like a spine. I had this vision of the crocheted velvet, so I made a stole to go with it.

That’s a good thing when it intrigues them! Just like your safety pins.
That’s why I brought three looks that all had something different. Each one of them had an element of mystery. I was hoping that mystery would make them want to see more.

They did see it at the Bryant Park show. Even though by then you weren’t still in the running to win Runway, how’d it feel?
It was such an overwhelming, incredible moment for me. There you are, on the runway at Bryant Park. They were all just cheering! I mean, I had Meryl Streep there as my guest. How much better does it get than that? You know, when the show started, I went backstage, and Tim — I get choked up when I talk about this — but he put his hands on my shoulders and he said, ”Chris, I want to watch this with you because it’s incredible.” Tim is the person that I met who encouraged me to audition, so I’ve been on a long journey with him.

Wait, you met Tim before you auditioned?
Uh-huh, I had worked on a project with him like a month before my audition, and he saw my outfits for this Wishbone salad fashion-show thing I did and just looked at me and said, ”You have to audition. You just have to. We need somebody really unique and creative.”

Did Meryl come up to you afterward to congratulate you?
She called me the next day.

Well, don’t leave me hanging! What’d she say?
She just thanked me so much, and just told me she loved my collection and that she completely got it. She said, ”I don’t know why people are freaked out by the hair.” She thought it was beautiful and she loved my styling and loved the flow of it and the color. She thought I was amazing and so creative. I was like, Meryl Streep is telling me this!

NEXT PAGE: ”Christian has a huge online following on MySpace and Facebook. I’m, I’ll just say, a little bit older, and I’m not so interested in that stuff.”

Let’s go back to the reunion special: Did you think you were going to be the fan favorite?
I thought that I could possibly be the fan favorite, but I also know that the way that the fan favorite gets chosen is mostly by texting and by online voting. Christian has a huge online following on MySpace and Facebook. I’m, I’ll just say, a little bit older, and I’m not so interested in that stuff. I do business through my website, not through MySpace. He definitely has that kind of fan. No matter who likes you, it doesn’t matter if they don’t vote. Last night on the episode they did the voting thing between me and Rami, and I won! I was very happy about that.

Has the fan outpouring shocked you?
I’ve been completely surprised at the outpouring of just incredible amounts of positive feedback and love from people all day long. Literally, hundreds of people every day!

You live in New York City — do people accost you on the street?
All day long! The oddest thing to me has been when people come up to me and they don’t say anything and they just put their arms around me and hug and kiss me. They don’t even say hello! They just freak out like they’ve seen a unicorn.

And you experienced some bad times, like getting booted that first time. Do you feel like you had to change your process when you came back?
After the challenge where I came back, I got a stern talking-to from Michael Kors about the costume-iness of what I had been doing. Once I got through that episode — the staying up all night and the shock of being back on and what had happened to Jack — I definitely paid a lot more attention to what I was presenting to the judges and what they were saying. I felt like I had a little Tim Gunn on my shoulder the whole time, like, ”Don’t you dare do that! You know what they’re going to say!”

In terms of Tim Gunn, what’s the best piece of advice he ever gave you?
Tim’s best piece of advice to me was the first day, and they didn’t show it. He said to me, ”Nobody else in this room is Chris March, and I want to be sure that every time the judges see your stuff, they know that. I want to make sure you look at your pieces and make sure you have this quintessentially Chris March thing about them, because nobody else is you. Nobody else has your humor, nobody else has your sense of beauty.” I was overwhelmed.

Going forward, are you and Tim going to brunch and talk fashion?
Oh, absolutely! He lives down the street, so yes!

You’ve seen all the lines: Who do you think will win?
I think, honestly, that the competition will come down between Jillian and Christian, and it just depends on the level of fantasy versus wearable that the judges are into. On any given day, it could always change. Christian’s is certainly quite fantastic and amazing. I wish I had given myself a little more permission to go as crazy as he did because it would have been fun. Jillian’s is actually more sleek, sophisticated clothing that I think people actually would wear into the world.

What does tomorrow bring for you?
I’ve got a lot of really interesting offers. I’ve gotten an offer to be the costume designer on a big, Hollywood movie. I’m going to look around at the effect the show has had on my life and career and see how to build on it from there. There are a lot of things opening up to me that I never even dreamt of. One of the producers said to me last night, ”You should never be surprised at the power of television to change your life.”