Dubai’s Project Runway contestant Buffi Jashanmal has weathered a tough two weeks. She has been ripped apart by the celebrity judges — supermodel Heidi Klum, designer Michael Kors and Marie Claire’s Nina Garcia — in the popular “unconventional challenge”. She even heard fellow contestant Dmitry Sholokhov label her work as “diarrhoea”.
She doesn’t take the latter to heart, but is disappointed by the scathing remarks doled out by the show’s celebrity judges.
It was a little bit unfair how they judged me, and some of the pieces were a lot worse than mine. Elena’s [Slivnyak] dress was falling to pieces on the runway. At least mine maintained its shape
In Project Runway Season 10’s second episode, contestants were thrown into a candy store and asked to make couture pieces from sweets. While Klum called Jashanmal’s pink costume concoction “five-year-old off for a birthday party”, Kors panned it, saying it was more “Toddlers and Tiaras than Carrie Bradshaw”. However, the London-born, Dubai-bred fashion maverick is not taking it lying down. “They didn’t give me a fair chance,” Jashanmal says over the phone from New York.
The 32-year-old designer, known for her kooky designs, feels she’s just a misunderstood designer whose creativity is not being acknowledged. She is one of 16 designer hopefuls participating in the on-going reality show.
“I know, they were very hard on me, but it doesn’t affect me because I have a different client in mind out there. It was a little bit unfair how they judged me, and some of the pieces were a lot worse than mine. Elena’s [Slivnyak] dress was falling to pieces on the runway. At least mine maintained its shape.”
But she’s not dwelling on the negatives for long. “I went in there with a lighthearted view [of] the whole thing. I went in there knowing that my style wasn’t going to be liked by the judges. But my main thing is to be myself,” she says.
The Emmy-winning reality fashion show, with past winners including Christian Siriano and Chloe Dao, is known to put their discoveries on the fashion map.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: How has the Project Runway experience been so far?
A: It’s been an amazing experience, but it has been extremely stressful. It is a unique feeling, because it tells me a lot about how I work and how I work with others.
Q: Did you follow Project Runway in the past?
It’s been around for the last ten years and I have watched many seasons. I have always wanted to be a part of it. I nearly applied for it last year, but I just didn’t end up doing it. So basically, the Project Runway team got in touch with me over an e-mail this year and I just decided to go for it. I felt I had a strong chance because they always like to throw in a quirky one. I just knew I would tick that box and I don’t mind being known as the weird one. It’s better than being known as the boring normal one.
Q: How was the experience of showcasing your designs at Times Square in New York City — the first challenge in this season’s series?
A: Our first challenge was to bring a look or design that we had made. It could be something new or something we had made already. When we walked into the room, our mentor, Tim Gunn, threw another challenge: To create another look to go with the design in our hands. That was the real challenge because we knew were in the centre of New York and its fashion district. It’s something you never imagined doing in your life. It was a surreal experience because you had eight or nine hours to go fabric shopping, sketching and creating something new. You just had to be very quick in your thinking. The adrenaline was pumping at the prospect of showing your work to thousands of people at Times Square. Plus, it is the first time that Project Runway has announced its contestants so early on.
Q: The second episode, which saw you take part in the unconventional material challenge at Dylan’s Candy Bar, didn’t see you fare so well. Were you disappointed at being in the bottom three?
A: I stand 100 per cent [by] what I did. I think I was the only designer who followed the challenge properly. We were taken to a candy store to create an outfit. Everyone just stuck candies to Muslin fabric. Agreed, some pieces looked amazing, but I weaved the candy and gave it a whole new texture. It wasn’t wearable and was a bit saggy, but I followed the challenge rules and did something different. At the end of the day, my design represented me as a designer. The judges have a very different opinion. It doesn’t faze me. I know they were very hard on me, but it doesn’t affect me because I have a different client in mind out there. It was a little bit unfair on how they judged me and some of the pieces were a lot worse than mine. In some of the comments, they didn’t acknowledge that I had something creative.
Q: Can you describe the outfit that drew criticism from judges?
A: I weaved those long strips of sugary candy to weave a basket top that was corset style. I spent too long doing the top. Again, it is so difficult because you don’t have much time to create something. Most designers and I aren’t used to working in that condition. But the other designers created something wearable. Plus, I didn’t manage my time so well, so I ended up making a skirt with tissue paper. I knew I would be pulled down for the skirt that I had no time to design it well. As expected, I got [slated] for it.
Q: Who was the harshest judge?
A: It’s a tie between Michael Kors and Nina. Both had harsh comments, but I thought them funny. I take it all with a grain of salt.
Q: Was it demoralising to hear their critique?
A: Participating in Project Runway was definitely a gamble that you knowingly take, because you know you are going to be judged on your personality, style and designs. You also know that you need to put your talent out there and learn to laugh at it. I went in there with a lighthearted view about the whole thing. I went in there knowing that my style wasn’t going to be liked by the judges. But my main thing was to be myself. Even if I do get slighted or [if the] judges are being harsh, I had rather go in as myself than be somebody else. The main thing is to be me.
Q: After the candy story challenge, what’s next?
A: The third challenge in this series will air today in the US, but I am not allowed to speak about it until it’s aired. But there’s going to a new challenge.
Q: What do you think are your chances at making it to the finals?
A: Right now, I don’t have time to think about it. This season has a very strong set of designers and I feel honoured to be a part of this set. We are in each other’s faces all the time. Four of us share a room. It’s very stressful, but a crazy fun experience.
Q: Project Runway has thrown up Fashion success stories such as Christian Siriano. Who’s your favourite?
A: There was this one guy. He [Chris March] went on to produce a fashion show. He was a little weird and wasn’t one of the winners, but he’s quirky. He makes these weird, costume-like pieces and he inspired me to apply for the show.
Q: Do you think you will pay a price for being quirky on Project Runway?
A: Perhaps, because I am never going to be a part of the majority. I have never wanted to be, so if I have made the choice as an individual, I may have to take the criticism that comes with it. I had rather be cast in the minority because I have never wanted to be a part of the masses. So if Heidi or Nina put me down for it, then I take it as a compliment.
Q: Apart from their criticism, how was it meeting those fashion legends?
A: I have always looked forward to meeting Tim Gunn. He critiques our clothes before going on the runway. For me, his critique is more important than Michael, Heidi or Nina’s. He used to be a fashion teacher at Parsons and he understands the individual in a designer. I think Heidi, Nina and Michael have a very narrow-minded opinion. They only like what they like and are not open to what somebody else is trying to say. If they don’t like it or get it, that’s the final word. Whereas Tim is encouraging, so if he puts your work down, you know you are in trouble. He knows his work and he’s the best teacher ever.
Q: How did Tim critique your Candy Store challenge creation?
A: The basket weave on the top, he loved it. He always encouraged and tried to understand what I was trying to say as Buffi. He never tried to guide me the other way. He got me as a person. He always told me to be true to myself.
Q: Are you going to follow his advice?
A: I’d rather stick to myself, even if it means the judges aren’t going to like it. I know their profiles now. Heidi only likes something if she can see herself wearing it, Michael only likes something if it’s marketable — that’s fine, because in fashion you need to sell clothes — and Nina Garcia will only like something that she can feature it in her magazine. They have very strong opinions and if it doesn’t fit into that, they don’t like it.
Q: So will you be your quirky self?
A: I am taking each challenge as it comes. I know I am not a mainstream designer and I don’t fit into Marie Claire. But I am not there to win, I am there to be myself. I [would] rather have people like for being myself than winning the competition as a whole.
*Project Runway does not air in the UAE.