Meet the designers for Project Runway New Zealand

Project Runway New Zealand

Project Runway New Zealand designers and host, Georgia Fowler (centre). Image by Stephen Tilley.

Project Runway New Zealand premieres on October 1st at 7.30pm on TVNZ 2 and sees 14 ambitious fashion designers from around New Zealand compete each week to ultimately win the season. They will face some dramatic design challenges that will keep them on their toes and creating stunning looks to showcase on the runway.

A new challenge brief will be delivered by mentor Andreas Mikellis and host/judge Georgia Fowler each week. It won’t be easy for the designers as they deal with time constraints, budgets and unconventional material but they must use their skills and creativity to get their garments to the runway on time while also creating something the judges will love. As their mentor, Andreas will be check in on each designer as they push themselves to create new designs and meet the judges’ brief while displaying their skill and design flair.

Judges Benny Castles, Sally-Ann Mullin, Georgia and a weekly guest judge won’t know who’s created each look on the runway until they’ve scored the design, so the judging will be anonymous. Each week will see another contestant eliminated from the competition so they must put their best foot forward on every challenge to avoid being in the bottom two and risk leaving the competition.

The final challenge will see three remaining designers given the opportunity to wow the judges with a five look capsule collection. From there one designer will win Project Runway New Zealand and claim an incredible prize package.

Episodes will also be available weekly, exclusively on TVNZ OnDemand.

We caught up with each of the designers to find out why they applied for the show, what made them become designers and what we would be surprised to know about them?

Project Runway New Zealand

Designers Beau Takapu (left) and Benjamin Alexander (right).

Beau Takapu, 37 – Retail Senior Sales Assistant from Auckland

Growing up in San Francisco, Beau felt like something was missing in his design aesthetic. He decided to make a change and move to New Zealand to get closer to his Tongan roots.

Beau may seem sweet and kind, but don’t mistake that kindness for weakness—he is here to win. Throughout the filming of Project Runway, Beau was also planning his wedding with his partner.

Why did you apply for Project Runway?
I was really enticed by the challenges the show provided, and the opportunity that could arise from it for my design passion.

How would you describe your personal style and your design aesthetic?
Classic, modern and clean, but never shy of embellishments or unique eye-catching detail.

What kind of challenge are you looking forward to most?
I’m looking forward to all the challenges that I get to dive into. Ultimately, I want to test my skills and push my boundaries!

What was the first garment you ever made?
When I was age 11, I was a part of the Glee Club (yes, I am also a performer). Long story short, one of the themes was “clowns” and we needed an outfit. Determined to make something uniquely Beau, I took my mother’s bed sheets, layered them on top of my own clothing, cut around them, and managed to sew together a jumpsuit – of course embellished with the finest glue and blue glitter I could find. Still to this day, I still wish I had kept it!

What is your point of difference as a designer?
I like to fuse my South Pacific heritage and background into my modern and classic designs.

Benjamin Alexander, 22 Designer from Auckland

With a background in womenswear, the most important thing to Benjamin is making women look and feel good. Living and breathing fashion, he believes that being a designer or any other creative isn’t a want, it is a must. Fashion is why he is here on this planet.

Benjamin isn’t there for the drama—unless someone has something to say about his work, then watch out designers, you’ll get it straight back!

Why did you apply for Project Runway?
My mum sent me the application form and said I should do it. For whatever reason, the opportunity presented itself and I thought I should act on it.

What did you do to prepare for Project Runway?
A lecturer of mine taught me how to drape a couple of weeks prior to filming and I also brushed up on some construction techniques to be ready for the competition.

What kind of challenge are you looking forward to most?
I’m really looking forward to an avant-garde challenge because that it is more about creating an idea that has context and conceptual value, rather than a piece of clothing.

How would you describe your personal style and your design aesthetic?
Chic. I think my work speaks for itself – it is exaggerated minimalism. I like really clean lines and clean silhouettes with tailored clothing.

What is your point of difference as a designer?
Myself. What I do and how I work is so relentless. It’s very much head first, bull in a china shop and I think if you do it right, you do it bloody right.

Project Runway New Zealand

Designers Beth Hornsby-Hunt (left) and Caitlin Crisp (right). 

Beth Hornsby-Hunt, 31 – Fashion Student from Auckland

Not one to stick to the norm, Beth considers herself “refreshingly honest”. Seeing fashion as a freedom of expression, some of Beth’s previous designs include; skulls, zombies, blood splatter and even a taxidermied duckling or two.

