JAN. 10, 2010 — Only a handful of people knew where Vancouver stylist and fashion designer SethAaron Henderson spent the summer. Most thought he was working in Seattle, when really the 38-year-old San Diego native was in New York filming season seven of the Lifetime reality-television show “Project Runway.”
Then on Dec. 16, Lifetime announced the lineup of contestants, freeing Henderson to share his excitement at being cast as one of 16 designers vying for prizes that include $100,000 to launch a fashion line, plus a spread in Marie Claire magazine. The designers will be working with models from the second season of the “Project Runway” spinoff, “Models of the Runway.”
The latest season of “Project Runway” premieres Thursday, and some photographers Henderson works with are planning a viewing party at The Rock Wood-fired Pizza and Spirits in Vancouver to fete his debut.
Among those in attendance will be his family: wife, Tina; son, Aaron, 13; and daughter, Megann, 11.
Though he grew up on the beaches of California, Henderson has lived in Vancouver for the past 10 years. He opened a shop, Diego, in downtown Vancouver in February 2005. It closed after a year and a half.
Currently, designs from his eponymous line are available at Studio 7 Boutik in Vancouver, Anne Bocci Boutique & Gallery in Portland’s Multnomah Village and through his Web site, http://www.sethaarondesigns.com.
Filming “Project Runway” in New York City was exciting for Henderson because he feels that his “edgy” designs are more geared toward a cosmopolitan market.
“It’s hard in a town that’s not known for being particularly fashion-forward,” he said, reflecting on Diego’s closure.
Still, the store provided him with valuable experience and market research.
“Really, what that was was me testing the public, getting familiarized with what people think, what people buy. I got out of it what I needed, experience with fit.”
The grueling hours also steeled him for the “Project Runway” schedule.
“It was 18-hour days, six days a week at Diego. It helped prepare me for work, work, work, no play on the show.”
Henderson has approached “Project Runway” with the intensity and perseverance of an elite athlete in training. He auditioned three times before being cast, and studied past seasons to familiarize himself with how the show works.
He also pored over fashion magazines, studying up on trends and top designers’ collections. That research will help safeguard him against inadvertently creating something that’s already been done, he said.
“I don’t ever want to be pointed at and have people say, ‘Whoa, you’re copying this person or you’re following this way.’ Because I’m not,” he said.
The show has already given Henderson a platform for sharing his unique fashion sensibility with a larger audience. He was featured in the Dec. 28 issue of Us Weekly magazine, along with the other contestants, host Heidi Klum and the contestants’ mentor, Tim Gunn. Wearing white pants, black boots, a black-and-white printed shirt, black vest and red tie, his black hair spiky, Henderson talked about his dream celebrity clients and his home life in Vancouver.
Although it’s now public knowledge that he’s on “Project Runway,” Henderson still carries the secret of how he fared in the competition.
He wouldn’t be the first Northwest-based contestant to win. Portland designer Leanne Marshall claimed top honors in season five, but Henderson isn’t about to divulge whether he joins her in the winners’ circle.
“All I can say is watch it,” he said.
Still, there are some insights Henderson can share. In the following interview, edited for space and clarity, Henderson offers insights into his design philosophy, what the “Project Runway” personalities are really like and why he believes he’s the contestant to beat:
How did you get involved with fashion? Have you always loved clothes and design?
I’ve been into clothes, my mom says, since I was 2. It was just what I liked. At about 8 is when I started altering items of mine. I was just never happy with something off the shelf. Even at that age, it just wasn’t quite cool enough.
Your younger brother, Noah Henderson, also works in the industry and is co-founder of and graphic designer for Hedlok Clothing in Vancouver. Does creativity run in the family?
It does. My father was a cartoonist and a painter. My mom was more of the sewer and a crafty-type person. My dad drew for Disney for about two years. My dad designed and built Santa’s Village in California. That was in the early ’60s, I think. It was a theme park, but it was shut down in the early ’90s. We’re a very artistic family.
What’s your design philosophy?
I think edgy, sophisticated. Black’s always a core. And white. I love red, canary yellow, silver. A lot of my friends call me a raven or a crow, because anything shiny I’m attracted to. I love textures. Wool and tweeds have a lot of texture. I love graphic prints like checkers and stripes. I’m not into floral prints really. It’s more graphic for me. Argyles and things like that.
