Q & A with Oakland’s Project Runway contestant Amy Sarabi
on March 19, 2010
You might already know Oakland fashion designer Amy Sarabi from the 7th season of Project Runway, televised on Lifetime Network. The 26-year-old designer is originally from Plano, Texas, but has been calling Oakland her home for some time now.
At the age of 7, Sarabi began making garments at her aunt’s tailor shop. She attended the California College of the Arts in San Francisco after high school and since has been consumed in the fashion world, even working for Gap, Inc. as a freelance designer in men’s activewear.
Her favorite designer at the moment is Christian Wiinants, whose garments can be seen being worn by Lady Gaga. Like him, Sarabi hopes people will be saying her name at fashion shows – specifically at Bryant Park’s New York Fashion Week. But although Sarabi was eliminated from the competition on the episode that aired this Thursday evening, she said no matter what, she will “always stay true to her design style.”
Oakland North’s Paige Ricks caught up with Sarabi, before her elimination, for a few questions about inspiration, mentorship, and daring to create something ugly.
Q: I’m sure now you are going to be recognized from being on Project Runway and the unique, eccentric garments you’ve created. People may even feel like they know you personally, but from watching episodes of the show you seem very genuine. How do you stay humble around guest judges like Georgina Chapman, Mathew Williamson, and Tory Burch?
A: I don’t think it’s too hard to stay humble around people who have accomplished as much as they have in the industry. I was 25, now only 26, having graduated just two years earlier. Although, I have had an extensive amount of training in design, I lack their experience. So, I genuinely do respect their opinion, whether or not I agree.
Q: I read that you draw inspiration from Belgian and French mentors you have had, as well as things in nature. How do those things translate in your designs?
A: I am naturally more attracted to organic shapes and sequences that are found in natural objects. My French and Belgian mentors have taught me specific design processes that ultimately have influenced my design sensibility. Creativity and experimentation are at the root of what I do, where wearability takes a back seat. I learned to not be afraid to make something ugly, because ultimately within that risk is fearlessness. If you are afraid to take a chance than you become more restricted in your creativity, ultimately lessening your chances of making a breakthrough in the industry.
Q: On the “Design Your Heart Out” Challenge, which you won for designing a dress for a woman who has suffered from heart problems, you said that winning the challenge meant the most for you, other than being in Bryant Park. Why was that?
A: Ultimately, Campbell’s and Project Runway gave me the opportunity to give something to another person — a person who has seen great amounts of hardship and struggled with their disease, but who has persevered and become a stronger person because of it. For me, and for many of the other contestants, it gave a deeper meaning to the challenge. It made winning more than just a personal accomplishment, but one that I could share with someone else, Nadine, who I found to be such an inspiration.
Q: I know that you are from Oakland and many local vintage stores and boutiques love carrying local designers garments. Have you ever had your designs in Oakland stores?
A: I haven’t. I sold in MAC in San Francisco, but never had the opportunity to sell here in Oakland.
Q: What do you wish people would understand about working in the fashion industry?
A: Talent and financial backing have to go hand in hand. Unfortunately, most designers don’t have the most keen business sense, making the challenge of having your own label nearly impossible. At the same time nothing worth having comes easy, as cliché as that sounds, it’s true. Without the fight, holding a “real job” and coming home to another 8 hours of work on your own line, you can’t expect anything to happen.
Q: What would you say is the best perk of being a designer?
A: Watching something that a few months earlier was nothing but pencil marks on the back of a fast food napkin alive and moving is one of the most gratifying feelings I have ever experienced. Also, I have been lucky to have a large support circle within my family, friends, and now fans…that is definitely a perk!
Q: What question do you hate being asked the most?
A: “What do you think about what I’m wearing?”
Image: Photo courtesy of Kannie Yu LaPak of Lifetime Network.
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