Beth is not concerned about making friends and isn’t going to let anyone get in her way. She is there for the competition and to win.

What did you do to prepare for Project Runway?
I sat down with my tutor and went through every possible genre of fashion, talked about their origins, checked them out on Pinterest and did a lot of sketching!

How would your friends / family describe you?
Strong willed, determined, blunt, independent and “she walks to the beat of her own drum”.

How would you describe your personal style and your design aesthetic?
My personal style really does depend on the weather. Winter I’m in jeans and a bomber jacket. But come summer, I am pretty much a full blown 50s pinup girl!

What are your design strengths and weaknesses?
When it comes to design, drawing is my weakness. Trying to sketch something to convey my ideas is difficult for me, because I couldn’t sketch my way out of a paper bag. My strengths would have to be my technical ability and problem solving.

What is your point of difference as a designer?
As a designer I want to stay in touch with my customer. Everything I make is for an individual person and I love the face to face aspect of that. I’m willing and open to try different things and not put myself in a box. I think some designers get wrapped up in doing only what they like doing, and this stops them from growing and challenging themselves.

Caitlin Crisp, 22 – Retail Assistant from Christchurch

Everything about fashion makes Caitlin happy— it’s that simple.

With friends describing her as loving, positive, energetic and a bit bonkers, Caitlin’s bright and happy personality is sure to lighten the mood in the workroom.

Her point of difference as a designer is that she tends to make pieces difficult to mass replicate, which is why she hasn’t started her own label yet.

How would you describe your personal style and your design aesthetic?
My aesthetic and style are always changing and developing but they’re always girly, something different and wearable. I love frills, billowing cotton and resort styles.

What made you want to become a designer?
My grandmother was a seamstress and I was dressing myself before I could speak. It was never a conscious thought or moment, it was always there.

What are your design strengths and weaknesses?
My style is very commercial. My strengths are dresses and blouses. I think the unconventional challenges may show some weaknesses but I’m sure we’ll mostly be in the same boat with using materials we’re not familiar with!

What kind of challenge are you looking forward to most?
The team challenges! I think that’ll be the most entertaining. Well, depending on who I get paired with obviously!

What is something that people would be surprised to know about you?
Usually my answer to this kind of question is that I’m a seamstress, but I mean that doesn’t quite classify as a surprise here does it!

Project Runway New Zealand

Designers Camille Richard (left) and Jess Hunter (right). 

Camille Richard, 22 – Handbag Designer from Auckland

A happy, positive person, who is always looking for an adventure, Camille doesn’t find it hard to standout—her purple hair should do it alone!

Camille is looking forward to the money can’t buy experience that Project Runway will bring—time constraints and challenges she’s unfamiliar with—but she’s is excited to learn all that she can!

Currently travelling through Europe, Camille is using this opportunity to gather inspiration and new perspectives for her handbag line.

What did you do to prepare for Project Runway?
In my spare time I watched previous episodes to see what challenges they had and what last minute skills I needed to learn. My family wrote me notes of encouragement, which I would read whilst on the show to help keep me positive and on track!

How would you describe your personal style and your design aesthetic?
My personal style is a lot of colour, sparkle and print. I have heaps of fun with what I wear! My design aesthetic is similar; however, I tend to design for my alter ego. I love designing statement pieces with weird shapes, sculpture, structure and organic lines!

What is your point of difference as a designer?
I design for women who aren’t afraid to make a statement and have fun with what they wear. I like to design and create adventurous, sculptural pieces and embrace bold shapes, patterns and colour.

What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion and personal style allows us to express ourselves to the world without saying anything. Colour makes me happy – you’ll hardly see me wearing black!

What is something that people would be surprised to know about you?
I conquered my fear of heights by the jumping off the Sky Tower. Also, snails gross me out! I don’t know why, especially as I’m half French!

Jess Hunter, 23 – Retail Assistant from Auckland

Working under pressure won’t be an issue for Jess. Having three years’ experience working at a bridal dressmaking store had its pressures… …once a bride came in with less than a week until her wedding, deciding she no longer liked her wedding dress! Within three days, the team created a brand-new dress from scratch.

With three older sisters, Jess already has that competitive instinct, having spent most of her life going against her sister.

Being loud and outspoken, Jess isn’t afraid of conflict or speaking her mind—especially in the workroom or in team challenges!

How would your friends and family describe you?
I think my friends and family would describe me as a funny, goofy and an outgoing person. I love being the leader of the pack and I’m pretty much a big bossy boots!

