Being the first to go home from Project Runway isn’t enviable, but Jerry Tam, 32, seems to be taking it pretty well. He even still stands behind the lumpy, dumpy raincoat and summer dress he made on last night’s show. And that’s after it was described as something an ax murderer would wear. EW checked in with him to learn his reactions to his short TV stint, why he went home, and how exactly trash-bag draper Stella made it through to round 2.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you watch the episode last night? What’d you think?
JERRY TAM: I actually watched it at NBC Studios here in New York City. I had to watch it with the exec producers. I thought it was well produced, and I was proud to be on it. My short-lived time was all I could have asked for.
As soon as you heard the challenge was the grocery-store ”innovation,” what was going through your mind?
I was a little disenchanted that they brought back this challenge. I, as a designer, would never use grocery-store items to make clothing, but that was the challenge. So I made this cute little trench coat with a shawl that went over your head to protect from the rain. I stand behind the concept.
If you could go back, what would you change?
I wouldn’t change anything. I didn’t think the competition was that fierce.
How’d you decide to use a shower curtain? Did you consider other things?
I actually walked up and down the aisle to get a general idea about what was available. I picked up a few extra items like coffee filters, which Kelli actually used to win. So I was picking the right things. They didn’t see the vision that came through with ”April showers and May flowers,” though.
Did you purposely try to stay away from items that had been used in the challenges in previous seasons? No cornhusks?
Each designer has his own design ability and restraints about what he or she can design around. We all wanted to stay away from vegetation and fruits because of the cornhusks that Austin Scarlett used in season 1. We all kind of went to different aspects of the grocery store. I saw some people in the bread aisle. I was the only person that went to pharmaceuticals. I just kept thinking, ”I’m not going to go out of my bounds and not do anything overtly crazy and too difficult that’ll take too much time.” So I just used materials that I thought would be really easy and very colorful. I thought I turned out a winning garment.
What’d you use from pharmaceuticals?
From hair and makeup, I used gauze to wrap around my model’s head and under the rain jacket.
Were you ever planning to go with just the jacket and no summer dress? It seemed like that at one point.
No, the whole point was that I had a concept from the beginning. The trench coat was a protective layer for the dress. It was a cheese-puff garment dress, all hand sewn and kind of like an organic flower.
NEXT PAGE: ”I went through every single emotion on that runway.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were you scared after Tim reprimanded many of the designers for using tablecloths as fabric substitutes?
JERRY TAM: Yeah, as soon as he said that, he directly came to me and criticized me. I didn’t! I used shower curtains, and I was still being reprimanded.
But you get that it’s the same sort of thing, right? Like a shower curtain might as well be a tablecloth.
You can’t see the garment as well as everyone else could, but the shower curtain came with these fasteners that I used down the back. They were amazing, so it did go beyond.
Do you get to keep the dress? Put it on display somewhere so people can see those fasteners?
Nope. All I do is get to take my humble pride and claim that I was on season 5 of Project Runway.
You mentioned your biggest fear was losing the first challenge. Was it actually so bad?
I went through every single emotion on that runway — disbelief, anxiety, and depression. Something no one person should experience at the same time. I was just waiting for the decision to fall upon me. I’m okay with it now because now I realize these challenges have certain agendas and whatnot, whether it was promoting certain personalities and designs.
Size up the competition for me. Which of the others do you think are standouts from the beginning?
Well, it’s 50-50. Half of the people are home sewers and should be kicked off the show immediately. But there were some good folks, too. Wesley, who worked for Marc Jacobs and has a great aesthetic. Daniel, he really just blew me away with that cup dress. It was sheer genius. And I like Leanne; she has an aesthetic similar to mine, with a muted palate. Some other personalities are Keith and Kelli. They really love the industry so much in their heart. They should be given the opportunity to show during Fashion Week.
What about Stella? That gal’s got some personality.
That’s why I think she made it to the next round. I think the judges wanted to see more of her personality versus her design. There’s a point during the episode where she almost quits and blames everything on the fabric. I saw everything being set up for her to walk off the show.
But she didn’t get the boot! And honestly, her garment was hideous. It looked like a draped trash bag.
Exactly. I have an actual term for it: whipstitch garbage sack. She just whipped it together with a couple of stitches, and it’s still a garbage sack.
Any parting words before your 15 minutes are over?
Always be well dressed, because you never know when the opportunity rises when you have to have a fashionable moment. Hopefully you’ll be wearing something innovative, new, and fresh.