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'Project Runway' exit interview: 'I was going to finish this look if it killed me'

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SPOILER ALERT! Read no further if you don’t want to hear from the Project Runway designer who got auf’d last night. Still reading? Okay, well, you’ve been warned.

The designer, of course, was Ben Chmura, whose shark-inspired suit earned scathing remarks from the judges. Ben called us up from his Tampa, Fla. home to chat about his experience on the show.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How are you feeling today, Ben?

BEN CHMURA: I have to be honest, it’s a little numbing. To actually be able to watch the episode with friends and get their reactions — it’s been a little weird. I had to turn my phone off last night just because it was going crazy. So I just need a little down time. I’ve been relaxing all morning. It’s been nice.

Let’s talk about your shark suit, which didn’t go over too well last night. Where did the concept come from?

For me, water was just too ambiguous. So the idea of doing something water-related, a shark — for some reason that was the first animal that popped into my head. The other thing is, my model, Alison, has those very angular facial features, so once I thought of the shark concept, I was like, ‘Well, Alison would really work for that.’ To me, the shark is an animal that demands attention, and my look definitely demanded attention, just not in the way that I wanted. But I stand by the concept. I think the concept is interesting.

It was, but the judges, especially Michael Kors, seemed offended by it. Did it feel that way when you were defending it?

[Laughs] Yeah, during the judging, there were a lot of things that they were all individually offended by. It was actually really funny for me to watch it now because obviously a lot more is said than what is shown on TV. Like, they made a comment about how much room was in the crotch of the pants. It was a little off-color.

Oh, the thing about the model looking like she had balls? That’s on the Lifetime site.

Oh, is it on Lifetime? Oh, great. I haven’t had a chance to see that yet. So it’s all out there now.

Maybe I shouldn’t have told you.

[Laughs] No, no, no. It’s funny. It’s an interesting experience. You’re in front of these judges, but to have somebody like Roland Mouret, who’s a legend, say these things to you, it’s very nerve-wracking. It’s not the first impression you want to make with somebody like him. I will say that he’s a very, very nice gentleman and he did come up to me afterward and say that he was sorry he had to say those things. He told me to never stop doing what I do.

What do you think went wrong with your design?

There were a lot of things that went wrong and I will never deny that. Like, the jockstrap idea — a lot of my fellow designers thought it was interesting to incorporate swimwear lines into a pant because it created that SCUBA idea. Tim liked the [shark teeth] buttons and of course the judges hated them. [Laughs] The fit of the jacket, that was totally all on me because I sewed a couple of the panels upside down. By the time I realized it, I had already done all the detailing, all the top-stitching, and constructed the entire body. So at that point, there was no time go back and fix that plus finish everything else that I had to do. Between fabric choice, the decision to make three pieces, and the fit issue, which started immediately with the pant, there were a lot of red lights. And I completely ignored them and decided that I was going to finish this look if it killed me. And that’s what I did. I got it to the point where I could send it down the runway and my model was fully clothed. [Laughs]

Which Emilio did not do last week.

Yeah, or even going back to Ping’s burlap.

Do you have any regrets about the design? The judges did seem to go on and on about the jockstrap crotch.

Which I think is so interesting because it doesn’t even look like a jockstrap. Underwear yes, but not a jockstrap. I really do feel like I stayed true to myself with my concept because I don’t design flowy pieces. There’s obviously been a lot of coulda, woulda, shoulda’s since the elimination, and I’ve had some months to deal with it. It was my time. I knew it the morning [of the runway show]. So I was just kind of waiting for the verdict.

On his blog, Tim Gunn has said more than once that he was disappointed your work kept going unnoticed by the judges. Was that frustrating to you as well?

Well, it was. I do put a lot of smaller details into my garments, which the judges can’t see from where they’re sitting. And up until the Marie Claire challenge, I kept saying, “When am I finally going to talk to them?” At that point, everybody had talked to them except for me and Janeane. To get in the top two for the Marie Claire challenge, then go right back into the middle for the next couple of challenges, it was difficult. You’re always wondering, Why do they like this over this? You’re wondering what it is that makes something stand out to them.

Which of your own designs is your favorite?

I would have to say the Madame Butterfly dress I did for the Marie Claire challenge — and not because of the feedback I got. It completely embodied me as a designer. It ended up being one of the judges’ favorites, too. So I guess in hindsight, why didn’t I do more bold looks like that?

Who are you rooting for now?

Jonathan. He’s kind of a dark horse. I love the idea that he creates his own textiles. It’s very ambitious and it usually works to his benefit. I think Amy is a tremendous designer as well. She and I think very similarly, we’re both very conceptual. So I think those two have a unique vision and something to offer the fashion community.

What’s next for you?

I’m kind of just seeing what happens, to be honest. My husband Bob and I, we’ve been throwing the idea of moving to New York around. I’d like to get back because I’ve been in Tampa for six years now, and it’s been great, but I do need to start working in the industry again. I’d like to start working for an established designer so I can learn more of the business aspects.

Well, you’re already ahead of the game because you got to show at Bryant Park last month.

That was a huge redemption for me. I brought the jockstrap back [to the collection I showed there]! And it fit.