How would you describe your personal style and your design aesthetic?
My personal style is always changing and evolving. I love being able to dress with a different theme or inspiration in mind each day. In terms of my design aesthetic, I’d consider it playful: I like to mix extremes, whether that be colour vs print or femme vs masculine.

What are your design strengths and weaknesses?
My strengths would be that I find it easy to adapt to different and unusual specifications, as I have done a lot of custom dressmaking for people. This has also proven that I work well under pressure. My main weakness would have to be my time management. I always think I can cram more work in than I actually can!

Who are your fashion icons?
Locally I would say I am a big fan of the Katayanagi twins and Zara McKenzie. Abroad I would have to say Bella McFadden and in terms of designers Ellery and Jaquemus are really influential to me – so a real mixed bag of people!

What is something that people would be surprised to know about you?
I have danced all my life including hip-hop, Scottish highland dancing, and nine years of ballroom and Latin!

Project Runway New Zealand

Designers Judy Gao (left) and Kerry Ranginui (right). 

Judy Gao, 24 – Fashion Designer

As one of the only self-taught designers on the show this season, Judy is a dark horse of this competition. Since the age of 13, Judy has always dreamt of becoming a fashion designer.

When looking for a dress to wear to her high school ball, Judy created her own dress, and with that found a new skill and a sense of confidence in design.

Her goal is for her one of her designs to be worn on a red carpet by the likes of Kendall Jenner or Gigi Hadid.

How would your friends/family describe you?
They would describe me as smart, hardworking, and witty.

What made you want to become a designer?
They say that a dream job is when you love what you do and you’re good at it. So, for me, designing is my dream job. It doesn’t feel like work.

How would you describe your personal style and your design aesthetic?
My design aesthetic is a mix of sophisticated, elegant, sexy, and edgy. However, my personal style is very simple and casual.

What is your point of difference as a designer?
My point of difference is the different techniques I use. Because I wasn’t taught the proper way to assemble a dress, I figured out my own way and it’s created more unique designs. I kind of make it up as I go along!

What kind of challenge are you looking forward to most?
I’m really looking forward to unconventional and avant-garde challenge because it’s different to regular sewing and I think that’ll be really fun!

What is something that people would be surprised to know about you?
That I have a Woman FIDE Master title in chess.

Kerry Ranginui, 33 – Pattern Maker from Whanganui

Kerry left Whanganui 10 years ago (with no money and a car filled with clothes) to head to Auckland and fulfil his dream of working in fashion.

His move came at the peak of the 2008 recession, but instead of giving up and moving home, he painted fences and cleaned swimming pools.

Kerry also spent six years on a dairy farm just outside the city, before landing the perfect role: working with Karen Walker as a pattern maker.

What made you want to become a designer?
Growing up in a small town there weren’t many places to buy clothes. Because I couldn’t find what I wanted, I had to learn how to make my own clothing. I taught myself to sew by watching my mother — I was amazed by what you could do with fabric.

How would you describe your personal style and your design aesthetic?
Clean, quirky and experimental with silhouettes and never afraid of a print! I love that fashion challenges people’s perspectives of masculinity and femininity. I wear a lot of clothes intended for women.

What are your design strengths and weaknesses?
I have 10 years’ experience in the fashion industry, so I have seen and done a lot in that time. That being said, I’d consider my strength to be my confidence when it comes to designing something new and exciting. However, this can sometimes be a challenge as I hate to repeat designs. To date, I have worked on 30 collections for Karen Walker, so I’m always fascinated by new and upcoming trends!

What was the first garment you ever made?
I used to make little dresses for dolls when I was younger. In primary school there was a wooden gas station with trucks for the boys and a huge wooden doll house for the girls. I always preferred hanging with the girls and dressing the dolls up. I got a lot of flack at school for playing with Barbies and did not expect it to ever be my full-time job.

What is your point of difference as a designer?
I’m from a menswear background, so I think that designing womenswear from a masculine perspective is fun. Womenswear is also very strong and powerful when taken from a male silhouette.

Designers Lenon Wakuwa (left) and Massey Williams (right).

Lenon Wakuwa, 27 – Caregiver from Invercargill

Imagination — thinking about what to create then designing it — is Lenon’s strongest trait as a fashion designer.

Lenon wants to encourage the younger generation to embrace their uniqueness and what defines them as individuals. Being a passionate advocate for the transgender and gender fluid community, Lenon doesn’t like being defined by gender, believing it only limits people’s creative minds.

When being set a challenge, Lenon likes to take time to create something that is going to wow audiences. With Project Runway, there is always a time crunch—so creating something within a set time is going to be this designer’s biggest hurdle to overcome.

