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'Project Runway' exit Q&A: Jennifer Diederich

Season 5’s latest auf-ed contestant talks about her Olympic opening ceremony outfit, what Tim really thought of it, and whether she wants a do-over

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Project Runway

Maybe we just misunderstood Jennifer Diederich. Or the producers just didn’t portray her in the best light. Could she be a design genius? Viewers saw a young woman who seemed to have one design aesthetic — as the judges put it, matronly — that didn’t have any wow! factor. But, after chatting with the latest cast-off from Project Runway, it seems she put a lot more thought into those dresses and outfits than she was given credit for. Here she dishes on all that deep thinking, what Tim really said to her about the ensemble she put together for this week’s challenge (surprise: He actually liked it!), and the craziness that is the leather-loving contestant Stella.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So let’s get right to it: Were you surprised to be in the bottom three?
JENNIFER DIEDERICH: Honestly, no. I really liked my outfit. But I was worried. Half of the designers went in the more athletic direction and the other half went in the more glamour direction. So, you know, there’s that wondering what direction should I be going in? But at the same time, I do not have an athletic aesthetic in my design. So, I kind of just wanted to stay true to what I do, and I tried to think about the challenge in a way to design something that would be useful to the athletes but, at the same time, a little more dressed up.

Right. Take it in a different direction. No harm with that.
Right. It’s the opening ceremony, and it is a runway show as well, so it has to be something that’s not just shorts and a T-shirt.

All spandex, maybe?
Definitely not. Lord, help us.

Do you think you deserved to go home? Should Daniel have been sent packing?
Well, to be honest with you, at that point I feel like I had shown what my style was, and I don’t think that anybody should have gone home instead of me. I don’t know — I’m just not that kind of a person. I don’t feel that I should have gone home for my design — I don’t feel that it was the worst. It was cute. A lot of people went in the same direction that I went in, which was the wrong direction obviously. But, at the same time, do I think mine was as over-the-top as some? What I felt that I had as an advantage over the others who went in the more glamorous direction was that I thought about the design. I put a pocket in the back where the athletes could put their passes or their digital cameras. And I took gold threads from the skirt fabrics and I embroidered ”U.S.A.” on the little silk tank top. The embroidery on the sweater was inspired by the [National Track & Field Hall of Fame] museum. I took inspiration from the museum. I feel like I really thought about it, and some other people just did whatever they like. I tried to think about it and incorporate details.

NEXT PAGE: Overthinking the competition

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Viewers never saw those details! We were robbed. Talk to me about the outfit a little more. Were there other details that we didn’t see?
JENNIFER DIEDERICH: My whole idea was not going for red, white, and blue, which I do regret because you want something that is recognizably American. The thing I was thinking was a ”go for the gold” theme because athletes want to win and be the best or whatever. That was my thought. In the museum I was inspired by a tracksuit from the 1920s that was silk, and it was striped teal and cream with little track shorts. The stripes were an inspiration to me. I found this fabric that was a cotton-lycra with the metallic thread for the skirt. I thought the gold was eye-catching and would be easy to see from the stands.

Did you worry about it looking matronly? The judges were hard on you about that the week before.
From the week before, I agree that the proportions of that outfit were off and made it look more matronly than I would personally have liked. I wanted to make sure [this time] that I worked on the skirt length so that it wouldn’t look old. I made a little bit of a shorter skirt. I went with more of a fleece because it was sportier, but it was crisp looking.

You said you went in the wrong direction. While ”coulda, woulda, shoulda” doesn’t do anyone any good, would you have gone in a sportier direction if you had to do it over?
Obviously, to stay in the competition, yes. But at the same time, I’m there because I want to show people what my collection is about and what my style is like. I’m getting a really positive response to the outfit, and people are saying, ”Geez, that was totally inappropriate for the challenge, but I would totally wear it out or to work or whatever.” So many people want me to remake the outfit for them. So I don’t regret it because now what’s important is that I’m back in the real world, and I have a business, and I want to sell clothes. I don’t think I would change it.

