A couple of weeks ago while watching television I noticed a very familiar face! My friend and Parsons alumnus, Sam Donovan, on the television show Project Runway: Under the Gunn. When I first met Sam we were both Parsons Summer Pre-College students, so eager and excited to be studying art in New York City.
Now, almost five years later, I am a senior and Sam has graduated from the Parsons Fashion Design Program, showing off his skills on the Project Runway spinoff. Similar to the original Project Runway, the designers all have challenges and must complete an outfit in an absurd amount of time. The main difference this season is that the contestants have mentors, who are previous Project Runway winners. The prize of course is crazy as usual and includes $100,000, a trip to Paris and a spread in Marie Clare to name a few. I chatted with Sam about his experiences graduating this past May to becoming a reality-TV show star!
Lauren Davis: It’s safe to say you are definitely one of the judges’ favorite designers so far. How did it feel to be picked first in the second episode?
Sam Donovan: It felt incredible to be picked first out of my group of designers. I was very confident in my design, and I loved how different it was from what I think is usually exhibited on Project Runway, but being picked first–and by all three mentors, no less!–felt amazing.
LD: I’m sure it must have been a lot of pressure having the cameras on you 24/7. What was that experience like, especially while under so much pressure already?
SD: I mean, the cameras kind of melt away when you’re so completely focused on getting something done in half the time you would usually allot for yourself, but it definitely made those sensitive moments feel even more vulnerable.
LD: Do you think you had an advantage over the other designers because you studied at Parsons and had also just graduated?
SD: I think I definitely had an advantage, having gone to Parsons, because I think Parsons encourages it’s student designers to think in a very sophisticated way, that maybe other fashion schools don’t necessarily get into. I definitely felt like I had an easier time than a lot of the other designers integrating my concepts and aesthetic tendencies into my designs on the show.
LD: What have some of the reactions been to the show from your family/friends?
SD: Everyone has been so ecstatic for me. I was a little nervous for the reactions, but the amount of support I’ve received has been fantastic. I guess Parsons boasts a few more Project Runway/Under the Gunn fans than it thinks it does.
LD: You mentioned in the red carpet challenge that you weren’t totally comfortable creating a red carpet look. Why did you decide to do something less conventional like the jumpsuit?
SD: I’m absolutely NOT an evening wear designer because what propels me to design is dressing a woman in her every day, which means that I do a lot of separates and more casual looks. I find evening wear to be rather stuffy, outdated and unnecessary. I decided on the jumpsuit because I think that’s how I would want to dress for such a stuffy kind of occasion–rebellious, irreverent, and cool as hell. When I was advised to do my version of glamour, I just couldn’t shake this idea of a jumpsuit (thinking of a modern day Katharine Hepburn), and I think that as a designer, when you’re out of your comfort zone, it’s hugely important to trust your gut, because that’s when the real designer comes out, when you have no idea what to do!
LD: You definitely grabbed the judges’ attention because you actually won! How did it feel to win the first challenge?
SD: To win a challenge on Project Runway: Under the Gunn…I mean, it’s surreal. I’ve watched people win these challenges and be so excited, and to win the first one? It was a dream come true: literally something I had dreamed about for almost as long as I’d been designing.
LD: What’s one of the best memories you have of being Parsons? What do you miss the most about school (if anything)?
SD: I think the best memory I have of Parsons was finishing my senior thesis collection. I remember putting on one last binding on a jacket the morning my thesis was due, and just going “did I…just finish?” It seems like such an unconquerable task, but once you just put your mind to it, and really commit to working your butt off, it’s really rewarding in the end.
LD: What real world advice do you have for graduating seniors like myself?
SD: My biggest advice would be “collect yourself”. Graduating is a huge accomplishment, and your senior year, especially if you’re in fashion can take a lot out of you. Everyone I know took a vacation, or just did some kind of independent project to let their mind recover. I went on Project Runway: Under the Gunn because it was a life dream for me to be on the show and I’m so glad I did! I’m just in a much better head space now and I definitely have the show to thank.
Congratulations to Sam on his success on the show this far and tune into Project Runway: Under the Gunn Thursdays at 9! Good luck Sam!