Project Runway, currently airing on Lifetime, is now making it work for a 14th season. The reality-competition show where one winner will headline at fashion week in New York continues to entertain viewers at home, thanks to Heidi Klum and the gang.
This season has been no different, with unconventional challenges and at least catty gay fella. Local Chicago contestant Laurie Underwood is slowly coming into the spotlight and stood out by defending one designer who was bullied by a group of competing girls. WCT sat down with the sassy lady to talk about it and how Project Runway has changed her life.
Windy City Times: Hi, Laurie. You are from Chicago?
LU: I am from Detroit, born and raised. All of my family is there. I was 17 years old when I came to Chicago to pursue my dreams in fashion. New York was too big for me, with too many people trying to climb on one ladder. Chicago was five hours away from Detroit. I've been here since 2003 so I am a resident. I went to the Illinois Institute of Art and just made my way.
WCT: You won a Best in Show Award there.
LU: I did! That was for a portfolio show my senior year. I also won the award for retail and marketing degree. After the design degree, I didn't want to be a starving artist. I needed a job before calling myself a designer. I went in to get a degree in retail marketing and management. That secured my job in the nine-to-five world. I did clothing design on the side.
WCT: I heard you gave up your marketing job now.
LU: Two weeks before I came back from Project Runway, I called my job to tell them I couldn't come back. I just didn't see myself going back into that cubicle after Project Runway. It was backward for me. I had taken a risk on Project Runway that my brand would be great. I wanted to go from broke and not have fear. I had to get a restraining order on fear! I stepped out on faith on my own and left.
WCT: Being judged on the runway is a long process, isn't it?
LU: It is a long day. I hated runway days. There were times we would sit in the designer's lounge for five hours after runway just waiting on the judges to deliberate and have lunch. Then we go back to the runway and they tell us who is safe, on the top and on the bottom. Then five hours later they tell us who is out.
Unfortunately, that long process interferes with your design process. If you go through that one day and the next day you get up at 4 a.m. to start designing and becoming inspired by something, there is no chance. That is the game!
WCT: People from a distance don't know what the contestants go through.
LU: They don't. One person on Twitter thought I could have wowed the judges with a better top during the dumpster dive. They had no clue with what I went through to make that top.
WCT: Talk about the episode where contestant Ashley Nell Tipton was bullied by the other designers.
LU: They were trying to put Ashley under the bus. Yeah, we didn't communicate well but one thing I won't tolerate or be involved in is bullying someone based on what they look like.
It wasn't based on talent because they picked her last after she was winning challenges. I lived with the girls so I would hear them bickering and complaining about Ashley. I didn't understand why they were picking on her to blame her for our hideous collection. I had to let Ashley know because I didn't want to be a part of it. I wanted Ashley to be prepared to defend herself on the runway. I think she had an idea but I confirmed it.
I didn't necessarily see it as bullying but I wanted to put them in their place and tell them it is not right. I wanted them to tell the truth and not make up lies. I come from a place where that is not tolerable. I am not just representing myself but I have a daughter that looks up to me. I could not go onstage and put someone under the bus for no reason. I could have defended myself but, with Ashley, it was plain wrong!
WCT: A lot of the big personalities are getting screen time. Did you notice this?
LU: I did. When we filmed the first episode I knew who was performing for the cameras. I decided not to do that because people that knew me would know that is not me. I am not an actress. I wouldn't be able to keep up with a performance if I am focused on design. For me, it was important to be myself. I am a little sassy so I was not sure how I would be portrayed. I am classy but sassy and can put someone in their place in a second.
WCT: Did you make a friend from the show?
LU: I did and keep in contact with Ashley. She lives in LA but I am taking a trip to visit her next year.
WCT: What did you take away from Project Runway?
LU: That it is okay to be yourself, have fun with life and take risks. Fellow contestant Hanmiao Yang was my roommate and told me not to take things so seriously.
WCT: Where is your fashion going in the future?
LU: I am trying for more validation from myself with my brand. I am trying to go full circle with this and take advantage of the opportunities that I have been given. There are some great things coming up with my brand, Wanda Grace. There are new collections and expanding on a lifestyle brand. I am putting myself out there and empowering women through style. That is my whole purpose in being a fashion designer. My passion is fashion and designing clothes. In your passion there has to be a purpose. My purpose is not making a design or a dress. My purpose is to empower through style.
Before Project Runway, I was starting a doll collection with my daughter. She was such a huge inspiration and wanted to create her own doll. I asked her to be my partnerand she is 6 years old. We just launched a Shades of Me doll collection. There is a GoFundMe campaign for it.
I'm taking advantage of every opportunity and having fun.
WCT: Where does the name Wanda Grace come from?
LU: Wanda is my middle name. Wanda, by itself, is not that cute so I added Grace because it meant a lot to me such as grace of a lady. Wanda reminds me of Wanda on In Living Color!
WCT: You don't do menswear?
LU: No. The closest I will get to menswear is a bowtie!
Visit www.wandagrace.com for more on the fashionable Underwood. Her journey on Project Runway continues Thursdays on Lifetime with info at www.mylifetime.com .