Baton Rouge native son Anthony Ryan Auld captured the big prize on “Project Runway All Stars II” Thursday night, beating out fellow designers Uli Herzner and Emilio Sosa.
His minicollection won rave reviews from judges Georgina Chapman, Isaac Mizrahi and Carolyn Murphy as well as guest judges Marherita Missoni and Liv Tyler. In fact, Mizrahi proclaimed Auld’s opening dress the best he’d ever seen come down a “Project Runway” catwalk.
“I wanted to open with a bang,” the LSU graduate said of the gown. “What sent me over the top was that first dress. It’s very cool and different. It’s based off of a men’s shirt … very tailored … kind of androgynous. The top is electric blue, the bottom is a black skirt but then she (the model) turns around and it’s backless. It’s all business in the front and a party in back.
“I actually did two gowns but I didn’t do any pants,” he continued. “I was deathly afraid (that was going to be a problem) but the judges didn’t even notice that I had no pants.”
For devoted viewers of the Lifetime TV hit series, Auld’s win probably isn’t too much of a surprise. He won five of the previous 11 challenges and finished in the top three in all but two of the others.
The finale challenge was to create a six- to eight-piece collection in four days. Fortunately, Auld, Herzner and Sosa had help. “They brought back the entire cast! (Althea Harper, Andrae Gonzalo, Casanova, Emilio Sosa, Ivy Higna, Kayne Gillaspie, Laura Kathleen, Peach Car, Suede and Wendy Pepper),” said Auld, who naturally wanted to pick friend and fellow designer Joshua McKinley, “But he’d just gotten kicked off the show the night before so I knew he was tired, so I go with Kayne. He knows how to sew like nobody I ever saw.”
As the winner of the previous challenge, Auld gets first pick and his selection of Gillaspie causes lots of raised eyebrows. “Apparently, he and Uli were BFFs from their season but Kayne, Josh and I roomed together on this show and we got to be friends,” said Auld.
Each of the three remaining designers has to commit to the number of looks they’re going to create for their collection; Auld committed to seven. He admitted it was nice to have the freedom to design whatever he wanted — “to show the judges and rest of the world what we’re about.”
“We got an hour at Mood (fabric store) instead of the usual 30 minutes,” he said, still excited about the prospect. “I just walked around for the first 30 minutes; there are parts of Mood I’ve never seen before. I was able to take my time with my fabric selection. Of course, I was running around like crazy toward the end.
“My collection is based off Legos,” he continued. “The innocence from childhood — a girl is burning her Legos, turning them into ash and coming out with a clean color palette.”
From shopping at Mood to the day of the runway is a blur for Auld. “I was so stressed out,” he confessed. “I’ve never been there (a place with the stakes so high) before.”
It’s runway day and he’s committed to seven looks but only six are completed. “I have three looks on a rack that are options but they’re not finished so I’m frantically sewing backstage,” said Auld. “In the end it’s OK and all comes together even though there are a couple of pieces I’m not crazy about.”
At a question-and-answer-session with fans last month, Auld was asked how long the judges’ critiques and deliberations actually take. The answer — hours, and the finale was no different.
“I really enjoyed this panel of judges more,” he said. “This show really, really focuses on the design aspect not so much the drama. The judges really look at what you did and they took the time to critique your designs.
“I was so nervous,” recalled Auld on the finale runway. “This is what we all worked for. Carolyn said ‘designers,’ and then it was one of the longest pauses ever. I’m shaking and about to cry, then she said Uli was out … it’s between me and Emilio. They give us a little bit of feedback. I’m about to pass out. There’s another long pause. I’m trying to keep myself together, then Carolyn said, ‘Anthony Ryan, you’re the winner.’”
Tears fill his eyes as he recounts what happened six months ago. “I’m still floating,” said Auld, who celebrated the big moment with family and fans at a finale viewing party Thursday hosted by Brother International Corp. and the Office of Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne at the Capitol Park State Museum. “I’ve been so anxious for this day, for people to know and to be able to celebrate my win with me. I’ve had to keep this secret from all my family and friends.”
The win comes with a $150,000 cash prize; the chance to create a custom-branded capsule collection for Nine West, a sewing and embroidery studio provided by Brother International Corp.; an all-expense-paid trip around the world to attend fashion weeks in cities such as Paris, London, Milan and Tokyo courtesy of Laura Mercier; and a technology suite/office space from HP and Intel to bring the designer’s creativity to life and run his business. The winner also receives a fashion spread in Marie Claire magazine and a position with the publication as contributing editor for one year.
“The editor’s position at Marie Claire will be what I make it,” said Auld, who also won fan favorite and its $10,000 cash prize. “I’ve got great equipment from Brother, one piece which allows me to make my own custom fabrics, which I did for the finale challenge. I’ve got the great relationship with Joanna (Coles), who’s now at Cosmopolitan magazine, and we’ve talked about me doing something there … Joanna is an amazing woman; I enjoyed her more than Tim Gunn. She took time (with you); she was just as invested in what you were doing as you were.
“I’ve been offered a job a Elie Tahari (who mass-produced the dress that won Auld the ready-to-wear challenge),” he said. “Do I dive in and go for it … start my own brand? I mean the whole point is to sell your designs in a store, which I’ll do with Nine West for at least one season. I’ve got a lot of work ahead. This is not the end of hard work for me but the beginning.”
Post-“All Stars” win interviews and personal appearances to share his story of winning the battle against testicular cancer will keep Auld busy for the next few weeks as will completing his 2013 fall collection to show at New Orleans Fashion Week, March 20-24; Birmingham, Ala., Fashion Week, Feb. 23-March 2; and El Paseo, Calif., Fashion Week, March 15-23. He’s also relaunching his former RockOne1 Foundation as ROAR.
“As in why whisper when you can ROAR,” said Auld. “Working with Mary Kathryn (Rodrigue, the first recipient of RockOne1), things really evolved more into individual stories about people overcoming adversity and how it made them a better person.”
He is teaming up with seniors in LSU’s School of Human Ecology’s Textiles, Apparel Design & Merchandising program to create looks for 21-22 women who have compelling stories.
“I’ll be doing one of the women along with the students — probably LoLo Jones,” said Auld, who’s proud to represent Louisiana in a positive way. “This puts us on the map in a different way.”
He’s also designing a dress for Coles, at her request, to wear during February fashion week. And, since they said they wanted the dresses the models were wearing on the runway when they served as guest judges, those dresses are going to Stacy Keibler and Liv Tyler. Auld is also sending a dress to “Project Runway” emcee/judge Heidi Klum.
“You get their measurements, make the dress and send it and hope they wear it,” said Auld.
And, just as Auld’s fellow “Project Runway” Season 9 designer Anya Ayoung-Chee did when she won and gave half of her fan favorite winnings to his foundation, he too is paying it forward. “I’m investing part of my $10,000 in a new and upcoming designer named Josh McKinley’s tank line,” Auld said with a sly grin. “We’ve become such good friends. He remakes these old T-shirts into these killer tank tops; I think they’d be a big hit down here. He’s even talked about moving to New Orleans.
“This is all going to change my life, but I don’t think it’s fully set in,” said Auld, who celebrated his 30th birthday Dec. 28. “I have made the decision to stay in the Baton Rouge/New Orleans area for at least another year, year and a half. I have such a great support system here, why not?”