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'Project Runway': A chat with Season 7's winner, Seth Aaron Henderson

April 23, 2010 |  3:09 pm

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After showing a 1940s-German-and-Russian- military-inspired 10-piece collection at Bryant Park during Fashion Week in February, Northwest-based designer Seth Aaron Henderson has been named the winner of Season 7 of "Project Runway" Beating out fellow designers Emilio Sosa and Mila Hermanovski, Henderson was praised for his cohesive, beautifully constructed, show-stopping collection by the show's judges. He walked off with an editorial feature in Marie Claire magazine’s July issue, and and a cash prize of $100,000 from L’Oréal Paris to launch his own fashion line, among other prizes. I caught up with him to talk about his approach to the runway show, his dedication to his family and getting Tim Gunn on a trampoline.

Where can we buy your stuff and when?
I have a couple things left online at Ann Bocci boutique in Portland, but I need to establish a manufacturer. Eventually the line will be rolling out to boutiques and department stores. I want to create an affordable line for everybody, with different price levels.

What was your favorite design from the runway show? 
Each one was perfect or else I wouldn’t have sent it down. Some were individual pieces that could be retail, some were pushing costume, but dude, it was New York Fashion Week!  I wanted to make a bold, graphic statement. My competitors went the other way: They did very beautifully made lines, but they could have gone right off the runway and onto the shelf. After the show, we sat down and agreed that any one of us could win. None of us agreed that he or she was a better designer or had better-made clothes than the others. I saw the other two's clothes up close and they were just beautifully made, but they had a different approach to a show. It's Bryant Park: You gotta go big and make an exciting show! From looks No. 1 to No. 10, you have to keep everyone's attention and keep the volume up. I even had my music created from scratch for my show. Nina [Garcia] told me, "You're the only one who made a runway show collection." I'm not sure all my pieces would be sold in the same store or even the same department. They're supposed to be different. Someday I'd love to do a show where it's all costume and don't even have to be wearable.

How much did you alter your approach after Tim Gunn's critique at your halfway point?
I started with an expected retail line, a pretty, predictable collection. I always intended on bringing at least 20 looks to New York: I like to have options. I was where I wanted to be when Tim came, and I knew where I needed to go. He came and confirmed that for me: He said, "They're impeccably made, but the judges are going to expect this from you. Where should you go from here? You know where to go. What you have here would knock the socks off the judges if it was season 6, but this is season 7."  It was kind of like, "Oh God," but “I also kind of already know this.” That's part of growing as a designer. My gut feeling was, "I gotta go big."

Did you put him on the trampoline to punish him? 
He'd never been on one!  Growing up in California, there were always trampolines around where we lived. My kids play on it, and my daughter's a gymnast. It was just a fun time, and we just had a blast.

Are you staying in Washington for the time being?
We're going to stay where we are because the kids are in their teens and they have friends and their school's amazing, but if the factory goes as planned, we'll get an apartment in L.A. so we can go there for a week and work. I'm also not at all opposed to the right fashion house saying, "Hey, you want a job?" If I can get into some really foreign high-end company, that would be amazing.

What would be your dream line to work for?
Well, he's dead now ... McQueen.  Or Dior, something along those lines. Roland Mouret, who was one of the judges this season -- if he offered me a job I'd be there in a second.

What was your favorite challenge?
I loved the kids challenge, I loved the Harlem looks, and I loved the print challenge, creating your own fabric. 

Speaking of the kids challenge, do you have any plans to do kids clothing?
I've made kids stuff before for independent clients who wanted a great costume dress for their daughter or whatever. I'm not opposed to it. After I get a manufacturer established and they're producing the women's and men’s, I figure, why not the kids too.

Why was your family so emotional at the finale?
They're been through this journey with me, and they know how much it means for me and how much I've worked for it. I've worked for his for the last four years, and they just know that's what I love to do. They're just really happy for me that I went there to win, to accomplish a goal and I made it. My family's around me every day and being gone during the summer, I missed our camping trip, shopping, all these things where I wasn't there: That's what I meant when I said I sacrificed for my dream. They said, "That's OK, go do this." I'm going to make it up for them and take them for a vacation.

-- Claire Zulkey

Photo: Heidi Klum congratulates designer Seth Aaron Henderson. Credit: Barbara Nitke / Lifetime

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