Nina kept saying that you couldn’t separate your personal design taste from what the challenge was, but it is a balance. It sounds like having your personal voice and style is important.
That’s exactly how I feel. I think the problem is that the judges can’t step back from their aesthetic. They’re saying they want to see something more modern, but they need to see past that and see the effort that goes into it. This is my style. Critique it for how it is within my style. Not just what your taste is. But I agree with her in the fact that I shouldn’t be designing for myself in this challenge. I should be designing for an athlete, who is a different person. Yeah, I agree with her in that matter.

Well, the opening ceremonies aren’t too athletic, so I don’t think it was so off the mark that you went a little bit more glamorous. It’s supposed to be fun.
I think the challenge was making it look good on an athlete’s body. They kept talking about that in the judging, like the athletes have muscles and they don’t want to look bigger. So the challenge was making it look recognizably American and fit an athlete’s body. Then you could go anywhere you wanted, really.

Were you thinking about how to accentuate an athlete’s body when you were conceptualizing? Because it didn’t seem like they brought that up when they gave you the challenge.
No, we didn’t really discuss that. I think that was a conclusion you had to draw on your own. I think I got overwhelmed with the other inspirations and other thoughts. I didn’t take it into consideration. It’s just such a limited amount of time — that was a really short challenge too.

I feel like you might overthink things. Yes?
Totally, yeah, definitely.

NEXT PAGE: What’s next for Jennifer

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When Tim consulted, he seemed unsure of your outfit and said that when he saw it from across the room that it looked matronly. Did you do much to change it after he said all that?
JENNIFER DIEDERICH: Well, I’m not sure how much I should be saying. Tim really liked my outfit. Did you notice they kind of voiced-over another opinion as an afterthought? He said, ”I was looking at your outfit from across the room and the top kind of seemed matronly.” And then they filled in something else, but really then he said, ”But I see it up close, and I see the inspiration, and I really like it.” So he really liked it. There was no information to take and change. He thought it was good.

It’s creative cutting then.
Very creative.

Let’s talk contestants: What’s going on with all the wacky personalities? Stella and her leather, Blayne with the tanning, and so on?
Even from the get-go, we all were very friendly with each other. We all got along. We were shocked — aren’t we supposed to hate each other? You’re fighting in a competition. They showed me as kind of sleepy, but at the same time, I made a lot of great friends, and I had a ton of fun, and everyone is so nice. Obviously they’re personifying certain characters. That’s reality for you.

Is Stella as crazy as she looks on TV?
No, I actually saw her last night. I went over to her apartment and hung out for a little bit. She is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. On the show, they’re making it where you either love her or hate her. At the same time, I don’t know if there’s anybody who’d meet her and hate her. So she’s kind of bummed about that. You know? But she is a super-kind person. She does talk about leather constantly, that’s true. And Blayne talks about tanning all the time too. So those are definitely true.

Jennifer, what’s next? Where can we find you?
I have my own line here in the states, and it’s called Suite. It’s the idea of taking something that’s kind of more luxurious — like a suite, not just a hotel room — and using it in your everyday life. Like, I like to have a dress that you can wear in the daytime and the nighttime, just changing it up to make it different with accessories. It’s a brand new line, so I’m trying to get it into a couple of stores in my hometown, Syracuse, N.Y. And hopefully next season, in New York City, as well. In the next month, I’m going to be selling a small collection for fall online. I have a website — it’s http://www.jenniferdiederich.com — and the collection is inspired by lumberjacks and camping. It’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek — because those are typically masculine things — and using something very masculine in a very feminine way. It’s cute and fun and flirty.

Any final words?
I think that I didn’t get to explain myself too much on the show, and I’m more of a soft-spoken person, but I really try to make my stuff wearable for a larger range of people, not just models. And I can explain more of that surrealism if people want to look more into it.