By Jahna Peloquin
Arguably one of the most recognizable contestants in the history of Project Runway, season eight finalist (and fan favorite) Mondo Guerra is touring the country with a series of "fashion face-off" events for Macy's. Before he makes his Twin Cities stop at Macy's Rosedale on Saturday afternoon, he took a few minutes to chat with us over the phone about New York Fashion Week, his personal style tips, adjusting to fame, and what's next for the designer. Watch for Guerra to hit the screen again later this year as a contestant on Project Runway All-Stars.
l’étoile: So you’re flying in to the Twin Cities after spending some time at New York Fashion Week this past week. What did you do while you were out there?
Mondo Guerra: I was in Portland for Fashion’s Night Out, and I flew a red eye overnight to New York for the Project Runway finale show. When I got to the door I didn’t have my credentials and they weren’t going to let me in, but finally one of the producers saw me. I only made it in for the last four shows. I was kind of bummed.
Did you attend any other shows?
No, just the Project Runway finale. I love what I do, but being there can be a little overwhelming. I try to stay away as much as possible. I basically visited with my friends who live in New York and went shopping.
We heard you were at the Project Runway reunion party on Saturday. Was it fun to see everyone together in one room?
Yeah. But it was overwhelming, a lot of people wanting your attention all at once.
Do you stay in touch with other contestants from your season?
I was sharing a room (during the taping of the show) with (season eight contestants) Michael Drummond and Michael Costello, so I’m in touch with both Michaels a lot. We recently became friends with (season eight's) Mila (Hermanovski). But we’re all so busy, it’s hard to keep in touch. Everybody’s doing their thing. But we talk on the phone for 30 minutes every week.
We totally thought you should have won last season. A lot of people thought you were robbed.
I think that everything happens for a reason. and honestly over the past year I've learned a lot about myself, how to deal with business and the exposure, and it’s a lot of adjusting, a lot of getting used to. I believe I got second because I wasn’t ready to win the whole thing.Because even now, being the runner-up, there’s a lot of attention, and I enjoy all my fans and people that support me but it can be a little overwhelming. I don’t want that to translate as me not being ungrateful - I'm very very grateful for everything that’s happened in my life, but I’m still getting used to it. It hasn’t even been a year yet, and a lot has changed. (Right: A look from Guerra's Spring 2011/Project Runway collection.)
You’re in town for Saturday’s fashion face-off. How did you get involved with Macy’s?
They had contacted me last year, and I don’t even remember where my first one was, it was Denver I think. They called me back for the fall, which means I must have done a good job. It was really fun. I actually really enjoy doing them. People that watch the show will go out to them, and the audience is really active.
So you’ll be talking your fashion do’s and don’t's at Saturday’s event. Can you jump the gun and throw out a few right now?
Well I think that in fashion there are always current trends, but being realistic and being a consumer myself, clothes can be really expensive. I think it’s important to go through your closet and see what you have, and see what is going on for each season, and go out and buy the pieces that will work with what you already have. I don’t think you should go out and buy a full outfit, but rather buying investment pieces - a good purse, a good shoe, a new skirt, a new top - you'll want to add some of those trends into your current wardrobe and work with what you have. And you want to continue to have your own point of view as a dresser. I think it’s really important to be dressing to be comfortable in what you’re wearing, because confidence will go further than a $2,000 pair of shoes. I don't really have any don’t's. Except my biggest pet peeve is when people wear pajama bottoms in public, so I guess that's my only don't.
We loved your Fall 2011 collection. Why did you decide to stay true to your point of view, despite the judges’ criticism to be more marketable?
Art is all relative, and I’m an artist. If you see a Keith Haring painting, you know it’s going to be a Keith Haring. If you see an Andy Warhol, you know it's Andy Warhol. If you look at this experience, being a fashion designer as a body of work, as an artist I want to look back and know what I was doing at that point in my life. Over the years, the work will tell my life story. (Left: A look from Guerra's Fall 2011 collection.)
You opted to show at El Paso Fashion Week instead of New York last spring. Why?
I feel that it’s too soon. I think that it’s important for me to always do the best work I can do, and I feel like there’s a lot of pressure in New York. For me, it wasn’t the right time. i was able to show with (season eight contestants) Michael Costello and Christopher Collins, which was really comfortable. I felt in good company, and there wasn’t that feeling of competition. I think that’s the thing I dislike the most about fashion is the feeling of competition. I get tired of having to always have the pressure of doing better than everyone else.
Will this be your first time in Minneapolis?
It will be my first time, I am coming back in the beginning of November to judge the fashion contest at the Fusion+Fashion event.
Right, that's the event that has architects designing fashion?
Exactly. The contact for that show is from Minneapolis, and Denver has something similar. And I've heard that Minneapolis is a great place, so I'm excited. Any recommendations?
Yes! Where to begin? There's a really great modern art museum called the Walker Art Center you should definitely check out, plus it's worth seeing the Guthrie Theater purely for the architecture, and the Weisman Art Museum, which was designed by Frank Gehry. And if you're a music fan, you should go see First Avenue, it's a legendary nightclub where Prince filmed Purple Rain. And really good restaurants everywhere.
What's next for you? Any plans for a Spring 2012 collection?
Yeah, I think things are underway right now. I don’t want to get into any specifics on what and where and how or even the name of the collection or my branding. But I will tell you that I am getting very serious about it. A lot of people are wanting product for me. What a lot of people don’t understand is that production takes a long time to turnover. For my first product to the consumer, I want it to be better than everything I've ever done. I don’t want to drop the ball, after being on Project Runway and getting all that exposure. Beyond that in the past year the thing that has brought me the most joy was speaking on HIV awareness, and taking the responsibility of what unfolded on the show (referencing the revelation he made that he has HIV while on the show). Information on what I’m doing can be found at livingpositivebydesign.com