I recently had the chance to talk to Project Runway season 6 castmember Ra'mon Lawrence, whose elimination from the show was fairly shocking. Details on his opinion of the judges, his secret talent and Project Runway-related tattoo, after the jump.
What were you doing before the show?
Before the show I was employed by Target, designing Mossimo Black Label for almost five years. I left that job to participate in season 6. After we finished taping, I had some questions about what I wanted to do next. I took some time to reflect. Then I was offered the opportunity to come work for Kohl's as one of their designers, so that's what I'm doing currently, as well as a myriad of other things — one of which is my own clothing label, Ra'mon Lawrence. I just showed by Spring 2010 collection in New York. I'm also doing a couple of collaborations… I really am a busy guy right now.
When did you start designing?
I started designing in 2001 — I went to the Art Institute in Chicago and entered their fashion program — I was also studying performing arts at the same time…
What kind of performing arts?!?!
(Laughs) I was studying dance and theater and installation art.
Pretty much! I'm a little obsessed with Glee right now...
Glee is so good.
It's one of my goals — to get on that show next.
So you're originally from Chicago, right?
Yes. Born and raised outside of Chicago —- I went to college at University of Iowa for four years; then went overseas for a few years, then came back to Chicago…
What do you think about Michelle Obama's fashion choices? She's a Chicago lady.
I love love love Michelle Obama. I believe we have not seen — at that level of a woman in power — we have not seen that type of gracefulness, effortlessly done, as she is doing right now.
I guess it goes without saying that you'd love to design for her.
Yes. In [my spring 2010 collection] there's a dress called Michelle and it is completely inspired by her. It's my dream to give it to her, and to dress her for future occasions. She's very aware of the idea that you can look fantastic, and do it on a budget — or a way that is economically responsible. You don't have to necessarily buy everything high end to have a look that is chic and well put-together. When you see her mixing labels like J. Crew with unknown designers — it's just really smart.
What made you decide to try out for Project Runway?
I was at Target at the time, and I was really a crossroads, thinking, okay, I've been there for a while, what would be the next thing that would challenge me? And I got a call from someone saying that they represented the show, and they'd come across my information. I thought it was a joke. I hung up a couple of times. But it seemed very cosmic, like the universe was saying hey, you've been looking for that next step; and here's this opportunity that anyone would kill for. I believe there were 10,00 people who auditioned for season 6 — so to be one of 16 out of 10,000? That's phenomenal. It felt like the right thing to do.
Did you know, when you were filming, about the Bravo/Weinstein/Lifetime drama?
While we were filming, I did know. I didn't know going into it; but right before — when they cast us, we were aware that there was an issue. But the severity of it? I don't think any of the designers knew… We thought oh, this might go in the can, or straight to DVD. It was always a quiet concern that we had. And then to finish taping the show and have a year pass — literally a year to the date of it airing was when we started taping. So interesting. And to sit around for a year and have this secret that you can't really talk about? We've all been really anxious about the situation.
You won the beach challenge with the dress that you dyed, and I really thought you did well on the dressing the model challenge — that blue dress with the big flower, and then — all of a sudden — you went home. I was shocked. Were you shocked?
I was utterly shocked. That's the best way to put it. And not only was I shocked, I think everybody was shocked. All the other castmates — and even some of the production staff — were like, what happened? I could sit around and theorize about it, but I will take ownership of the choices I made on the program. No one can say I was a person who was not a competitor… Everything that I did, I took a risk. I think the one thing that they kept harping on in every challenge was innovation. And I kept thinking, how can I push? How can I not be safe, how can I be innovative and stand out, with a point of view. And so I get that sometimes that can also be the thing that can be one's downfall. Which I think was, in the episode where I was Auf'd.
I think the other problem is that in the past, there's been more consistency with the judges. And [in this season] there have been a lot of guest judges. …It should be about, how is the person growing? And how can you still see that person's perspective coming through everything that they do? Because ultimately, everything that's shown in the competition should give you a visualization of what that person's line at fashion week would be like. And their potential.
(In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Epperson also talks about the weirdness of the judging this season, saying, "The judges are who the judges are. Starting with Lindsay Lohan being a judge. But then again, she's working with Ungaro, so she is kind of a genius." LOL.)
Do you keep in touch with anyone from your season?
Definitely. It's almost like being in this weird fraternity — or having an extended family. I talk to most of the cast. Christopher, Carol Hannah, Althea, Epperson and Logan — and Qristyl — those are the ones I speak to on a regular basis. Christopher and I are the closest. We actually have matching tattoos! If you go back and watch the show, you'll notice three stars on both of our right hands. We had this tradition with another cast member: Before every challenge, we would actually draw the stars on one another. I had a feeling, out of the three of us, that we were the strong competitors — I had a feeling we would be the top three. But if we weren't the top 3, then at least one of us should make it to the top. So it became a ritual that we went through and after the show we went and got them permanently tattooed.
What were your impressions of Tim Gunn, Heidi Klum, MIchael Kors and Nina Garcia?
Mr. Gunn is the one people ask the most about. What you perceive of him, watching all the previous seasons, is truly who he is. I truly believe that he wants everyone to be the best they can be. He's really funny, with an amazing dry humor that I think is hilarious. He's lovable! Being around him, you understand why America has the reaction via television to him. He's great!
As far as Heidi, Michael and Nina, we don't get as much exposure to them. But Heidi is insanely beautiful and very funny. And very upbeat, but at the same time, she is very much a businesswoman. Michael has these one-liners and he's entertaining. And if you can look past some of the cruel and harsh things that he can say, there is a truth there, that, if you're smart enough to want to be better, you'll listen to and hear. Nina has an amazing poker face! You're always like, what is she thinking? But when you're around her, she is so sweet.
Overall, your experience was good?
Absolutely. Win or lose, Project Runway doesn't define me. Who I was beforehand is who I was after. But I'm stronger now, having gone through the experience. There's a little bit more confidence. And also a different view on how to take my design to the next level. So I can't say that the experience wasn't worth it, because it truly was. I'm having all these opportunities! We probably wouldn't be sitting here talking right now — but one day, we would be talking — it's kind of put me on a fast track. I'm super busy, and a lot of it is good! And a lot of it is based on having had this opportunity to put myself out there as a designer.
How can people keep up with you?
They can visit my website, they can find me on Facebook, and they can follow me on Twitter. Keep an eye out! Hopefully this is not the last you see of me, not just as designer but as a television personality.
Will you be dancing ?!?!
That might be part of it!
Maybe guest appearance on Glee?
That would be great! Or since I am a self-confessed Trekkie, maybe my love of that will get me in the next JJ Abrams movie!