If you're a fan of Project Runway ( and, really, who isn't at this point? ) , then Steve Rosengard probably looks vaguely familiar to you. On Project Runway's special audition episode, Road to Runway, viewers met three area finalists from Chicago, including Rosengard, who impressed Tim Gunn and Nick Verraros with his point of view as well as his strong design and construction skills. Advancing to the next level in the audition process, he was asked to submit a video bio where viewers caught a glimpse of Rosengard camping it up for the camera in a variety of personality-revealing poses, including a memorable shot on his bed 'where the magic happens.' Rosengard, 29 years-old and a resident of Lakeview, didn't make the final cut, but we still see plenty of magic happening—both inside and outside of the bedroom— for this charismatic, talented designer.
Windy City Times: Where were you and what were you doing the very moment you heard there was going to be a Chicago casting call for Season Three of Project Runway?
Steve Rosengard: I had assumed for a long time that they were going to do a third season and I was debating about whether to make the trip to Miami or New York. I decided not to make any reservations until after the weekend, which ended up paying off. In those couple of days, they decided to replace London with Chicago, which, of course, was a lot easier.
WCT: How did you determine what garments to bring with you? What went in to that decision-making process for you?
SR: The process of deciding what garments to bring was agonizing. I'd pick several choices out and run them by various people. I'd start one of the garments and decide it was all wrong and start over again. I worked on one dress with an appliquéd train for weeks. The Saturday before the audition, I couldn't do anything to make it look less bridesmaid-y. So I sacked it. I ran down to the fabric store the next morning, cut out the dress, called the model over for a photo shoot and then fitted it on her until one in the morning.
WCT: How did you psych yourself up for the audition that day?
SR: Psych myself up? I didn't have the energy. I had woken up the day before at 7 a.m., went to my office job and then worked on the dresses around the clock until 7 a.m., when I went to go stand in line at the W Hotel—where I stood for five hours.
WCT: So, you arrive at the W and what do you see—describe the scene, the other people in line and your own internal monologue at that point.
SR: I vacillated between thinking that everyone was better than me and the thought that everyone's stuff was crap. It was a little bit of an unintentional spectacle. The guy who was ahead of me was with his mom and they looked and dressed almost identically. The guy ahead of him was wearing short cowboy boots, wool-cuffed culottes and a car coat. I didn't know what was going on. I hate to say anything negative because I know fashion, like any art, is very subjective, but—Jesus, Mary and Joseph—help me out here!
WCT: How was the competition? Was everyone sizing each other up? Did you see Nick Verraros ( Project Runway, Season Two ) when he came out and greeted the applicants? What was your overall impression of him?
SR: I was in line for five hours. I think there might have been a little bit of people sizing each other up, but this was March [ and ] right on the Lake. It was too cold to worry about other people. It was hard enough just trying to keep your clothes off the ground and making sure you didn't freeze your ass off.
When Nick came out to get the crowd riled up, [ I remember thinking that ] it was kind of funny how outgoing he was. I kept on thinking to myself that I couldn't go and do that—just go and talk to strangers and wish them well. I suppose I could do it if I was in the Red Cross, but that's different; people are missing limbs and sometimes their entire families. But Nick was going and talking to people that could be competition for him in his career. Fashion's cutthroat. People often say, 'Oh, relax, it's just fashion.' But the truth is that it's not just fashion. It's your career; it's what people think of your creativity.
WCT: What advice did producers or organizers give you prior to walking into the room with Tim Gunn [ Chair of Fashion Design at Parsons New School of Design in New York City ] and Nick Verrarsos?
SR: I don't remember getting any advice, except for where to walk and hang up your clothes. There was a Polish girl at the door who told you when to go in the room. She had this Cheshire-cat look about her. She was slicing and dicing people with her eyes, nice and quietly. When my model and I came up to her and I mumbled something finally waking up and being ready to throw up from the nerves, the girl said, 'Ah, don't vorry, I feel good aura around you.'
WCT: Describe what advice show producers had for you in making the video bio. What guidelines did they give you? What didn't we get to see in your video?
SR: I can't go into the guidelines because of the contract. But, what you didn't get to see in the video was that I set up the whole video 'a la Karen Walker' and had my Taiwanese co-worker do these hilarious voiceover commentaries from behind the camera the whole time with a kind of Rosario-esque feel to it. The rest of the video was just talking about my design philosophy and that sort of thing.
WCT: You didn't make the final cut, but you were crowned 'first alternate.' What does that mean?
SR: Well, that's what the lady from the production office said. She didn't actually say anything about anyone kicking the bucket or getting Avian bird flu. I think she was more concerned that someone wouldn't sign their contract to be on the show or that they'd have a last-minute emergency like a death in the family, etc. But I was the first alternate in the event that any Greek tragedy took place.
WCT: What is your next big design project or goal?
SR: Well, I'm gearing up for showing my Spring '07 collection in October at Chicago Fashion Week. It's an interesting experience because I have always told myself that this is what I wanted to do. Now I'm doing it…and there are times when I get so plagued by self-doubt I just want to put my head down on the table and call it a day. But this is the way it works.
I also need to get a Web site up and running very soon, but I don't find technology that interesting. I'd much rather be talking with a human being than sitting in front of a computer.