How did you end up on “Project Runway”?
Auditions, auditions. I started watching the show from the second season, then I went back and watched the first. I’ve seen every episode countless times over. Three years ago, I started auditioning for it, and it wasn’t quite my time, I guess. I’d come up short or I’d get cut at the last minute. Then season seven I got cast. They used to have an open call. Now auditioning consists of sending in a promo pack of yourself. If you’re selected, they have an interview date and time. I interviewed in Seattle in March.
What gives you an edge over other contestants? Anything that puts you at a disadvantage?
I believe an advantage I have is being a stylist. I understand bodies, fit. I think that will definitely, definitely be an edge. No disadvantages. I’m so high energy all the time. I know I can survive on no sleep and execute what I want to do.
Last season, the first since “Project Runway” moved from Bravo to Lifetime, transplanted the show from New York City to Los Angeles. This season returns to New York. Do you think that makes a difference as far as design inspirations and aesthetics, not to mention the contestants’ overall experiences?
In terms of the overall experience, I don’t think it makes a difference because we’re cast from all over the United States regardless of where it’s being shot. But as far as the influence, definitely. I’m West Coast. New York is totally different. L.A. is more Hollywood glamour and laid back. New York is hard-core innovation and fashion forward. That’s one reason I was really happy I wasn’t on last season, because I wanted to be in New York. I wanted to be in the core of where it all happens.
Last season’s winner, Irena Shabayeva, clashed with other contestants, who called her “Meana Irina.” Was there much drama while filming season seven?
What I can tell you is just watching everything in the past, our season is fun. It’s definitely everything you want it to be, from the contestants, the personalities, the challenges. It’s just going to be exciting.
How does living in the Northwest affect your design sensibilities?
I like it here. I don’t want to trash the place, but I’m an L.A. person, I’m a New York person. Living here, I think I’m kind of numb. When I was in New York, the inspiration vibrates. It’s amazing. I love cities. I’m not the type of person who wants a nice, big property. I’d rather live in a loft in downtown. For me, being in a big city is the best, whereas others get inspired by nature.
You mentioned in an Us Weekly article that Marilyn Manson and Lady Gaga are two celebrities whose style you admire. Where else do you draw inspiration?
I love Tom Ford. I love Karl Lagerfeld. I like the original Christian Dior, the original Coco Chanel. I like an edgier, sophisticated style. I love Alexander McQueen, just because he’s always thinking outside the box. If I were to say a designer I most resemble in terms of thought process, it would be McQueen.
In terms of actresses, I love Milla Jovovich. I like her sense of style.
What are host Heidi Klum, mentor Tim Gunn and judges Nina Garcia and Michael Kors like in real life?
What you see is what you get. Tim’s the sweetest man in the world. To me, he’s one of the hardest-working people I’ve met in the industry. He actually will go help roll up extension cords for the crew. He’s a real team player. Heidi is great. She’s really funny. Off-camera, she’s always singing or making jokes. Nina and Michael are great. The experience was everything I hoped it would have been.
Were there any similarities between you and Janeane Marie Ceccanti, a contestant from Portland on this season’s show?
No. I’ve never met her before, even though we live in the same city and are in the same circle. And we’re nothing alike. I don’t think in casting they’d choose two people who are the same. It’s all about the differences and the controversy.
How would winning “Project Runway” change your life?
In more ways than I could imagine. I want the title. More than money. Obviously the money’s great to really propel your business, but the title’s most important to me. I’ve always been a very competitive person. I was born to do this. I am self-taught. I didn’t go to school. I could just cut shapes. I didn’t struggle to do it. It just comes naturally. I really want to get back down to California. I’m definitely relocating back to L.A. Winning “Project Runway” would enable me to just have some backing and go find a place and move immediately.
What was the hardest part of being on the show?
Solitude, being confined. Not being able to tell anyone anything when you come back. When you’re there, you can’t talk to anybody. Not being able to talk about the experience you went through and having to keep it bottled up was really hard. And having to be away filming when you have kids was really tough.
Mary Ann Albright: firstname.lastname@example.org, 360-735-4507.
The seventh season of “Project Runway” premieres at 10 p.m. Thursday on Lifetime Comcast Channel 69. To learn more, and to see videos of and designs by the contestants, go to http://www.mylifetime.com.