Tieler Garsaud, a 14-year-old theater design student at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, says he learned something surprising during his week as a contestant on “Project Runway: Threads,” Lifetime’s new program that puts budding young designers through the pressure familiar to fans of the adult version of the reality fashion show.
“I can handle stress,” the Abita Springs resident said, still marveling that he made it through the week of nonstop designing, sewing, interviews and even mandatory schoolwork without shutting down.
His mother, Tahmi Hawsey, who served as his partner on the show, agrees that her son, who started designing in grade school, took the rigors — and the surprise challenges — in stride.
The frenzy of that week is long behind them. The pair traveled to Los Angeles in May for filming of the program, which debuted on Lifetime this month. In fact, Hawsey said, her son sometimes has a hard time grasping what happened.
“He kept asking, ‘Did I really do that? Am I really going to be on TV?’ ” she said.
The fact that they couldn’t even tell anyone about what they did until last month, when the program first aired, contributed to that feeling of unreality.
The episode featuring Garsaud and Hawsey and two other designer/parent pairs will air Nov. 20, and the young designer now confesses to having a fresh set of nerves — about how they’ll come off on the show, where the camera was always trained on the contestants. “If you move, it goes with you,’’ he said.
“I’m scared,’’ he said. “I have a very good reputation at school. I’m liked at school — even seniors like me.’’
Garsaud said he’s straightforward and has strong opinions.
His mother is more succinct. “We’re very New Orleans,’’ she said.
But the show’s producers were looking for personality as well as talent. Garsaud was brought to their attention by the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, where he had participated in a program two years ago.
After initial contact with Hawsey at the end of February, the producers wanted to see some of her son’s sketches, then conducted an audition via Skype. Hawsey had to leave the room while her son was peppered with questions about the inspiration for his designs and why he designs.
Then there was a three-day deadline to make something, which both mother and son describe as the most stressful part of the process, as Garsaud worked to create a brocade coat and gold dress, based on his inspiration of the moment: India and the Hindu pantheon of deities.
When Hawsey got the call saying they had been chosen to be on the show, she wanted to go right to school and tell her son. “I don’t keep secrets well,” she said.
But she restrained herself, greeting him afterward with a straight face and saying, “ ‘It’s time to sit down. We’ve got to talk,’ ” she recalled.
Garsaud was immediately worried. “She’s very good,” he said.
Then it was his turn to practice keeping secrets — culminating in the invention of a West Coast funeral for an imaginary relative when he had to depart for shooting near the end of the school year.
Because the show features pairs working together and the parent/child dynamic is a big part of it, the two said they were happy to discover they work well together. Hawsey took sewing lessons before the week of shooting because she didn’t want to hamper her son.
In the end, she said, she took on a task she knew she could handle, and Garsaud gave her leeway to do as she wanted. “She knows my aesthetic; she always looks at my designs. She knows me,” he said.
From the first, Hawsey was enthusiastic about the prospect of being on the show, while Garsaud was more reluctant. “I was scared,” he acknowledged.
But his mother convinced him to take the chance. “If we lose, it will be because we were not the best, not because we didn’t try the hardest,” she said.
As for Garsaud, who wants to study fashion design at Parsons The New School for Design in New York after high school, he knows that the “Project Runway” experience is already a big win.
“It’s so cool. People wait their whole life just to get out there,” he said. “To have other people see my work, see how hard I work, see how passionate I am — it’s just cool.’’
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.