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Armando T. "Mondo" Guerra knows a thing or two about adaptation: The 32-year-old Denver native got his start in fashion by taking thrift-store clothing and repurposing it for his own designs with scissors and a glue gun. But after graduating from the Denver School of the Arts in 1996 and taking art and music classes at Community College of Denver, Guerra started designing seriously in 1999 after winning a contest and getting a job out of it. Since then, he's split his time between New York and his home in Denver's Highland neighborhood. And he's been a winner elsewhere, including The Fashion Project at Tamarac Square in 2007.Follow Mondo Guerra's progress each episode on Project Runway on Show and Tell
This year, Guerra became the first hometown contestant on Project Runway, where he'll put his penchant for working with found objects to his advantage.
The Lifetime show, which begins season eight on July 29, pits contestants against each other in weekly challenges, where they must design usable fashion, often with unusual materials (food, for example, has been one) and in a limited amount of time.
Guerra can't talk about specifics — Lifetime has him under strict orders to stay mum on the results — but he can dish on Denver, his background, his experience on the show, staying true to himself, and being professional versus having fun.
WW: Why did you apply to be on Project Runway, and what was the application process like?
MG: The application process for Project Runway was intense. Portfolio, home video, page after page of personal questions. I applied for Project Runway to challenge myself. It was a goal I had to accomplish. When I got the call that I made the cut, I went through every emotion possible, a roller coaster of tears, laughing. I was in shock.
WW: What family do you have In Denver? Are you close with them?
MG: All of my family lives here. Very close, major fiestas.
WW: In 1999, you won a competition for Auraze Juniorwear and moved to New York to take a job with them, right? Tell me about that experience.
MG: It was great. You know, out in New York there's just so much culture. I think a lot of fashion, or fashion inspiration, comes from culture, or different cultures, and if you want to experience that kind of culture, New York is the place to be. You know, that would be where you'd go to have that experience. And there's so much going on all the time. So it was great to have that experience, to sort of be able to be in the middle of everything.
WW: But then a few years later, you came back to Denver. Why?
MG: Well, I broke my hip. I slipped on some ice and I broke my right hip, and if I would have stayed in New York, they would have put me in a home, you know, because I lived in a walk-up on the fifth floor. So I just decided to just come home and be with my family. And I actually ended up staying a lot longer than I planned.
WW: So, having basically started your career in New York, how did being back in Denver compare? What were some differences, or some similarities?
MG: Well, I think clothing is just an extension of who you are. You know, everybody comes from a different background, everybody has a different story. I guess for me, personally, I like to change it up; I'm kind of a chameleon. Some days you want to dress up and look professional; other days you just want to have fun. More often, I want to have fun.
WW: That seems to be a theme in your design style, actually, which is pretty eclectic. Compared to the other contestants, or at least what little we've been able to see of them, your design sense is pretty out there. How did that play out on the show?
MG: Well, even going into the show, I knew that I did have a different point of view from a lot of the people on it. I like to look to the past for inspiration, for, like, silhouettes, but I also really like looking at more modern stuff — textiles, prints — and keeping that just modern and fresh. But, you know, I do think everything should be wearable and functional.
WW: There also seems to be a certain cheerfully sleazy aesthetic to your designs; one of your collections was called LoveMondoTrasho, for example. How did that come about?
MG: Well, when I first started cutting patterns, I was really into reconstruction. I went to a lot of thrift stores and bought clothes and looked at how they were laid out flat, like a flat pattern, and then put them back together and made new pieces out of them. So I just feel like I'm really into the idea of found objects as fashion. And as I've matured as a designer, I feel like I use that way of looking at things in a different way, like in my prints or my patterns. So that's kind of how I stay true to me.