Why did you apply for Project Runway?
I am passionate about fashion and being featured in Project Runway would be the most wonderful opportunity to get noticed as a fashion designer among many other talents.

What made you want to become a designer?
Being gender fluid, I found that there was a real lack of clothing choices for people like myself. Nothing quite fit, it was either his or hers, but there was no middle ground. I am a very feminine and flamboyant person, so I found myself creating my own designs to suit my needs.

How would you describe your personal style and your design aesthetic?
My personal style is androgynous and gender fluid with a touch wearable avantgarde. All my creations borrow feminine characteristics, whether that be the way I incorporate lines, shape and form, or colour and texture. I am also hugely inspired by the Victorian Era and my African heritage, and find these influences appearing in my work from time-to-time.

Who are your fashion icons?
Both local and abroad, my fashion icons are Alexandra Mc Queen, Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Galiano and WORLD.

What was the first garment you ever made?
It was a dress I created for the Hokonui Fashion Awards in 2010. Inspired by the African culture, the garment was made of brown satin crepe, stretchy velvet leopard print and finished with beads and a halter neck braiding.

Massey Williams, 38 – Alternative Education Tutor and Mentor from Christchurch

Growing up playing rugby and partying, Massey never expected to swap the sports field for a sewing machine. He ventured into the world of fashion after stumbling across a Picasso exhibition and being absolutely captivated.

When he finally revealed his love of fashion to friends and family, he found himself ridiculed and told to quit. Instead of giving up, he continued with study and now has his own label focusing on street wear called ‘Disciple of Discipline’.

How would you describe your personal style and your design aesthetic?
My design aesthetic is mostly sporty at this stage. I combine a sense of utilitarian and minimalism to try and create a character that is strong but subtle. As for my personal style, like my personality, it is unpredictable. I am more comfortable in shorts and t-shirts and casual kicks.

What made you want to become a designer?
I was fascinated by the world of fashion design and how you could use this as a creative outlet. I first acquired this passion when I began researching international fashion designers. A few favourites were Coco Chanel, Balenciaga, Dior and Jeffery Been. I loved how their designs transported me to a completely foreign environment.

What are your design strengths and weaknesses?
Probably commitment! I came into this industry with not a single person believing in me. I had family members and friends who absolutely ridiculed me for applying for Project Runway. I had hardly any support, so it just shows that drive and determination really do take you places. As for weaknesses, time management is probably my worst. I tend to take on too much.

What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion is a multi-faceted environment. It covers all industries: clothing, sport, science, music, art, health and so many more! You’re only limited by your imagination.

What are your thoughts on the fashion industry here in NZ?
It’s an exciting time to be a designer! There is so much possibility out there.

Project Runway New Zealand

Designers Matt Costello (left) and Misty Ratima (right). 

Matt Costello, 26 – Nursery Worker from Nelson

Matt is an everyday Kiwi bloke, but with a difference: he is a “gun” on a sewing machine.

Considering himself the underdog in the competition, Matt is hoping his confidence and positive attitude will hide his lack of practical study and knowledge that others may have. With a background in streetwear for men, creating womenswear is something he’s had to learn quickly before heading into the competition.

Why did you apply for Project Runway?
My girlfriend applied for me because she thought it would be a good challenge for me with my fashion interest. It was never about getting on the show, it was about shifting my mindset into a creative space. I thought there would be no way I would get in!

What did you do to prepare for Project Runway?
I got some extra training from a local designer in Nelson. I also learnt basic designing for womenswear as I had never done womenswear before.

How would you describe your personal style and your design aesthetic?
I really don’t care much about trying to look a certain way or fit a certain trend. I just go with feeling at the time. I tend to make art and fashion, but I don’t try to dress like a stereotypical designer. I used to do photoshoots with my collections in stubbies and gumboots to be honest and let’s not forget the crocs…

Who are your fashion icons?
Lela Jacobs, A Coldwall, Jimmy D, Deadstudios and Yeazy.

What is your point of difference as a designer?
I don’t stick to the textbook way of designing. I love to break rules and follow my own intuition with my garments and designs.

Misty Ratima, 40 – Māori Lecturer from Napier

Wanting to be pushed out of her comfort zone, mum-of-four Misty applied for Project Runway.

Taking influence from her Māori culture, Misty feels the story behind the design is key to relating to your audience. She sees fashion as an outlet of expression and identity.

