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Monday, November 1, 2010

T Lo Interviews: Gretchen Jones

"I think what’s fun about being a designer is that it’s usually very self-indulgent."

Okay Gretchen, let’s be honest. There has never been such a negative reaction to a win. How do you feel? How are you handling it?

Well, I love you guys, but I don’t read any of the blogs or the press. I feel that it’s really important, as an artist, to put your work out there and then let go of it. The great thing about art is that it is subjective; we all do have opinions.

Really, what’s important to remember is that memory is short. Mondo performed very strongly at the end, but I did perform very strongly at the beginning. I was a strong competitor. For me, I knew that where I could win and how I would really show what I can do is through a full collection and a full representation of my vision, and I think that’s where I really succeeded in it.

We’re all very talented. The great thing is that all of us are going to walk away with plenty of opportunity.

You said you didn’t think you were going to make it very far.

Because I feel that there have been designers like me on the show and I wasn’t sure that I was going to be well received, I just didn’t know. I think when everybody goes on the show they’re not really sure how they’re going to be received by the judges.

I felt vulnerable and I didn’t know what was going to happen. Once I got there and started working, I kind of realized a lot about myself and my talent and capability. I think I grew as a designer and began to understand that a lot of the boundaries that I had in place were the ones that I put on myself, not on my skill sets.

You won two challenges and we have to say that we really liked the party store look. In fact, it’s one of our favorites from the whole season.

Thank you. I really love that look too. It was one of my favorites.

But we did feel that your designs fell flat a little bit after that. We didn’t see much of that stamina from the beginning in the next challenges. At some point, you even said you were tired of the challenges.

Well, I think what’s fun about being a designer is that it’s usually very self-indulgent. Those challenges are not self-indulgent, at least for me; to do things that I wouldn’t normally do. After a while, I longed to get back to the type of work I want to do and not in the context of, you know, providing an answer to a problem.

Do you agree with us when we say that your work wasn’t as strong as in the beginning?

I certainly think that I got in the safe zone after coming on so strong, I kind of needed some safe time. That is the truth. The reality of the show and the context is not about each individual challenge. It’s about making it all the way to the end and my goal was always Fashion Week. That was my dream on a lot of different levels. I think it was a matter of whether the challenge spoke to me or not. I really enjoy some of them and other ones, I didn’t. I think you could clearly see that. I’m an emotive designer and I think you can see that within my work.

Where did you learn how to style looks?

I do think style and styling are things that you really either have it or you don’t. I think that’s something that certainly developed over the years as I became more sophisticated and educated in fashion. I also think that I like to experiment with myself and be a chameleon and explore the different ways of presenting myself. I think that turns into kind of research and development, into my own designs.

The viewers had a very strong opinion of you on the show. Most thought you were a bitch and even you said, “I’m not a bitch. I just play one on TV.” So clearly, you were aware of that perspective. But then when we talk to the designers, a lot of them mention how supportive and friendly you were in the workroom. So, was that the editing?

What I think is people not differentiating between opinion of someone’s work and experience in an emotional and relatable sense. I had a great time with the people I participated in this with and I really enjoyed their company and I learned a lot through being forced to be open to people that are outside the community I have created for myself.

That’s very different from how I felt about my competitors and their aesthetics per challenge. I just answered the questions and did what I felt was right. I was honest about my opinions and I think what makes a good designer is the designer having a strong opinion about design and aesthetics.

That’s a very different thing than relatability on an emotional level and I think for some reason the context of my comments when it came to the competition, you know, you can take that context wherever you want to, but the reality is, I wasn’t saying awful things about my competitors, it was about the work.

One of the reasons why I tried to remove myself from it, it’s because I feel it’s really important to let go of our attachment, because you can’t take it personally and it can be misconstrued. It was never my intention…I know that I was true to myself; the reality of the situation really is that my goal was to get the maximum amount of exposure I possibly could.

Well, you succeeded.

Well, you talk about the antagonist far more than you talk about the really nice guy. In the end, you’re going to remember my name with much more ease than you would if I was just the sweet person on the show. Even though it kind of hurt my feelings that I became that character, I also know that in the end is going to benefit me more.

So, based on what you’re saying, is it fair to say that it was a calculated move from your part?

No, I didn’t decide to play the bitch, I really didn’t. I was kind of joking when I said that I played one on TV. I found the humor in the fact that that’s the role that I’ve been playing. I never tried to be bitchy. I felt I was very authentic and real with the people that I was there with. I walked away with friendships and I don’t think that would’ve happened if I was actually a bitch.

If you think about the amount of hours that were being filmed and the amount of time that we’re together, I wouldn’t want to be around a really bitchy person. I really enjoyed myself, got to know a lot of people on a personal level. I don’t open up to people that are mean or snotty. I think there is something to be said about the friendships that I was able to have with my competitors. We enjoyed ourselves and for some reason that get dismissed.

Winning the Marie Claire challenge was a big moment for you. Your reaction when you saw the billboard at Times Square was quite moving.

I think that was really the first step in realizing that I can attain my dreams. It takes a lot of hard work, taking risks, and challenging yourself. It really showed me that I have the potential to do that again in some regard. I’m so grateful for that and I wish I had that jumpsuit.

