By Stephan Lee
Updated March 23, 2012 at 06:27 PM EDT

Project Runway

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SPOILER ALERT! Click below only if you want to hear from the winner of the All Stars season of Project Runway.

Barbara Nitke

It’s safe to say most viewers were rooting for Mondo Guerra to win the All Stars season of Project Runway. His loss to Gretchen Jones in the season 8 finale easily caused the biggest outcry in the series’ history, and he was back for redemption. Even though it wasn’t an easy road to victory, Mondo pulled through by consistently creating edgy, beautiful looks that stuck to his aesthetic yet surprised us week after week. For that, he was awarded the biggest prize package Runway has ever given, which includes $100,000 in cash, a year-long guest editor position at Marie Claire, and an exclusive boutique in select Neiman Marcus stores. Guerra, who’s losing his voice from giving so many post-victory interviews, spoke to EW about the All Star experience, his sometimes “prickly” attitude, and his admiration for rival Austin Scarlett.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Ever since you did so well and lost out to Gretchen in season 8, you had to be aware that you were a lot of people’s favorite to win. Did that put added pressure on you throughout the competition?

MONDO GUERRA: Going into All Stars, it was really tough for me. I know that everybody probably saw a different side of me. I’ve been called prickly, condescending, and whiny. Everybody has their good days. Everybody has their bad days. Being on a reality show, you have a camera in front of your face. Beyond that, you work day after day after day on hardly any sleep with no connection to the world. Of course that side was going to come out eventually. Being a fan favorite and taping nine months after the finale of season 8 definitely added a lot of pressure, because at this point I wasn’t going back for myself. I was going back really for all the viewers and everybody who wanted me to win the first season. I really wanted to win for the fans.

It’s especially amazing that you won the biggest prize package ever. What part of the package are you most excited about?

I’m so excited to join the team at Marie Claire, to work with Nina Garcia and work with Joanna Coles, with a really fashionable team at a beautiful magazine. I’m just really excited about that part.

I’m sure women will be thrilled to have your clothes at Neiman Marcus. What’s it like having your clothes so available now?

It’s just a dream come true. Before this, I was just a stitcher in a costume shop. I’ve always loved fashion and I never thought that this would happen. You saw the show. You visualize it and you want it happen, but I never really thought that it would.

You mentioned throughout the show that All Stars was harder than your original season. Why was that?

Everybody who was on the show had been there before. They’ve all experienced Project Runway. The first time we were all there together [in season 8] was like we were all experiencing summer camp together for the first time. The second time around, people knew how to play the game. Everybody wanted to win so bad and really brought their A game. Beyond that, the challenges were really designed to push all the designers, and they did. Making a ball gown in a day? Designing an outfit for a pig? Are you kidding me? It was just insane, but at the same time, it really allowed me to explore different aesthetics, different things that I’ve always wanted to do but don’t necessarily do in my own studio. It was definitely an experiment.

One of the things that bugged me was how little time you guys got to pull off so many of the challenges. It seemed like less than normal Project Runway. Did that really bug you?

Yes, I was running around a lot this season trying to finish things. It was actually really nice because we got to sleep more, so that was good. We weren’t on four hours every night. We were at like six hours. Those two [extra] hours were amazing for us.

How did you like the judge compared to the previous judges?

I went to All Stars assuming it would be the same panel of judges. I thought I would see Heidi, Nina, and Michael Kors, and that our mentor would be Tim Gunn. When I went in, I really wanted to do something unexpected. I know that I’m known for my prints and my color mixing and matching, and so I wanted to do something unexpected, so in the first episode I did that all-black look.

It was amazing!

Oh my God, I kind of shot myself in the foot, because it’s not Nina, it’s not Michael, it’s not Heidi — it’s this whole new cast. But that really was a stepping-off point for me to continue that trend of showing something that I didn’t even know I was capable of doing. I was doing solids, I was doing things that I think the viewers can appreciate, that they didn’t know about me either. So it was really nice because it was a clean slate, you know? And I think all the designers from the show really did appreciate the fact that it was a clean slate, and that we were all able to prove ourselves again. That was really smart of the production to have new judges.

And the new host, Angela Lindvall?

I know there have been a lot of kind of complaints from the viewers saying, “We miss Tim, we miss Heidi.” I really have to applaud Angela, she did a great job. In the first episode she was kind of mechanical. This is the thing: When we walked into the limelight in the first episode, she was more nervous than we were. We were pretty nervous, but she was so nervous. She’s really joining a legacy, you know? I really applaud Angela. She came around and did her absolute best. I really, really, really appreciate all her hard work.

I think people forget that Heidi got better at hosting over a lot of seasons.

Yeah. You have to look at Heidi in the first season. She wasn’t the Heidi that you know in season 8 or season 9. You know, it really did take her some time to really be comfortable and be herself and own it, so cut Angela a little bit of slack, people, please.

Everyone loves Tim Gunn, but I thought Joanna was amazing the whole season, and I couldn’t get enough of your rapport with her. You seemed to have something special there.

They didn’t show on the air, but like I said, when I went to the show, I had a little bit of emotional baggage. And once you’re on the show you’re kind of stuck, so Joanna was more of a therapist. We’d talk about my personal life, and she talked to me about her personal life, and we really just got on like that. Of course, we were talking about design and everything, but she was more of a maternal figure for me than anything.

We all know that you were really good friends with Michael Costello coming in, but who else did you gain respect for, either design-wise or just personally?

Well, I watched the show since the beginning, and I really respected every single designer so much for their talents. I mean, Austin was a pioneer of Project Runway. He was in the first season. He really set the bar artistically with his corn-husk dress, so when I met him, I was kind of in awe. I was starstruck, because I’ve always looked up to him, and he’s the one that got me hooked on Project Runway, and watching it season after season. I love Mila. I love her aesthetic, I love what she shows. I love Jerell. And I will say, I love Kenley. Kenley is a doll. I love her. She’s so, so beautiful. And it’s one thing to be on camera and it’s another thing to have a friendship off camera. All the designers are really, really supportive. I mean Rami — not only is he a babe but he’s entirely talented. He’s just so amazing.

His early elimination was the biggest shocker of the season for me.

I know! That he got kicked off seventh — it was insane. I think even all the designers were like, “What happened? Where did he go?” And then I think that’s really when it hit all of us, like, “Wow. We’re not safe here. We just have to really keep on top of everything and make it happen.”

(April Daley and Marc Snetiker contributed to this report.)

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