That was a nail biter of a “Project Runway” finale, wasn’t it? Alas, it wasn’t one I was able to recap as I’m here in Dallas for a press event, but I cleared my scheduled to talk with the newly minted winner. Given that this season had lots of meltdowns, a returning contestant, and some pretty surprising eliminations (Helen and Kate, anyone?), there was much to discuss.
Here’s what Dom Streater had to tell HitFix about her big win, which makes “Project Runway” history — she’s the first African-American “Project Runway” winner in the history of the show. Over the phone, Dom was just as you’d expect from watching the show — bubbly, upbeat and insightful. While winning “Project Runway” is never a guarantee of future success, I think we can all look for Dom’s vivid, artful prints in stores someday soon.
Were you surprised to win the whole enchilada? Did you have a feeling you had a good chance?
I was going in very confident in the collection I created, I wasn’t sure what everyone else had done, but I felt confident. I really wanted to win, and that was the determination I came in with. That was the end goal, and I had to keep going.
You had previously complained quite loudly about being stuck in the middle of the pack. What do you think was going on there?
It is always frustrating being saved. Any designer will tell you feedback is helpful. Whenever we didn’t get that, we were left wondering, where do we go from here? What do we do next? That was the main reason I was frustrated. I wanted to make sure the judges were hearing my voice the right way, and I wouldn’t be out because I wasn’t giving them what they needed to see of my voice. I would get very angry about being saved. It was nice, but it sucks.
You’re the first African-American winner — did you realize that initially? Is that important to you?
To me, it’s important. I’m happy to be the first, but it wasn’t a main factor for me. It wasn’t really on my radar at all, because to me it was just a matter of talent and who deserves the right to win. There was no extra reasoning behind it. But I don’t mind at all! It is really cool, though! I didn’t realize until people brought it up after I’d won in interviews.
Were you worried when Zac said he wasn’t a fan of your swimsuit?
I had a gut feeling going into the runway that I won. You don’t want to be too confident, because they can tear you down. But I felt that compared to the other contestants, I had a very good critique. I felt they really loved what I did, and that’s when I started thinking I could win. It really was anyone’s game, like Tim said. I had no idea until we were getting our critiques that I really could win.
While it seemed like everyone really liked one another by the middle of the season, there were a few hotheads like Ken and Sandro. How disruptive were those outbursts to the rest of the workroom?
It didn’t affect me that much. I was an RA all through college, and then I’ve been working at a really rowdy restaurant at night. I’m more an observer more than I am involved. I am naturally calm anyway. I don’t get too excited about things, I don’t get involved in drama. Now I’m just proactive than reactive. Some of these outbursts were comical, though. You just had to stay on the sidelines and laugh.
I think a lot of people were stunned that Kate and Helen were sent home when they were. You were and are friends with them; what did you go through when they left?
It was incredibly hard on me. We did all this filming in six weeks. A lot of us got very very close to each other. Kate, Helen and I were very close. These were the people I would talk to before I go to sleep at night. It was very hurtful when they left, even though I know it was a competition. I felt as if I had lost sisters. I didn’t have those people to talk to anymore. It was a very hard time not to have those people to confide in.
The isolation, the tension, the non-stop grind — what was the hardest part of doing the show?
I didn’t think it was that bad. Don’t get me wrong, I love to sleep and the sleep schedule was horrible. I’m like a cat I like to sleep so much. But I loved going to Parsons each day and getting a challenge. I’ve been watching this show since I was 11 or 12, so this was a dream. I was so excited every time we’d get a challenge. I was more focused on the excitement than how hard it was, which is why I was able to stay positive for so long. I didn’t want to complain because I was so happy to be there.
Since you’re a fan of the show, which previous “Project Runway” designer do you most look up to?
I absolutely loved Jay McCarroll. He had so much integrity as a designer, and his designs hit home with me. I can relate to him as a designer. And he’s such a nice person. He’s a great example. I love Christian Siriano, too. That’s my ideal place I need to be at. He’s my inspiration.
How do you plan to use your winnings? Are you keeping the car?
I’m keeping the car, even though I don’t have a driver’s license, ironically. I’m just trying to get my brand started and my name out there, and that’s what the rest of it is about. I’m working on my fall collection right now, which will be shown in February at Philadelphia Fashion Week.
What is one thing that would surprise viewers about what it’s really like to be on the show?
The fact that it happens for us every day instead of every week. I came in in terms of the schedule with the filming, I was really naive about the filming. It’s really a challenge every other day, not once a week. It was bizarre how fast things move — it all happens in just six weeks. That was always shocking.
Is Tim Gunn as adorable as he seems to be?
Tim is incredible. He’s like a big brother you never knew you had. He really was so helpful to each of us through the entire competition. His input was invaluable. I have no words to say how amazing he is. And this show isn’t all he does; he’s so busy with so many other things. I can’t even imagine how he gets through the day, he does so much. But he really is just as nice as you think he is.