Denver fashion is now back in the national spotlight thanks to Tim Gunn's new reality show, Under the Gunn. Mondo Guerra, winner of the 2012 Project Runway All Stars, is a mentor on the show, which debuted last night on Lifetime, and local designer Stephanie Ohnmacht is one of fifteen contestants looking to win the show's $100,000 cash prize.
A stylish group, including Mondo, gathered at Beauty Bar to watch the premiere yesterday. On the first episode, the designers competed for positions on the mentoring teams of Mondo, Nick Verreos and Anya Ayoung-Chee. After creating three gold-and-black dresses and making a dramatic plea for a second chance, the teams are lining up as follows: Mondo has two designers, Michelle and Camila; Anya has three designers, Shan, Blake and Brady; and Nick has two, Oscar and Natalia. Melissa was the only one sent home. We're eager for next week's show, when Ohnmacht will join the mix. She took a quick break from the design table to answer a few of our questions.
See also: Mondo Guerra to host Under the Gunn viewing party Thursday
Westword: Tell us about yourself. Where are you from, and how did you get into fashion?
Stephanie Ohnmacht: I am an eastern Colorado girl who grew up on the plains and farmlands of Burlington. Our family farm still has the sewing machine where I sat for hours making garments to fill the house. As early as age seven, I was making clothes for pets and dolls. By the time I was twelve, I was making party dresses and wool suits for 4-H competitions -- which I won pretty regularly!
What was the first thing you every designed/made?
One of my earliest and proudest achievements was a teal-and-white polka-dot top with top-stitching and a pocket in the yoke. I followed that with a matching skort with pockets. Most everyone thought it was store-bought, which was a huge triumph for me as a third-grader.
What inspires you?
I have a wide range of influences in how I design. Geometry in architecture, patterns in fabric, and life situations all inspire me. I blend all of these and more into each line I create. I also design for myself and the different life events that I find myself participating in. I am my own customer. And the customer is always right!
Give us your thoughts on the fashion community in Denver. What are we doing right, what needs work?
Denver is doing so many things right for the fashion community. We have an amazing pool of talent and a supportive group of designers. The Denver Design Incubator is a non-profit set-up specifically to support designers just getting started. And then there is the Fashion Design Center, which has been set up to help designers with more established businesses. Now we just need more people to support the designers by buying locally.
You applied for Project Runway in 2008 and didn't make it on to the show. What changes did you make that helped you get Under the Gunn?
During my casting interview in 2008, Tim Gunn said I needed to sew faster to get on the show. So for the last five years, I've worked at building garments with less couture techniques and more production/quick-sewing mind set. This has also helped me with my ready-to-wear line.
What do you like best about your mentor?
I like that my mentor also has a business, which helps give me perspective on my own line.
Keep reading for more from Stephanie Ohnmacht What is Tim Gunn like?
Exactly as you see him on TV, just great!
Under the Gunn Thursdays at Beauty Bar -- why is this one of the best ways to watch the show?
There is excitement and drama with each episode, and it is great to share in the experience of seeing the story unfold. And it is a great opportunity for others to learn a bit about what it is like to be on the show.
Can you share with us the one piece of advice that is important for all aspiring designers to know?
Through all the blood, sweat and tears, don't lose the passion for what you do. It has been a long road, but it is the only way I know how to channel my creative drive and desire to make my mark on styling women.
What are the next steps for you after you are crowned the winner of Under the Gunn?
Ha! You aren't going to get secrets from me that easy! Let's just say that there is a bright spotlight on being one of the select designers in the nation to make it on to such a prestigious show. This opportunity undoubtedly shines a light on my Spring 2014 line, and my Fall 2014 line already in the works. And it won't end there!
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The Under the Gunnviewing party will continue at Beauty Bar every Thursday evening for the next twelve weeks.