Spoiler alert! On last night’s season finale of “Project Runway,” Dmitry Sholokhov emerged the winner with a collection that pushed the limits, featured edgy styling (the jury’s still out about the silvered hair) and showed that he can, in fact, make some pretty cool things that aren’t dresses (read all about it here). I talked to Dmitry briefly about his experiences in reality TV (he previously won an episode of “24 Hour Catwalk), why the designers showed off some pretty wretched stuff the week before the finale, and why Elena isn’t really America’s favorite designer of the season (as if there was any doubt). As you might expect, he was polite, thoughtful and occasionally blunt, but that’s what we liked about him anyway, isn’t it?
What happened the week before Fashion Week, when the judges complained that all of you sent terrible outfits down the runway? Was everyone trying to save their strongest designs for Fashion Week?
I was gonna show the different looks, to tell the truth. It was all about the models they sent us, because we had absolutely no time for the fitting. Some were extremely small, and I was just playing with what would fit [them]. That was how I was sure I was going to make it to Fashion Week, having everything fit. Me, Melissa and Christopher have very tailored clothing. Fabio’s clothes are very drapey, so he had an easier road.
Did you feel confident you would make the cut?
I was pretty confident, but I had no idea what was going to happen, so it was anybody’s game. For Fashion Week, I thought Fabio was my biggest competition. Melisssa is an amazing designer and she has a very strong look, but I didn’t feel she had something new to say. Christopher had beautiful pieces, but as a collection it was all over the place. So Fabio was the only other designer who really had a collection.
We learned that you gave up your job and your apartment to do the show. Are you still homeless?
i just actually moved October first. Back to the normal life!
What was the job you quit? Was it in fashion design?
It was a designing job. I was working for Jones group, and it was a great job and it was very well paid. I actually just got the job five months before ‘Project Runway’ so it wasn’t easy to give up.
Was it harder walking away from your life at 33 than it was when you left Belarus for the U.S. at 18?
You know, you have to make sacrifices to get somewhere. You have to take risks. When I was 18 it was very easy for me. I’ve been through so much and, of course, it’s not as easy as it used to be. When you’re 18, you’re not afraid of anything. But I knew that this was the only way to get my name out there. I’d worked for quite a few companies, so it was time for me to get noticed.
So what are you doing now that you’ve won?
I’m gonna have a meeting with Lord & Taylor next week, but it’s a lot to figure out if I start my own brand. I need a business partner, I need an investor; it’s not easy. It’s a lot of little and big things involved. I’m pretty much ready to roll. I have to figure out a lot of things; I have to ask a lot of questions and I’m not sure what direction I want to go, but I’m open for other opportunities. It’s a new chapter in my life.
What did you think of Elena winning as fan favorite? Isn’t that a little weird?
She’s not really the fan favorite. She has a deal with a couple charity organizations, so the [people] will vote for her for half of the money. That’s how she is there. It’s for the good works, but at the same time it’s not fair.
You guys were not big fans of one another. Have you ironed everything out?
I don’t really feel anything about her, to tell the truth. She apologized to me at the very end, and I was cool with it, but I didn’t really think of her.
Given that you were a professional ballroom dancer, did anyone try to make you show them steps in the workroom?
Everyone is asking me about ballroom! For me, it was my past life, my teen years and my childhood. I stopped over 15 years ago, so it’s a very long time. I got to the point where I was 18 years old, and I either committed to doing it the rest of my life or pursue a career in fashion, and I was over it. And that’s what I wanted to do. It was so long ago, I still have moments and stuff, but it’s another life.
But that background must have given you an edge for the Rockettes challenge.
Absolutely, because I started really designing costumes around age 11 for myself and for partners and friends, so I understood and I understand the construction of it. You have to be able to move, so it’s a different world of construction and fabrication.
What was your favorite challenge?
The Rockettes challenge was my favorite one. Radio City Music Hall was open just for us, and I got to sit on that stage by myself and just design. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was surreal.
So, what was the toughest challenge?
With every challenge, you feel like this is the toughest, the one you’re doing right at that moment. My least favorite one was kids. That was an absolutely different world. You can’t control the child, plus we had to work with the mothers and they were very opinionated. It was just a lot. It was the only challenge where I almost lost my cool.
Since you had been on “24 Hour Catwalk,” did you feel prepared for “Project Runway”?
I went without really any expectations. I was familiar after doing “24 Hour Catwalk with the process, but definitely not to this degree. It was so physically and emotionally and creatively draining, that was the biggest challenge. When I got back, I actually lost 18 pounds. And you can’t really see it, but by the time I got home, all the clothing was so big on me. A friend really, really noticed a difference. I gained it back in 3 weeks. It’s a bad diet, but the “Project Runway” diet really works.
Do you have a chance to see your family? You were the only finalist whose family wasn’t waiting at the end.
Definitely. The timing just wasn’t right for them to come out last minute. It’s very far, and a different situation. With the timing it didn’t work out. But they are coming here and I go there all the time. It’s okay.
Tim Gunn (who spoke frankly about competitors he didn’t like here) seemed genuinely teary that you won. Did you have a close friendship?
Tim Gunn, I felt like he was everybody’s uncle. I felt like he was, he had a very warm relationship with everyone. He was very supportive of everyone. With me, I don’t know, he was always trying to push me and question me, and I think that was his way to make me work harder and try harder, so it was great.
Are you friends with your fellow designers? And if so, did that change after seeing what they said behind your back in the interview room?
We were stuck in the same environment, and we got along very well and were very close, but we are all very different. We had a great dynamic. But it’s a competition, and about hurting my feelings with comments, not really. With all this experience and life experience I’ve had, I just developed a thick skin. You can’t be loved by everybody, and some people have different opinions and taste levels.
Speaking of thick skin, did you read anything about yourself on the Internet?
Occasionally. But it’s just so much information at this point. When I had time, I would read things and my friends would direct me to interviews and comments. Ninetly percent, I would say, is positive, and it’s healthy to get negative reactions as well. I understand.
The silver hair was a big risk — especially after Tim told you he hated it. Why did you stick with it?
I wanted to really kind of challenge myself. I loved the idea and I knew it could be done amazingly, so I was just worrying about the hairdressers pulling it off. They didn’t show it in the show, but the judges loved it and it was very cool, very well-received. I loved it.