During Tim’s visit, you seemed to be at a pretty low point; eviction, the end of a relationship...what happened?

Basically, I went back and I had a relationship end, a lease come up, no money in the bank, my business about to go into bankruptcy, and having to create the best collection of my life. Through that month that I was creating the collection, having to end a relationship, one that is still very amicable, we remain friends, and also having to pack up the house and put everything into storage a day after they couriered away my finale collection, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced.

I think I had the luxury of going a full “Phoenix rising from the ashes” experience. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but there’s also a lot of loss with a lot of gain. I learned a lot about what I can do and that I have a tough skin that you need in this industry and I that I can persevere through pretty extreme circumstances.

I was fortunate enough to have a great support system that I was able to stay focus and keep fighting for what I was hoping to achieve.

Did that affect your design process?

I think the only way that it affected my work is that it enabled me to submerse myself into it so that I could focus on making sure that I created a collection strong enough to make it to Fashion Week. In the end, what my dream really was, was to be able to present to millions of viewers, and whatever happened would happen. The best man would win. I knew that was imperative to my success after the show to make it to Fashion Week and I just kept that on the brain.

Tell us more about your inspiration for the collection.

I grew up in a town of four hundred in rural Colorado, way up high in the mountains, so, kind of in the land of cowboys and Indians. What I started realizing as I have been a designer is that that rural environment has a strong enough aesthetic that stayed with me, like my perpetual inspiration; kind of the undertone of my work. That made me start thinking about other small communities around the globe and how they throughout the times stay true to these aesthetics that ring true in their culture. That’s really what provided the inspiration to pull from, so the jewelry was kind of playing off of native-Americans, like the tribes around my area.

The hats were a nod to the cowboys that were my dad and my family friends. The texture and textiles were from Morocco and Africa, and inspired by those things, bringing them all together and relating those to a modern woman and where I’m going as a designer and how I’m progressing personally, is all a more refined, sophisticated, everyday way of wearing those things. I really like playing with the juxtaposition of all those elements.

Being a clothing sustainable designer, was it difficult to keep that in mind while designing a collection for Project Runway?

Not for the final collection, given the time frame and circumstances. All my materials, minus the silk yarn, were all end-run, so I was able to get it before it went to landfill. So basically I was recycling used goods, in a way. And then I used local artisans to do the contract work that I didn’t have skill sets for. The silk yarn was untreated silk yarn that I hand-dyed with low impact dyes. I tried to remain as true to my sustainable practices as I could.

The challenging thing when using end-run materials is that if you’re going to design a collection that is going to be sold, there’s limited amounts of those resources. It afforded me the luxury of exploring print and texture in a way I can’t normally as a sustainable designer.

The jewelry is such a strong part of the collection. Was that a deliberate choice, to give it so much focus?

One of the things that I always acknowledged about my work is that when I design clothing, I design it to be layered and accessorized and this opportunity enabled me to explore with jewelry in a manner that puts it at the forefront of the design rather than an afterthought. I had been longing to explore jewelry design for quite some time, and I think, especially when I started playing around with styling and how I wanted the essences of the collection to read, it became more and more clear to me that I wanted them to be statement pieces rather than just something incidental.

One of the major criticisms about your collection is that it doesn’t look expensive. How did you spend the money?

Well, I think that’s a difference of opinion. To me, it looks very expensive, especially when you start breaking down all the different elements that were involved. Hand knitwear is very expensive. Those pieces would be in the thousands of dollars. The hats were custom made. It was custom handcrafted jewelry. The textiles…I’m a very subtle designer and I think that’s overlooked a lot and thought of as not being good design. The reality is that what we all want to wear on a regular basis are the things that can be manipulated and adapted on a daily basis.

You said on the show and we quote you here, “This is Project Runway and there’s a level of presentation that maybe isn't totally true to your aesthetic and I’m willing to adapt to that.” What did you mean by that?

Project Runway is a show. I am a local designer that’s trying to make it and I had to learn how to embrace presentation in a manner that was a bit foreign to me. I also come from a wholesale background where when I’m selling to a wholesale buyer, they want to see the clothes. They don’t want to see all the pomp and circumstance in the presentation.

What I think I learned more than anything is that I do need to stay true to my talent with styling and my intuitive ideas with that. I just need to embrace going bigger. That’s a little out of my comfort zone, but I’ve learned that getting out of your comfort zone is where you really grow as a designer and I think I grew a lot throughout this whole season.

Did you enjoy the experience?

I did. I feel that there are certainly risks involved in the experience. It’s very foreign to the day-to-day grind for anyone, let alone designers. In the end, I think it made me a better designer and it reminded me where my strengths and my weaknesses are. It showed me who I really am and I’m very grateful for all of that and I have nothing to do with the elements of television, just with my goals personally and professionally that I hope to take with me in my next steps.

Good luck to you, Gretchen, and thank you for answering all our questions so candidly.

Thank you, guys. Thank you for really helping project Project Runway into the masses in the way that you have. I think you guys are vital to its success and I appreciate your involvement.

[Photo Credit: Barbara Nitke, myLifetime.com]

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