Coming in second on season seven of Lifetime’s Project Runway hit New York-based designer Emilio Sosa hard. But he’ll have a shot at the ultimate fashion reality show title once more in the second season of Project Runway All Stars, which premieres next Thursday, October 25.
“Season seven allowed me to create a brand—my Esosa brand was created on a reality show,” said Sosa of his first Project Runway experience. To boot, this year Sosa was nominated for his first Tony Award in costume design for Broadway’s Porgy and Bess, and he debuted his first fall/winter collection this past February. We caught up with the burgeoning designer to talk about the show, his upcoming accessories collection, and a swimwear project that you may see at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Swim 2013.
The Project Runway All Stars season two trailer ends with you saying, "Fashion is war with pretty dresses." What prompted that?
EMILIO SOSA: I meant it in a sense that you have to be tough to be in the fashion industry. At the end of the day it is still a billion dollar business. While some people may look at it as fun and frou-frou, I tend to look at fashion as a business. Sometimes you have to be a businessman. I think that's where my head was at during that moment.
Which brings you more satisfaction, costume design or fashion design?
ES: I enjoy theater because it’s about storytelling. Whether I'm designing a red carpet gown for a client or a piece for Broadway show, it's about telling a story, conveying emotions through clothing. I'll always design theater because that's where I grew up and that's what hones my craft.
With all of your success, what was your motive for returning to Project Runway?
ES: Insanity. [Laughs] I really, really thought I had a great chance of winning my season. I don't grudge on anyone's success because things happen for a reason, but I thought I was the best of my season at that time. A little bit of it was [that] I needed to come back and redeem my name in a sense, which I didn't have to do because I have a lot of people who tell me ‘Your work was great, I enjoy your work.’ But as a man I felt like I had to come back and really prove it; maybe prove it more to myself than to anyone else that I could be the Project Runway champion.
Sounds like you have a very competitive nature.
ES: Definitely. My ego, being Latino [laughs]—we're not allowed to be the runner-up. They offered the opportunity during the first season but I couldn't do it because I was doing Porgy and Bess and was working with Spike Lee on his film [Red Hook Summer]. The second time around I said, 'You know what, it's meant to be. It's in the cards.' So I cleared my schedule and did it again.
How was All Stars different from your first Project Runway go-round?
ES: It was different because you are treated differently. The challenges are a little more geared towards building a business. You already have the name recognition, now it is more about how your aesthetic can grow within the confines of a challenge. I always tried to stay true to what the Esosa brand is, regardless of what we were designing at the time.
Did you clash with any of the other designers or grow unexpected friendships?
ES: I'm not a big clasher. I say what is on my mind at the appropriate time and then I let it go. I really got to enjoy working with Uli Herzner, she was amazing, Althea Harper, who also has a huge career outside of the franchise, and Laura Kathleen. I think I gravitate to strong people that aren't afraid to say what they mean and be true to themselves.
Is it true that you’re working on an accessories collection?
ES: Yes, we're working on it! Bags, shoes, scarves, everything.I'm doing everything! I'm not leaving anything undone.
Who is your dream client?
ES: If I had to pick someone right now, I think it would be Michelle Obama. I think she would be someone amazing to get for a young fashion house. But I'm happy dressing the people, as I always say, who I ride the trains with. They are the bread and butter of my business. Those are the people I grew up around. If they want to buy a T-shirt from my website, fine. If they want to buy a $3,000 leather jacket, that's fine too. In this economy, anyone who makes an investment in your clothing needs to be honored and taken care of. Times are hard, and as I say, fashion is not a necessity, fashion is a luxury.
What’s next for you and your Esosa brand?
ES: On the fashion end, the website is going live very soon. I'll be adding shoes and bags by then. On the theater front, I'm designing Motown: The Musical.
When will your work bring you back to Miami?
ES: It is funny you should mention that. This weekend I had an appointment with a swimsuit manufacturer who wants to create a capsule collection. If all goes well, we would love to debut it during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Swim next year. You got an exclusive on that one, we haven't told anyone.