'Project Runway': The runner-up speaks
If you haven’t watched last night’s Project Runway finale and aren’t in the mood for SPOILERS!, then read no further. The rest of you, meet me after the jump for a spirited Q&A with the runner-up.
He was a fan favorite. He’d snagged the most wins and high scores. His victory seemed inevitable. But last night, in a decision that has enraged fans threatening to quit the show for good, Mondo Guerra came in second place to Gretchen Jones. It was as shocking an ending as Project Runway has ever seen. When Mondo called us up from his home in Denver to talk about the verdict, he was still working through the shocker finale himself.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Hi, Mondo. How are you?
MONDO GUERRA: I’m okay. I’m a little bummed out this morning. I knew it was happening. The hardest part is keeping the secret for such a long time. I think that going into it, even before fashion week, I was the front runner, the one to beat, and everybody was contacting me and saying, “I can’t wait till you win!” But the thing is, I feel like I won so much more than making it on the show. I never expected to even get that far. My actual goal was to make it into the top-8, so I exceeded my own expectations. On the show, I really feel like the only person I was competing with was myself. The only thing that I had never seen [from last night’s episode], was how the judges critiqued the collections. That was all new to me last night.
And what did you think?
You know, it was so weird. The first thing I thought of when I woke up was, I had Heidi fighting for me, Jessica fighting for me, and initially Nina said she wanted to pick two winners. Michael was really the only one who wasn’t on my side. So I wonder how they persuaded Heidi and Nina, who wanted to vote for two people, to pick Gretchen. I don’t know how that works. I don’t know if Jessica’s vote counts as much as the three regular judges. I don’t know. I’m really kind of confused. In the critique, they were contradicting themselves, saying this, saying that, and there were all these buts, like “his showmanship is really good and he’s really creative…” The only thing that really bothered me is, like, okay, Gretchen’s line was good. It was well-made, it was pretty, but I think it is a mater of taste. Giving her the win because she has her finger on the pulse of fashion — What? What did I have? But I’m like, one day you’re in, the next day you’re out, and hopefully I have some longevity.
I think you will. Are you getting lots of phone calls from outraged friends today?
The nice thing about it, Missy, is that all my friends were with me last night. I mean, they’re disappointed, but I have a viewing party here at the Beauty Bar here in Denver every week. Oh my god, it was amazing, there were probably 600 people there, and people waiting to get in. Michael Costello came out for the final viewing. We went outside to say hi to the people waiting in line, just because we knew they were not all going to get in. It was just amazing to share that experience with my friends, my mom, my dad, my sister, my partner, Ben. When they announced the winner, people didn’t boo or go crazy. It was just silence. I gave a speech and just said, basically, “I never expected to go this far. I made some really good friends and beyond that, I know who I am more as a person and as an artist through the experience.” The hardest thing that I’ve dealt with growing up is, I hate disappointing people. That’s the worst feeling for me. But last night, after it aired — yeah, I love my fans and I love everybody that supported me, but it wasn’t about everybody else. It was about me and what I accomplished and what I achieved on the show, so I’m fine with it.
I don’t think you’ve disappointed anybody. People are angry at Nina and Michael, but support you. I noticed that in your exit interview on MyLifetime.com, you pointed out that you made every single piece in your collection, from the clothing to the headpieces, while Gretchen outsourced her hats, her knitwear, and her jewelry. Did you point it out during judging?
You know, Missy, I don’t nitpick at things like that. I feel like to be that guy, to be like, ‘Well, she did this, she did that,’ pointing fingers — if I won, it would make me feel like I didn’t win fairly. I didn’t want to — okay, quote of the season — throw her under the bus. I was proud of what I showed. I did my headpieces, my beading, my jewelry, and I worked my ass off. I looked at that as an opportunity for me to show the judges what I was capable of doing. I had my hand on everything, and I thought they would recognize that, but they didn’t really care or give a sh–. Sorry. But they didn’t.
There’s a theory that they felt they needed a woman to win because the show’s on Lifetime.
Why do you think they chose Gretchen?
I think … Man, I don’t even know. I truly believe that it was heavy-weighted on Gretchen from Michael and possibly Nina. He really persuaded them in believing that this was the next thing. But that’s because that’s his aesthetic: Michael Kors, ready-to-wear, off-the-rack, kind of muted colors. I don’t feel like he was ever a big fan of mine. He was my hardest critic. When he saw the two collections together, like they said, it’s either salt or sugar, and obviously I was the sugar! He preferred salt. But one of the best things about the night was that Michael Kors himself compared me to John Galliano, who’s one of the most amazing designers. You know, that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Now I’m just going to have to bake another batch.
I like the way you think. Can you talk to me a little bit about your decision to open up about your HIV+ status. At what point during that challenge did you decide to share your secret?
Really, it was at the moment when Nina gave me the opportunity to talk about it. For the entire challenge, I had danced around the subject of my inspiration for the textile, saying it was just color and cubism and construction paper. Nina said, “I wish I knew what the story was.” She didn’t force it, she just gave me the freedom to talk about it, and it was very casual. They edited it so that I was the last one who was critiqued but in reality, I was the first one. When we were getting excused, I stopped and I said, “Nina.” I thought, Mondo this is it. If you’re going to talk about this, you have to talk about this right now. And I did. So I made the decision on the spur of the moment. I’m a very spiritual person and I feel like I was being guided by somebody special who was allowing me to have a voice. The whole reason why I spoke about it is bigger than I am. I would hope that it gives people so much more courage to speak about anything that they’re struggling with in their life. I think it can be looked upon as a message of strength and of tackling your fears, and it doesn’t have to be just about HIV/AIDS. It can concern any struggle that you’re having in your personal life and you’re afraid to talk about.
It was very moving and I think you inspired a lot of people. On another note, what was the deal with Michael Costello? Why did the other designers have so much scorn for him?
I think people didn’t understand how he worked. Michael Costello has a different process of creating than anybody else there did. He didn’t have certain tools in his tool kit — he didn’t even have a tool kit. He didn’t have a ruler, he didn’t have chalk. He was an easy target. Michael is an open book and he’s very vulnerable, so people just felt like he would be easy to attack. They had all these misconceptions about who he was. That was unfortunate. But they came around.
What’s next for you?
I plan on moving to L.A. really soon. I lived in New York when I was younger, so I want to be fair to the coasts. I want to try it out and see what it’s like, see what happens. I’ve been using the episode about the HIV/AIDS as a platform, and now there are big opportunities to speak out on the issue and try to help as much as I can. So I’m looking to do that for sure. And of course I’m going to continue to design and be creative. Fashion design is just one of the things that I do. I eat, breath, sleep creativity. Anything that I approach, I approach in a creative way. Even washing the dishes, I’m thinking to myself, how can I do this creatively so I can get through it? [Laughs]