When Vancouver's Seth Aaron Henderson competed on and ultimately won season seven of the Lifetime reality design show "Project Runway," he knew from the get-go that about two-thirds of the contestants weren't serious competition.
Now he's back competing on the third edition of "Project Runway All Stars," and it's a different world entirely. Though he's one of three past winners vying for a prize package worth nearly $1 million, all 11 competitors have a real shot at victory.
• “Project Runway All Stars” airs at 9 p.m. Thursdays on Lifetime, Comcast Channel 69.
• Local contestant Seth Aaron Henderson and his family will hold weekly viewing parties at Vancouver Pizza, 2219 Main St. The viewings begin at 6 p.m. (watching on East Coast time via DirecTV). All are welcome, and the parties will continue throughout the season regardless of how far Henderson makes it.
"There aren't designers coming into this competition who don't know what they're doing. This is really an all-star cast. No fillers there to make good TV. That is why I came to 'All Stars,'" Henderson said. That and the invaluable chance to capture widespread attention just as he's poised to launch a mass market 2014 spring/summer collection.
"'All Stars' is about opportunity. It's not to let the world or fans know who I am. They already know who you are. That's what regular 'Runway' is about. You come back, and it doesn't matter how far you make it. The point is exposure, and you are going to get that exposure at the next level," he said.
Currently his line, SETHAARON, is limited in availability. He plans to broaden his audience by offering designs at varying price points.
"Right now I have an exclusive black label. Only so many items are produced a year, people buy it, I do custom orders for people and celebrities, but how do I make it accessible to the everyday 20-year-old? I can't do that personally. It's about having multiple tiers in a label. The way to achieve that is mass market," he said.
"All Stars" premiered on Oct. 24. Henderson placed third in the punk-inspired challenge with a white leather jacket with hot pink accents and plaid pants. Though he felt his look was the strongest, he was happy for challenge winner Elena Slivnyak.
"The way I look at it is I'm there next week. I'm a huge fan of Elena's work. I'm actually friends with her. I'm not terribly disappointed because I admire her work," he said.
This is the first season of "All Stars" to feature previous winners, and Henderson was an obvious choice, according to Rob Bagshaw, the show's executive producer.
"We always look for the best of the best from our previous designers for 'Project Runway All Stars.' With the largest prize in 'Runway' history at stake, we wanted to raise the game by inviting back previous winners to compete alongside other all stars. Seth Aaron has the perfect combination of talent and personality, and we were fascinated to see how he would present his design aesthetic in this season's challenges. As a former winner, the bar has been set really high," Bagshaw said.
Since winning season seven of "Project Runway" in 2010, Henderson's life has changed in many ways. He designed clothing that has appeared in commercials for Lexus, been chosen for potential attire for a Lady Gaga tour and a Nicki Minaj video, and graced the August cover of the fashion magazine Zink. He showed at Portland Fashion Week and Portland FashioNXT, attended the Oscars, filmed fashion commentary segments for E! network and helped cast seasons eight through 12 of "Project Runway."
Some things, however, remain the same. Henderson, his wife and their two children still call Vancouver home, and he has stayed true to the core aesthetics that made him a "Project Runway" winner the first time around.
The morning after the premiere aired, Henderson talked with The Columbian about "All Stars," his aspirations for SETHAARON and the ultimate wisdom of the show's mentor Tim Gunn. The following interview has been edited for space and clarity.
How is "All Stars" different from the flagship "Project Runway" series?
Many of the "All Stars" contestants I cast for their seasons. I was sitting there behind the table when they showed up with their stuff for the first time. I looked at their work, and I said these people have what it takes. And now I'm competing against them. I've watched every episode of every season. I know their work, and they're all capable of winning. Mentally, it's way more difficult. 'All Stars' is 10 times harder, but it's more relaxing. You've already been there, you already know what you have to do, but it's harder because you already know what you're competing against. The first time around you get there, and you have no idea who these people are. At least three-quarters of the people on 'All Stars' I'm already friends with, we already do shows together and I'm fans of their work. Time constraints are way harder on 'All Stars' than on the regular series, too.
Actress Alyssa Milano took over as host of this season of "All Stars." The previous hosts were both models. Being from outside the fashion industry, how did Alyssa do?
Alyssa was amazing the entire season. I felt that she was a good fit for the show. As a host, there was a real personal connection for her. She has always watched the show. She's a huge fan. She really stepped up and fit the bill. I think she was the best host they've had on 'All Stars.' I felt that she was very genuine and thorough with the way she approached her role. And she's a normal person, a normal fan, when the cameras aren't rolling. She's very personable and likable.
When you competed on and won season seven, you were known for impeccable tailoring and a penchant for geometric prints and a black-and-white color palette. What has changed and what has remained the same in terms of your aesthetic over the past few years?
When you design, you always hold your core. That's never gone away. What I did on season seven, I still love everything. But your direction and your maturity change as a designer. I'm less raw. I still know how to do that punk-rock look, what I did then, but now I look at it with a different eye. I'll base myself on designers that I really admire and where I ultimately want to be. Tom Ford, Alexander McQueen, Karl Lagerfeld. I've matured as far as editing, taste level. I'm maybe not so everything-in-your-face.
What do you think of the changes to the most recent season of regular "Runway" (i.e., anonymous runway, mentor Tim Gunn sitting with the judges, the "Tim Gunn save," the judges getting to see the garments up close, and the interactive onscreen feature)?
I think it's staying in its original realm but adding a fun, different level to the competition. The show is successful. We are on top. Do we quit, or do we mix it up? To have Tim Gunn be more involved, I think it's fantastic. That man is brilliant. Just to sit with him, and I've done it many times, sit with him and have dinner, sit with him and have coffee, just his knowledge and experience with fashion and life, that man is amazing. He inspires you just by shaking your hand and having a steak.
Past judge Michael Kors has said many times how he wished they'd been able to see things up close and touch them during the judging process. Up close you really see who knows what they're doing. It's more like real life. You can turn my garments inside out. They're finished, they're properly put together. Some designers up close it looks like a fourth-grader put their work together. It's just fabric tacked together. You have to be able to execute an idea for real life, not just have a concept.