Ben Chmura's 'Project Runway' debrief
By now, the cat's out of the bag: Ben Chmura got kicked off Project Runway last night. He created a suit inspired by sharks, which wound up biting him back. But Runway was only the beginning for the 30-year-old Chmura. The show was filmed last summer, and since then he'd been busy: On Feb. 13, he showed a collection at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York's Bryant Park -- an honor usually reserved for the top five Runway finishers. Chmura and Runway castoff Jesse also judged the Out of This World design competition in Orlando. Furthermore, Chmura designed a few commissioned pieces, showed a small collection at Fashion Week Tampa Bay and participated in Sweatshop Strikes Back, a local fashion event he co-founded.
Now for the bad news: Chmura is considering moving to New York. He hopes to work with an established designer and learn the business side of fashion.
But he's here for now, so let's embrace Chmura while we can. He called the Deal Divas this afternoon to discuss his fellow Project Runway designers, the judges and of course that infamous shark suit. He knows who wins the show, and of course he can't say. But Chmura did have some kind words about Emilio. Maybe that's a sign?
Here's our post-Runway interview with Chmura.
Let's talk about last night's show. Where did you watch, and with whom? Were you at Czar like you usually are?
No, we actually aren't doing the viewings at Czar anymore. Last night we kept it very small and intimate. I was with Bobby (partner Bobby Pappadeas) a couple of our friends. At first I wanted to do a big thing, knowing it was going to be (my last) episode, but then when it came down to it, I was like, "I really don't," 'cause I really didn't want to have to talk about it too much afterwards, 'cause I knew that I would be doing the interviews today. So I laid low last night and ended up even shutting my phone off as the show started -- which I'm glad I did, 'cause afterwards, my phone was full of text messages. It was crazy.
How far did you expect to go on the show?
My goal from the beginning was to get to the top five because at least that way you're guaranteed the opportunity to possibly show at Bryant Park for Mercedes-Benz. So that was always my goal, to at least get to the top five. So when this challenge came about and all the problems and issues that I was having with it, I kind of knew that that opportunity wasn't going to happen. (laughs) I pretty much was like, "All right, there goes Bryant Park." But I still got the opportunity to show at Mercedes-Benz, so it all worked out the way that I wanted. I have no regrets, by any means.
When we spoke a few months ago, you were concerned that the show might make you look too critical of your fellow contestants. But every week when I watched, I was always disappointed at how little camera time you got. Why do you think they didn't feature you more?
It's probably because I'm not a bold, dramatic personality.
You mean you didn't storm off and throw scissors at people?
Yeah, yeah. Everything that I said on the show was during my interviews. It's never anything that I actually said to people's faces. So I think that's why I didn't get as much air time as some people did. There's obviously been comments made in the work room to other designers regarding model selection. There's been little comments flying out here or there. Those are the dominant personalities that have been paid attention to. 'Cause it is good TV. There's no two ways about it. I had said from the beginning, throughout this entire process, even when I started the audition process, I said from the get-go, "I'm not a crazy person. I'm not going to be fake and try and act like somebody that I'm not just 'cause a camera's on me." I am an even-keeled, no-frills kind of guy.
Who was your least favorite designer on the show?
I would have to say Ping was probably my least favorite. Honestly, even though it's her aesthetic and that's great, it wasn't my aesthetic. The burlap challenge for me was the one that I didn't understand why she went on to the third one. As far as construction and knowing how to put a garment together, that's where I think she was lacking in comparison to a lot of the other designers on the show. Then you have people like Emilio, who has been doing this for 20 years, and he knows -- he really knows -- how to put a garment together.
At the end of each episode, Tim Gunn tells the losing contestant, "Go clean out your workspace." What happens after that?
We are there. We don't leave immediately because it can affect the integrity of the show, for people to know who made it how far. So we're still there, just not participating in the show.
You're there the entire time?
So you know who wins?
Oh yeah. We don't know by that point, during the initial filming. But we know who makes it to the top places.
You're bunking with the people who are still in?
No. We are separated from (the filming), 'cause they're still doing their thing. But we are still in New York while the filming is happening.
Do you get to keep the clothes that you created on the show?
No. Everything is auctioned off weekly.