Although the first garment she created at Intermediate (an apron) was a disaster and she decided she hated sewing, Misty came back around to the idea of being a designer and has now created garments that have been worn by Anika Moa.

What did you do to prepare for Project Runway?
Over the weeks leading up to Project Runway New Zealand, I binge watched many of my favourite American seasons. I also read lots of books, did some research on past, current and emerging designers. I also tested my own skill ability, revised, changed, learnt and practiced. But one can never really be fully prepared for an opportunity like this!

What made you want to become a designer?
I never really liked what I saw on the racks in stores. As a teenager, I was either too poor to buy the few things I did like, or I wasn’t inspired by anything I saw. My grandmother and mother were particularly strong figures in my family and were always so well dressed no matter the occasion. It was their sense of style that made them stand out from everyone else.

How would you describe your personal style and your design aesthetic?
My day to day personal style is generally based on the mood I’m in! If I was to define my own personal style, it would be street and the many interpretations that has! My design aesthetic would be considered the same. I like the idea of unisex streetwear, where women can look sexy in men’s garments that are an oversized look for her. I like to mix print, pattern and texture all the time. Imagery or portraiture has played a part in collections since I started.

How would your friends / family describe you?
My friends and family would describe me as loving, kind and a little bit quirky. They’d also say that I’m highly ambitious and an extremely hard worker who doesn’t mince words or waste time!

Do you have a fashion label?
My fashion label is TE KOHU. It’s the Māori translation of my English name Misty.

Project Runway New Zealand

Designers Nicole Schmidt (left) and Peni Moala (right).

Nicole Schmidt, 28 – Stay at home Mother from Hawke’s Bay

Describing herself as naturally chaotic, Nicole isn’t having fun unless there’s drama in her life—or in Project Runway’s case, the workroom.

Nicole’s area of expertise is in lingerie and tailored jackets. She has a strong attention to detail, especially when working with lace and hard materials like metal and chains.

Despite having a strong personality, Nicole isn’t sure how she will take criticism, especially if it’s particularly harsh. Here’s hoping her psychic ability will help her guess what the judges want to see on the runway each week, so she won’t need to face any!

What did you do to prepare for Project Runway?
Being a full-time mum, it was very difficult to get any work in! I did my best going through all my pattern-making books and having a play around with new fabrics.

How would you describe your personal style and your design aesthetic?
Dark whimsical with a punk rock twist. I like to mix fun playful styles with dark and sexy. Using lace and metal detailing such as charms, studs and spikes.

What kind of challenge are you looking forward to most?
Avant-garde! I’m more of an ‘out there’ designer, so I believe I will feel most comfortable creating in the extreme!

What does fashion mean to you?
It means the world to me. It’s such a great way to express our personality, feelings or even make a political statement. Something as simple as a summer dress can make me feel beautiful and free, or a leatherstudded jacket makes me feel like I could take on the world. Fashion is self expression and self empowerment.

What is something that people would be surprised to know about you?
I can read tarot cards and enjoy reading people’s fortunes. I’ve been doing that for over 10 years and have some amazing stories to tell.

Peni Moala, 29 – Retail Assistant from Arrowtown

With a background in womenswear, particularly in eveningwear and streetwear, Peni (pronounced ‘Ben-i’) is hoping to wow the judges with his usage of alternative fabrics.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, he’s looking forward to seeing what he can create with a limited budget and time!

A self-confessed diva when he doesn’t get his own way, team challenges will be a struggle as Peni’s philosophy is: if it’s not his way, then there is no way!

Why did you apply for Project Runway?
I applied because I wanted to use this platform to get my name out in the fashion industry and share my story and win!

How would you describe your personal style and your design aesthetic?
My design aesthetic is inspired by my culture, background, lineage and who I am as a person. I love to be able to tell a story through my design, and quite often I will call upon my Pacific culture. I like to take the traditional and fuse it with a modern twist

How would your friends and family describe you?
My family would describe me as being loud, funny, sometimes overdramatic, loving, caring, protective and a bit of a diva!

What made you want to become a designer?
As a little boy, I remember watching something fashion related on television. I can’t quite remember what it was, but I can recall this beautiful person walking down an aisle in a black fitted corset and a big princess skirt. I absolutely loved the dress, but I was more hooked on how the audience were mesmerised by the garment. I had no clue why this was, but I was determined to figure it out!

What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion is art to me, especially being able to share my story through my talent. It makes me feel confident.

Don’t miss Project Runway New Zealand which premieres on Monday, October 1 at 7:30 pm on TVNZ 2.

Images by Stephen Tilley.

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