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Alumnus Anthony Ryan Auld competes on Project Runway

“Reap what you sew” — the tagline for season nine of “Project Runway,” which premiered on Lifetime late last month — started off with a slew of hopefuls hungry for Fashion Week. But for LSU students and Baton Rouge residents alike, there was one of us on the screen.

Anthony Ryan Auld
Lifetime Entertainment Services

Meet Anthony Ryan Auld, who earned his degree in textile merchandising in 2010 from the LSU School of Human Ecology. While he shocked Tim Gunn with his story — overcoming cancer and designing through colorblindness — his unique use of patterns and textures earned him a spot on the show.

In just two episodes he’s made an impression on Heidi Klum, and the rest of America, as he competes for the coveted prize. In an interview with LSU, Auld discussed his experience on the show, his dreams for the future and how he came up with that birdseed dress.

What was the audition process like?

ARA: I actually tried out for Project Runway last year. I looked back at what I sent, and it was just thrown together. I knew I wanted to try out again, so I got everything I’ve made — hats, graphics, anything — and built an online portfolio. It was an open call, and then when they narrowed it down again, I submitted five new pieces before they narrowed it down again to what you saw on the show.

How would you describe your design aesthetic?

ARA: Right now, I love anything eclectic. I used to work with a lot of black and white, but I like to put local culture and colors from life into it. I love prints and natural fabrics like cotton, silk, hemp and bamboo. I also like things that are wearable but also have showmanship. I am dressing the everyday woman, that trendy girl who is fashion forward.

Who are some other Project Runway designers you’ve admired?

ARA: My overall favorite is Christian Siriano. I also like Mondo [Guerra] for having such courage. And from season three, I liked Jeffrey [Sebelia]. He did a lot of cool stuff and didn’t care what anyone thought. On this season, I really got along with Anya [Chee] and Josh M. [McKinley]. Laura [Kathleen] reminded me of a girl from here with her pink, girly clothes and her spitfire attitude.

In the first episode, the challenge was to create a look using only your pajamas and a bed sheet. What went through your mind?

ARA: At first, I was just thankful I was wearing something I could work with, but then I was just like, ‘let the games begin.’ The bed sheet was a polyester blend, which doesn’t dye well, so I wanted to work as much with what I was wearing. My shirt was neon yellow, and I wasn’t about it, so I re-dyed the whole tank top and overlaid a trim to make it black. I also re-dyed the shorts.

The show has acknowledged how much you’ve overcome, between being colorblind and surviving testicular cancer. What else do you want people to know about you?

ARA: I don’t want the colorblindness to be the one thing that people think about me. It’s not that difficult to work with, I mean, I’ve dealt with it since I was a kid. I want people to know me for my fun design aesthetic. Seventy-five percent of America can’t afford a Michael Kors outfit, but they can still be stylish and fashion forward. Here, people wear skinny jeans with cool jackets and accessories; that’s where my minor in business comes in because I can cater to that market. Growing up, my parents struggled to get things we had, so we worked off hand-me-downs and clearance racks. I want to provide solid pieces that can be styled and incorporated into a wardrobe.

In terms of cancer, and going through chemo, you’ve said “it’s something you overcome, but you’re never the same.” How has it changed you?

The judges critique Auld's work in Episode 2. The challenge was to create an outfit using pet store supplies. See more of Anthony Ryan on his "Project Runway" web page.
Lifetime Entertainment Services

ARA: Overall, your view on life changes. I mean, it happened out of the blue. Something wasn’t right, so I went to the doctor and found out I had to have surgery. They told me they were going to cut me from my neck down my torso for a lymph node reduction, which takes months to recover from. Then, I started chemo. You’re just thankful for every day after that. A lot of bad things happen to great people, so it’s just a mindset to pull back and look at the positive. I definitely don’t play around anymore. I’m really focused, and I make it a point to spend time with my family and friends. You can only be thankful for every day that you have after something like that.

In episode 2, the challenge was to create a look using items in a pet store. How do you come up with such creative designs, especially under pressure?

