‘Project Runway’ crowns local designer

Bold approach impresses judges, puts Henderson over the top




Vancouver designer SethAaron Henderson went on “Project Runway” confident he could win, and that’s exactly what he did.

Henderson, a 38-year-old father and fashion photo stylist, took top honors on the seventh season of the Lifetime reality show, winning $100,000, a spread in Marie Claire magazine, a design technology suite and the opportunity to sell his clothes on http://www.bluefly.com. He’s another winner from the Northwest, following on the heels of Portland designer Leanne Marshall, the show’s victor from Season 5.

The “Project Runway” finale aired Thursday evening and revealed that host Heidi Klum and judges Nina Garcia and Michael Kors, as well as guest judge Faith Hill, preferred the 10 looks Henderson showed at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week to those of rivals Emilio Sosa and Mila Hermanovski.

The runway showdown took place in February in Bryant Park in New York City. Henderson had to stay tight-lipped about his victory until now.

While Sosa and Hermanovski created more ready-to-wear, buyer-friendly collections, Henderson took an editorial approach, and amped up the drama and showmanship. That tactic paid off.

“I was really happy to see that’s what they liked,” Henderson said in a telephone interview shortly after the finale aired. He was in New York with wife Tina, son Aaron, 13, and daughter Megann, 12.

Henderson said he spent last night at a Bluefly party mingling with alumni from past seasons of “Project Runway.” He had a busy schedule today — 25 interviews from 6:45 a.m. until 7:30 p.m., which included appearances on “Good Morning America” and “Live with Regis and Kelly,” and chats with People magazine and Entertainment Weekly.

Henderson said he’ll be back in Vancouver this weekend and will return to New York next week when his fashion spread is shot for Marie Claire. He’ll also be in Seattle soon to sit on the judging panel that will help select contestants for the eighth season of “Project Runway.”

“I want to be part of that, spread the wealth,” he said.

That’s because he knows what a gift the show is for designers looking to launch their careers. Throughout the weeks of competition, Henderson said he saw himself grow as a designer. It all culminated in his Fashion Week showing.

Henderson went into Fashion Week wanting to showcase his signature edgy style but also to push himself to create more sophisticated, clean designs.

“So the judges will say, ‘Wow, he grew,’” Henderson said on the show.

“Project Runway” mentor Tim Gunn had cautioned Henderson on last week’s episode that the judges need to see the contestants progress and do something surprising.

Henderson aimed with his 1940s German and Russian military-inspired collection to deliver that element of the unexpected.

The judges said he succeeded.

“SethAaron,” Klum said before announcing him the winner, “You maintained your signature style, but you took it up a notch.”

Kors called his collection, filled with his favorite colors — black, white, red and canary yellow — and heavy on graphic prints such as houndstooth and stripes, “exhilarating.”

That’s a word Henderson said he’d would use to describe his entire experience on “Project Runway.” It was a long journey for the San Diego native who auditioned three times before being selected this season as one of 16 contestants. It required sacrifice on his part as well as his family’s and kept him away from home during the summer for filming.

His wife and children supported his dream, he said, and sat up front at Fashion Week as the fruits of his labors paraded along the runway. He thanked them during the show and later tearfully said how much making his children proud meant to him.

Winning “Project Runway” will be life-changing for Henderson and his family, he said. They plan to keep their home in Vancouver and get a condo in Los Angeles, more of an epicenter for fashion, Henderson said, adding that that’s where he believes he belongs.

He’s as sure and optimistic about his future as a designer as he was his chances as a “Project Runway” hopeful.

“I’m ready to conquer the fashion industry,” he said.

Mary Ann Albright: 360-735-4507 or maryann.albright@columbian.com.