'Project Runway' contestant Ben Chmura talks to the Deal Divas: Part 1
The countdown is on. Thursday, Jan. 14, is the premiere of Project Runway season 7. We told you a few weeks ago that Tampa's own Ben Chumra is a contestant this season. That's him in the front row with his fellow contestants, wearing the red shirt and fly gold sneakers.
Now here's more fab news: Chmura, 30, will host a season premiere watch party that night at Rawbar Sushi, 777 N Ashley Drive, in downtown Tampa. The party starts at 8:30 p.m. The show starts at 10 p.m. Admission is free; the sushi, not so much. For details, call (813) 422-5220 or visit Chmura's Facebook fan page.
Can't wait 'till Thursday? Keep reading for our interview with Chmura. We'll bring you more of the conversation in today's tbt* Weekend Edition and on the blog next week.
Deal Divas: How do you pronounce your last name?
Ben Chmura: It’s CHIM-er-ah.
Okay. My co-worker said, “He needs to buy a vowel.”
I know, I know. So many people say that. I’m like, “Well, it’s Polish, so...”
I’m sure you can’t tell me how you did on the show. What can you tell me about the show?I can say that it’s an incredible experience, and I’ve met some great people throughout the whole process — truly talented people. I absolutely loved being able to work with Tim Gunn and just getting to know him, it was a phenomenal experience. And Heidi (Klum) is a wonderful person, too. She was very, very sweet. The whole thing in itself — to me it was an eyeopener into who I am as a person and as a designer. I just think that it was one of those experiences that will forever change me and who I am. It’s a great thing, for sure.
So who are you as a designer?
I originally started off doing menswear. When I did my first shows here in Tampa, a lot of the women here were asking, “When are you going to start doing women’s?” So I started toying around with doing womenswear, which I had studied formally in school anyway but focused on men. ... I just went off on my own learning menswear while I was doing the program. So as a designer now, I had started focusing on building a label that would represent Tampa women, picking fabrics that were climate-conscious and even the colors and everything. Then once I had started doing that, I started realizing that I was actually limiting myself as a designer. I wasn’t really breaking out of that mold. I really wanted to start doing some more experimental pieces and start going beyond just ready-to-wear and things that you could basically pick up at the mall. I wanted to start challenging myself as a designer and creating pieces that you wouldn’t necessarily see here in Tampa. With the last couple of collections, I feel that I have started to reach that. So now I’ve kind of been coined as the local futuristic designer because all of my pieces have a little bit of a sci-fi edge and comic book illustration influence. So they’re not necessarily costumey; they’re still pieces that you can mix into your existing wardrobe. But they definitely have a little bit more of a designer edge to them. But you can pair one of my blazers with a T-shirt and jeans, and it still would work. That’s kind of the direction that I’m going in now.
I know you have one collection in which all the pieces are named for venomous snakes. Why?
(laughs) I was approached by Fashion Week Tampa Bay to do a fashion show for the Super Bowl pre-party. Nancy (Vaughn, founder of FWTB) had contacted me and she asked me if I’d be interested, and I said of course. I was actually driving one day, and I was listening to a song by a Japanese pop artist called BoA. The song was called Eat You Up, and the next thing know I was thinking about boa constrictors. It kind of started turning into “Oh, how cool it would be to do a collection of evening dresses based on venomous snakes.” So each dress was named after one, and there were elements that went with their coloring and their physical features, their musculature, the anatomy. I really wanted to put a bit of a scientific aspect to these beautiful cocktail dresses.
Deal Diva Dalia
Photo: Lifetime TV