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Project Runway Winner: The Seth Aaron Interview

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LAST WEEK ON PROJECT RUNWAY, Vancouver, Washington's Seth Aaron Henderson became the second fashion designer from our region to win the televised competition. (Then-Portlander Leanne Marshall emerged victorious in 2008. And then she moved to New York.) Since a poll on the Mercury's Blogtown determined that Portland should make a one-time exception and "adopt" Henderson, we thought it was a good idea to check in on his post-Project plans. You can find Henderson's work in Portland at Anne Bocci Boutique (7824 SW Capital Hwy) and in Vancouver at Studio 7 Boutik (16219 SE 12th, #103).

MERCURY: Are you moving to New York?

SETH AARON HENDERSON: No. I love [New York], but I've been here in the summer. I'd definitely come here and do shows, but we're going to stay where we are.

What are you going to do with your new crown?

For me it was all about the crown, just coming here and proving something for myself. We're going to get an apartment in LA. I want to set a manufacturer up there. I mean, I can only sew so much, and that's gobbled up by the two stores I sell at in the Portland area. But to have a manufacturer delivering 1,000 units through the United States, that would be super, because then I won't have to think about making money, and I can just concentrate on next year's runway show kind of stuff.

Would you try to show as part of New York Fashion Week or LA Fashion Week?

Um, you know, I've been asked by a few different—I mean, I could show in New York in the tents again, you know? But yeah, I would love to do another show [in New York] during Fashion Week, as well as I would like to do London. I want to eventually be in Tokyo.

At what point did you know you were going to win the show?

Um, when they told me, "You are on the show." No, I'm kidding. First thing, I said if I can get on the show, number one, that's a job in itself. If I can get on, I have an extremely good chance of winning. I've seen every episode, every season. The way I work, I have a lot of advantages because I design quickly. It's a competition, and who's going to excel once you only sleep three hours a night, seven days a week, and you have this deadline, and they throw this twist, and there's this drama, you know? And since I'm so high energy and sleep very little anyway—more as I get older—those are definitely advantages to have coming into this competition, as well as knowing who you are as a designer.

What's up with all the zippers? You used them on almost every challenge, but your final collection was so much more grown up.

That's the point, and that's probably why I won. The judges don't see any of our previous work, they know nothing about us other than our name. So they say, "Who are you?" So I come out and show them—we all do. Some of the stuff was just out there. I seriously don't think I'm going to make this for a store and they're gonna sell it, like—no. It's Project Runway, and it's a one-time challenge, so I don't want to bore 'em. That's the route I took, and yeah, I used a lot of hardware, and yeah, I used a lot of this and that, but there are so many levels to me. Stuff I sell at Anne Bocci's, for example, clean, simple black dresses. No zippers. I had to stay consistent [on Project Runway], while I was there, and then, my final collection is, okay, I want to go bold. A 50-piece collection's way easier to make than a 10, because you can go up and down and take breathers. In a 10, you can't. You've gotta keep them—and not only the judges, but the crowd. [Finalists] Emilio and Mila went the other way, where they went with very beautifully made, cohesive lines that will walk right off there and right into the department store. Mine won't. Mine was a runway collection, theirs was a runway line.

Can you elaborate on your inspiration? It's like Nazis, basically?

Well, no, exactly. And it's totally understandable why someone might think that, because I couldn't go into depth, I just could go into—on announcing the line, I had X amount of time, and you know, my inspiration was "'40s German/Russian military." But dude, I have no love for the Nazi party! I can break it down real quickly for you: So I've always been fascinated, growing up, with the James Bond movies and the spies from Germany and Russia. Meeting people through my life—I have one lady down at the Mill End [fabric store]; she lived there during the Nazi party. She cuts my fabric. She's told me stories. I've met several people that lived there and told me the stories. All of them said they were evil, evil people, and it was horrible. But here's the point: Their goal was to make a statement—and it may have been in a very horrible way—but they made a statement and even though they've been dead and gone the last 60 years, they still live on. People know they were there. That's my inspiration. I wanted to make a bold, graphic statement in New York fashion so weeks after my collection showed, people are still going to remember it. It had nothing to do with Nazis or Hitler or the KGB or anything other than I wanted to make a bold, kick-ass statement.

Of the three main judges, whose opinion did you pay the most attention to?

I paid attention to all of them and took out what I could use to better myself. Who I was drawn to and just really couldn't wait for was Nina [Garcia]. She knows what she's talking about and she's a very, very sweet lady. But she's not just gonna sugarcoat it. And I told her, I said, "Dude. I do not want a pat on the back. What can I do to make myself better?" And she really helped me. She was always very complimentary and then she would go, "But you can...." I wanted to hear the "but."

Anything you learned that you would like to pass onto young designers?

Trust your gut. If it feels right, it's right. When you question yourself, people looking at you are going to question you. Trust yourself.

OPEN SEASON: THE MERCURY'S SIXTH ANNUAL FASHION SHOW

Get your tickets to this year's fashion extravaganza, Friday, May 7 at the Bossanova. (Tickets available at portlandmercury.com/fashion) This must-see event will debut new work from a dynamic group of exciting Portland design talent including Adam Arnold, Andy Lifschutz, Dawn Sharp, Heather Treadway, Liza Rietz, Isaac Hers by Barbara Seipp, Janeane Marie, RUKI by Melanie Parr, Chelsea Erhart, Rio Wrenn (R.A.W.), Julia Blackburn (Dust), and Lindsey Reif. It's going to be amazing!

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