We have to talk about the shark suit.
How was the suit that you'd set out to design different from the final product?
(sighs) There were a lot of differences. If you go and look at the sketch that they've posted on mylifetime.com, there are major differences. The differences happened as the challenge was progressing. There were a lot of red lights happening during this entire challenge for me. It started when we went to Mood (fabric store). I was looking for a particular fabric, and they didn't have anything that I was really interested in. Then I settled on the silvery silk wool, which I had said I would never work with again after using it for the signature look challenge. So that was my first red light. Then the fit issues started. Then I sewed a couple of the panels to the jacket in wrong without even realizing that I did it. I didn't realize it until after I'd done all of the detail work on it and then went to put it on the dress form, and it wouldn't clear the shoulders.
What a bad feeling! I know you said you ran out of fabric, so you couldn't have started over if you wanted to.
Yeah. Not only that, but I went and I doubled the fabric up, as well because it was sort of translucent, and the last thing I want it you to be able to see through it. ... Once the jacket situation happened with the fit, I was like, "It's over." And at that point, I had to finish. I couldn't send a model out with partially put-together pieces. So there were a lot of different elements that kept going wrong. By the time runway date happened, I knew it was my time. It was just a matter of waiting for them to say it.
It wasn't your best night, but I still thought Amy's cat suit was a hot mess. Did you really think you were the worst that night?
(laughs) To be completely honest, the reason why I thought I was the worst that night was because even though Amy had issues, as well, Amy's idea was innovative. It was different. And even though it was an all-black cat suit, the structure that she was trying to build -- there was a concept behind it. It took a lot of guts to try and put that together in the amount of time that we had. Then when you go and compare it to mine, mine is a suit that has fit issues. Nina didn't care for the proportions. Michael didn't care for the details. There were just a lot of elements that kept piling up as the critique went on. Then there was the comment that the pants had room for balls in them. (laughs) Once that happened on the runway, I was like, Please edit this out for TV. ... It's definitely not a moment that I wanted to go out for, especially with comments like looking amateur and like the first time I've ever done (a suit). Those are not comments that you want affiliated with the last time that people are going to see you on the show. But the great thing about it was that I had a compliment from Heidi saying that I had made really pretty dresses throughout the whole time I was there.
The judges said that it looked like your first suit. Was it your first suit?
Actually, it wasn't. I've made jackets before. I've done menswear. So I've made pants before. I just hadn't made pants on the show. ... The form was a different size than (model) Alison's measurements, so that's where I ran into some issues with the fit of the pant. But those are things that you're supposed to be able to take care of. That's part of the game. ... There were a lot of coulda, woulda, shouldas afterwards. When Heidi said, "You've made really pretty dresses," it's like, Well, why didn't I do another dress? But at the same time, I felt like there had to be a change somewhere in what I was doing because I wasn't getting noticed enough. Unfortunately, I got the wrong type of attention. But I had to do something different. I had to change it because I felt like I was in the middle too often. It was great to keep going, but by this point being in the top 10, you've got to start standing out somewhere.
From your time on the show, what piece of advice from the judges stays with you the most?
Having the Marie Claire challenge experience has been something that's stayed with me post-show: to really turn out pieces that have that confidence behind it. Unfortunately, that didn't happen for this particular challenge. But since then, everything that I've done since I've been back, and even my collection for Mercedes-Benz, I've really been focusing on creating pieces that are confident and require a person that has the confidence to wear them.
What's next for you?
There is the idea of possibly doing a small resort collection. I've got the Gasparilla Film Festival coming up. One of the women who's involved with the event, she's actually wearing one of the venom dresses for the closing night. (For Fashion Week Tampa Bay, Chmura created a collection inspired by venomous snakes.) Then I'm doing a "celebrity" -- which I always put in quotes -- "celebrity" bartending night at 717 on South Howard. That's going to be on March 19. So I'm doing that; it's for charity. It's me and the woman who plays Jan on The Office (Melora Hardin). ... Of course everyone's like, "Do you know h ow to bartend?" And I was like, "Well, I can make a mean drink for myself, so I think I could do it at the bar."
You'll make it work.
Yeah. I'll definitely make it work.
Deal Diva Dalia
Photo: Lifetime TV