Bradon McDonald talks about Project Runway

Bradon McDonald, the Mark Morris veteran, talks about his second career as a designer and contestant on Project Runway

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Time Out New York: I’m so glad I watched last night’s episode before interviewing you. Do you watch them yourself?
Bradon McDonald:
I do, and I don’t get any advanced sneak peek of the episode, so I’m very intrigued and, of course, I relive everything. All of the anxiety comes back: I have 15 minutes left, my jacket’s not done! What am I going to do? It’s already over. Relax. But I can’t.

Time Out New York: You seem really calm on the show though.
Bradon McDonald:
Um…great. [Laughs] I’m glad I appear calm.

Time Out New York: Would you have proposed to Josh if you hadn’t won?
Bradon McDonald:
Probably not on the runway. I did not have any premeditated notion of proposing. In all the episodes, I was very choked up on the runway. I could barely speak. I guess it comes from being a dancer onstage, where you’re not supposed to talk or something. I was standing there, and my knees started shaking, and then my torso started shaking, and then the words just came out. I really was absolutely inspired by Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Tie the Knot—the whole idea of the organization and that a current celebrity who plays a gay character on Modern Family is not afraid to speak up and to fight for marriage equality. The words were coming out of my mouth. I was very emotional at the time. I was more open, and I didn’t have my social facade up. I’m so happy that I was brave enough to do it.

Time Out New York: What is it like to win?
Bradon McDonald:
Of course, it’s thrilling to win. But it also just creates another level of pressure. The judges expect that much more from you the next time you show something. After winning the first challenge, I was freaking out in the second challenge. I was so nervous; I didn’t want to let the judges down. I didn’t want to just show something okay the second time. Heidi’s words are true: One day in fashion you’re in, and one day you’re out. You’re only as good as your last collection. It’s true for performers too; you’re really only as good as your last show. So the more success you have, the more recognition you have, of course the more pressure there is to be that much better. For any sports team or tennis player that wins or an Olympic athlete. Okay, so you won—congratulations for a hot minute. Are you going to do that again or are you going to fail this time? Waiting to see how you navigate the waters next time is nerve-racking. But it also pushes me and any other designer on the show. It pushes you in a different way than just doing a challenge.

Time Out New York: What was your mind-set or approach before starting this competition? And did it change?
Bradon McDonald:
As I said, I was so happy just meeting Tim Gunn in the audition process. I was over the moon to be cast on the show and for the first challenge, I said, I’m just going to see what I can do—I’m going to have fun with the challenge. I have no expectations whatsoever. I am completely prepared to be eliminated after the first episode, and that will be okay because of the audition process. Because it was everything that I felt like I had already achieved at that point, I went into it happy and open and with no expectations. And then I won the first challenge and the nerves started to build—there are only four episodes. It doesn’t get easier.

Time Out New York: Did you find that you were becoming more competitive? Or is more a competition with yourself?
Bradon McDonald:
For me, it’s about competing with myself. It’s looking at what you have, trying to figure out, is this the most beautiful thing or the most hideous thing I’ve ever seen? It’s one or the other, and I can’t figure it out. You think those decisions would be easy, obvious. And that’s why Tim Gunn is amazing, and that’s why he’s real. He can look at something and give you a fresh perspective without shutting you down. He never wants to leave a critique with a designer in a worse place than when he started. He always wants to give you motivation in a new direction or help you find your motivation; I think that’s the amazing thing. He doesn’t give it to you, he helps you find it. And that’s why he’s a great mentor. It’s not his ideas that he comes with; he figures out what your idea is and helps give you direction and give you clarity. A lot of people—it’s not in them to do that and that’s why he’s unique and amazing.

Time Out New York: Was it jarring when he said that Nina Garcia told you that your clothes might have a tendency to be too old?
Bradon McDonald:
I think for any designer, there is a fine line between creating looks that are going to sell in a retail setting and looks that are going to inspire people to buy the clothes. Especially higher-end designers have this balancing act all the time. Like Zac Posen’s clients are not all 22-year-olds that happen to have a bank account with lots of zeros. It’s a range of women; traditionally, women 50 and over have the money to spend on fine clothing. So it’s a constant balancing act between giving your customers what they want at a price point they can afford, and designing for a younger customer or an older customer, or how those things overlap. Always keeping that in mind is very important, because I want to have a real brand in the fashion industry. I think that is key.

Time Out New York: Could you elaborate? What do you want out of this?
Bradon McDonald:
I’m a designer now. This is what I do. I work for other companies—some higher-end resort wear, some mass market, inexpensive junior contemporary clothing. I love working for other people, I love seeing how they design and how they get it to the customer. I would like to do that with my own brand, and what that is right now—it’s still a little bit of a dream, but it’s becoming a reality pretty quickly.
New episodes of Project Runway are Thursdays at 9pm on Lifetime.

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