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

Time Out New York: Why did you audition for Project Runway?
Bradon McDonald:
I have always loved Project Runway, and even before I knew how to sew or make garments, people would say, “You should do the show.” I’d be like, “Are you kidding me? I can’t make anything in a day. I can’t make anything in a week!” But I loved the show because it shows how much work goes into making the garments. It is not just about, Oh this pink fabric’s pretty—here’s a dress. It’s an incredible amount of planning and pattern-making and construction and then it’s got to look right. Does it fit the customer? What feeling does it convey? Does the woman wearing it like it? Does it put her in a better mood? There are so many elements to fashion. 

Time Out New York: What was the audition like?
Bradon McDonald:
I saw on the Project Runway website that they were holding auditions so I submitted my application, which was maybe 25 pages of a questionnaire and background and a life story basically and paperwork of past images, a portfolio and sketches. Just working on that application was kind of amazing. To put into words why I was designing and what I wanted to do really solidified my point of view—after school and after working in the industry for a short time. It clarified a lot. I got a callback, and I got to show work that I had made to a panel of judges, and in the middle of those three judges was Tim Gunn. [Laughs] I was so excited.  Who doesn’t love Tim Gunn? He’s amazing. And he’s real, and he’s there, and he understands what a designer is going through and can look at their work objectively and lead them to the next step. I was just thrilled that I could have that moment with Tim; if I had gone no further in the process, that would have been a perfect ending to my application. But then I got the call that I was on the show. [Laughs]

Time Out New York: What is your point of view as a designer?
Bradon McDonald:
It goes back to that one-of-a-kind museum piece and how that inspiration and newly found, hopefully, techniques and new perspective can be translated into affordable, wearable clothing that everybody can enjoy. I like going back and forth between marketability and high art.

Time Out New York: What is your approach in terms of texture?
Bradon McDonald:
I love sculptural clothing. I know that it is not always wearable, but it is always fun to look at, and part of creating a brand is having those editorial images that captivate the viewer. That goes back to performance: There is an amount of spectacle in what I design, and I always try to balance that with what is practical, what is wearable. There are some pieces that I’ve made that I would ask that you don’t sit down in, but when you stand up, you’re going to light up the room.

Time Out New York: The first challenge was the parachute challenge, and I immediately thought of Robert Rauschenberg’s parachute dresses in Merce Cunningham’s Antic Meet. Did you think of Rauschenberg?
Bradon McDonald:
You know, I didn’t at all. I didn’t have a fine-art inspiration for the parachute dress. I really went to the feeling of jumping out of a plane and just having the pressure of the air against the front of the gown and then the parachute saving your life in the back with these tiny, tiny strings that are holding you up. I couldn’t believe how tiny the cording was on the parachute, and that played from falling, to the tiny strings, to the volume in the back—it was just a feeling of jumping out of a plane.

Time Out New York: Are you attracted to certain colors?
Bradon McDonald:
I used to be all earth tones, and then I went into black with bright colors that could vibrate together; now it just depends on what I’m designing for. I like working with any color, all colors, no color. I don’t have a preference. Personally, turquoise is my favorite color. I’m obsessed with all shades of it partly because of Van Gogh and Irises—the background is this patina-turquoise color. I’ve always been obsessed with that painting, and I wanted to paint my apartment in New York that color. I went looking for paint swatches, and I couldn’t find anything that was that color, and then I realized that it wasn’t one color that I was looking at in the painting—it was a million colors that were mixed together. That’s why I love turquoise: You can never really match one turquoise to another. I feel like the blues and the greens are the hardest to match, but I love all of those together.

Time Out New York: Did you ever have anything to do with the costumes at Mark Morris?
Bradon McDonald:
Not that I designed, but Isaac Mizrahi designed a lot of costumes for us, and I was always so curious about his design process. I’d watch him sketch in front of us, in front of Mark­—new ideas for whatever show he was working on for us and then see how that translated. And then, I’m the “model” for the fitting. I’m standing there, and he’s working on my body with his design; it was just a phenomenal experience. He designed Amber’s wedding dress. When she was getting married, he said, “Well, do you have your dress yet?” She had talked to me about designing her wedding dress. This was before I knew anything about making garments, and this was before the burlesque costumes, this was before everything and so I said, “Sure, I’ll make you a wedding dress.” I was doing sketches and freaking out, and when he offered, Amber said, “Brady…is it okay?” And I said, “Are you kidding me? Please let Isaac Mizrahi design your wedding dress.” [Laughs] I asked Isaac if I could attend all of her fittings, and he said, “Absolutely.” So I went to her studio and watched him go through the fittings and the changes to make her dress and then I was in her wedding—I was one of the bridesmen in her wedding. I never worked on designs for Mark Morris, but I was always fascinated by the different designers we worked with and how it all happened.

Time Out New York: And it’s so different to design for a dance performance than the real world.
Bradon McDonald:
The look is different, but the process is the same. When I asked Isaac about leaving dance and going into fashion, he said, “Run in the other direction. It’s too hard, it’s too competitive.” I said, “Okay—I hear you. Thank you very much,” and I did the exact opposite. I figured I had one completely impractical career as a modern dancer, and I wanted to start a second completely impractical career in fashion while I was still young enough and dumb enough to do it.

You might also like

Dance events calendar

  1. The Grand Paradise

    The Grand Paradise: Theater review by Adam Feldman...

  2. Hot Chocolate...

    Regress to childhood with skillfully concocted mug...

  3. O, Earth

    O, Earth: Theater review by Helen ShawOne of the l...

239 more events »


Subscribe to Time Out New York on Spotify for playlists and recommendations from our Music team.

Check out New York's best restaurants, hottest street style, cool apartments and more.