ARA: You’re constantly thinking, ‘what’s next?’ It’s also about what you’ve done before. The birdseed dress was similar to a dress I did for New Orleans Fashion Week that had a feathered neck. You’re cut off from the world, away from influences, so it’s just about knowing yourself and what you can do. You have to constantly think about the next challenge. There is no extra time — what is on TV is the amount of time we got, so you just have to be selling and moving.

You’ve entered and won fashion competitions before. How did the judging on Project Runway compare?

ARA: In the first two episodes, it was an adrenaline rush being in the top three. Being up there, I felt like I was going to faint, but once they said they liked my piece, I relaxed. You just never know what’s going to happen. I’ve won local and regional competitions, but I was really looking for constructive criticism. I was really longing for ways I could make this better. Of course, no one wants to be on that stage for a bad reason, but these are people who’ve been in the industry two or three times longer than me, so it’s great to get their feedback.

Was the show’s experience different than you expected?

ARA: No, not too much. I wasn’t prepared for how intense it was going to be. It took me awhile to get into the swing of things and get the timing right. Overall, it was how I thought it was going to be. I knew how I wanted to act — I didn’t want to come across wrong and make me or the state look bad. Sometimes, I didn’t agree with what the judges said about the designs, whether it was my work or someone else’s, but fashion is so subjective.

What was something you learned from the show?

Auld wowed the judges during Episode 2 with his high fashion dress made from birdseed. Lifetime Entertainment Services

ARA: Being on the show only reinforced what I do now. When people think about high fashion, they just think about what’s on the runway instead of what’s marketable and wearable. Everyone wants to make feather dresses, but no one does feathers better than ‘The Queen’ [Alexander McQueen].

I didn’t think I would form friendships during the show. I went into it just wanting to focus on me, but I found a home working with Anya, just bouncing ideas off each other. I have an open mind about people, but this experience taught me not to be so defensive. I also appreciated all of the feedback. I wish the judges were sitting here in my living room. The experience was amazing, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s such a great platform for me and what I do. You know things have changed when you go to the local Hobby Lobby and someone is hanging out of their car saying, ‘you rock!’

What have you taken from your education at LSU?

ARA: Everything I know about fashion design came from the school. Of course, I think every designer has to have an instinct, but as for the selling part of fashion, I learned that at LSU. [Assistant Professor] Lisa McRoberts is the greatest. She let me have a freedom with my ideas and just let me run wild. If I wanted to make a dress out of pennies, she would let me. Of course, there were boundaries, but she taught me everything about draping and synthesis. And then there is [instructor] Ms. Marquette-Leak, who is the best pattern maker. She is very technical and just spot-on. The information and the skills she taught with pattern making, I don’t know if I would have gotten it anywhere else. One thing about LSU is, the classes were small and close-knit, so it was easy to ask questions, which was invaluable.

How do you think Project Runway brings light to the career of fashion design?

ARA: It’s so hard to break into the fashion industry. Project Runway is like the American Idol of fashion because it gives us a platform to show everyone who you are. To be on the show and have to opportunity to show what I do, I couldn’t get that anywhere else. I would do it again in a heartbeat — it’s a dream come true.

No matter the outcome of the show, what do you dream of doing?

ARA: Every designer wants a line, a brand. I show collections because that’s what I love to do. But to find investors to fund something bigger isn’t really feasible right now. I really would like to work under someone well known so I can learn even more about design and keep it stored away. At the same time, I would love to open up a shop in New Orleans and just make clothes. Fashion is always changing so you always have to keep learning. I am always open to what can happen and where fashion can take me.

Fashion is often associated with bigger cities. What advice do you have for those in smaller cities, even fellow Baton Rouge residents, who have big dreams?

ARA: I do have big dreams, and I want to do big things. It’s about determination. When I got into this, I knew if I could make a name for myself in a city not known for design, then I could make it anywhere. It’s important not to let the small things hinder you. I’m living proof that you can do it. Take full advantage of what’s around you; there is fashion everywhere and it’s what you take from that. Get involved with all the boutiques here — there is a niche for fashion designers. New Orleans is a force to be reckoned with, and I’m all about it.

See what Auld comes up with next on ‘Project Runway,’ Thursdays at 9/8c on Lifetime. Vote for Auld as the fan favorite by using his Twitter hashtag: #PR9anthonyryan