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Interview: Kara Janx

The designer, reality star and mom of two chats about Project Runway All Stars, balancing work and motherhood, and her family's favorite places to hang in the city. 

Kara Janx with her husband and son Calum, 2 1/2 and daughter Dylan, 4.

Kara Janx with her husband and son Calum, 2 1/2 and daughter Dylan, 4.

Best known for her appearances on Project Runway season two and the currently airing Project Runway All Stars, NYC fashion mogul and mom of two Kara Janx has dressed a number of A-list celebrities in her day, including Julia Roberts, Sarah Jessica Parker and Natalie Portman. When she's not busy running the reality-TV gamut (not to mention her own design business), the South African native can also be found spending time with her husband, Sharone Sohayegh, and their two kids, Dylan, 4, and Calum, 2 1/2, in their home on the Upper West Side. We chatted with Janx about Project Runway, her favorite places to eat in the city with kids, and how she navigates the ever-elusive work-life balance.

You're one of the returning contestants on the Project Runway All Stars show. How did coming back compare to the first time you were on?
Well, I knew what to expect in terms of time frames: You just know what the whole agenda is. I think the only shocking thing was that you didn't know who the contestants were. There's still that "psych out" feeling. You know what you're getting yourself into, which is not always a good thing! [Laughs] Sometimes it's better to just do it blindly and wish for the best.

Do you think the creators anticipated that you would know the ropes, and therefore made the challenges tougher?
Yes, I think it's just about really testing our skills to the max and knowing our capabilities. It's the premise of the whole All Stars thing—that the producers would have anticipated really strong work. I think they knew that they weren't going to give a challenge that would undermine how good [the result] would be, because it wouldn't translate in TV land. But sometimes it was just so intense. When you're in the heat of the summer and there's no air conditioning, it's nonstop...it's just really, like, survival.

It seems like designer boot camp!
Well, the first time was designer boot camp. This was designer hell! It's boot camp when you become a sergeant. I think [the contestants] were capable enough, but it's hard, and you're doing it all in front of the cameras, so it's really not easy.

What would you say was the most challenging aspect of designing a full look in 24 hours?
Well, it's less than 24 hours. It's about 12 hours in total. There is a level of self-doubt, but when you're in that circumstance you obviously doubt yourself, because you want to make the best work possible. So you naturally have those creative insecurities—at least I do. You have to overcome those, and you have to craft the thing: You actually have to put it together. It's not like you can draw it on a piece of paper and give it to a sample maker. You are actually manipulating, making, cutting, draping and sewing. You're doing the whole thing. Sometimes I think people forget that you still have to make the damn thing [Laughs]. It's not relative to reality; it's a whole different premise. I don't make my things anymore, [because] that's how you run a business—you delegate to the people who are capable in that capacity: patternmakers and that sort of thing.

I bet! While shooting the season, how was it being on the same island as your family, but still being apart for an extended period of time?
It's actually a five-week filming process. The actual show runs for three months, but the filming is done in five weeks. I contractually made sure that I was able to see my kids at least once a week. But it doesn't make it any easier. I have a four-year old, and at the time she was three and a half, so those first weeks you can see I just look like I'm finished. I had a lot [going on] emotionally—I was away from my kids for the first time since I'd conceived them. It wasn't easy, and I had to trust that they were okay. God forbid in the instance that anything happened, I could be there within seconds. So that sort of gave me peace of mind, but it doesn't help when you don't see your children for days on end. It's totally out of sync with your actual day-to-day life.

In general, how do you balance work and parenting in the city?
I have a very capable and amazing husband, I really do. He's kind of exceptional, which is always a bonus. He's just a very hands-on father. We have schools close by, and it's just time management, really. I prioritize. When I'm at work, I prioritize work. When I'm at home, I prioritize being at home. I can't attend to a work crisis when I'm at home. That's a matter of prioritizing and managing. I'm fully committed to my kids when I'm with them, and on the weekends, and that's just the way it is. I'm determined to raise my kids in the best way I know how. But my [kids] love seeing Mommy on TV, and they love coming to the office. They know Mommy works and that Mommy goes on TV, and they know what Mommy does. They definitely like to revel in it in their own way. It's really sweet.

What are some of your favorite places to take the kids in the city?
Well, on the weekends, funnily enough, we like to go to Costco and Target. The kids get a big kick out of the cart, as there's a lot to shop for. We also have Lincoln Center right by us—they host a ton of kids' programs. I liked taking my daughter to Pinkalicious at the Vital Children's Theatre, and we obviously love Central Park, which is right up the road. We also take them to the Children's Museum of the Arts. In terms of eating, we go to Hummus Place (they have good finger foods), Cafe Fiorello (they have great thin-crust pizza and a really nice staff), Boulud Sud and Cafe Luxembourg. There's so much on the Upper West Side; it's such a fantastic neighborhood. I love living in the city with kids.

Are your kids as into fashion as you are?
You know what, my little girl is four and I can see that she definitely has a way with getting dressed and is very in tune with what she wears. She loves arts and crafts, and she's more of a performer. She's definitely like a mini-version of myself. She whips together outfits, and I'm like, Wow, this is very progressive.

Project Runway All Stars airs Thursdays at 9pm on Lifetime. You can also check out Kara's designs here.

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