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'Project Runway' contestants share industry insights, success stories

By Emily Pisano
On February 17, 2011

  • Seth Aaron Henderson rave dances as fellow ‘Project Runway’ star Mondo Guerra tell how his start in fashion designing involved his own dancing attire. Teresa Kelly

"There's an ant on the floor, we're going to call him Charlie," Seth Aaron Henderson, winner of Project Runway season seven, said as he greeted the crowd at the University of Rhode Island Edward's Auditorium last night. Sitting next to him on a stool on the front stage was Mondo Guerra, the tiny, quiet runner-up of the show's eighth season.

Courtesy of URI's Student Entertainment Community, about 100 people, mostly faculty and fashion students, heard Aaron and Guerra describe their experience in the fashion industry and on the popular reality television show "Project Runway."

Guerra, wearing polka-dot socks and silver shoes, alongside Henderson, in a blazer, bowtie and chains, were quite the pair—both with larger-than-life personalities that seemed more akin to a comedy routine than lives as successful fashion entrepreneurs. With their trademark humor, they shared their stories of starting off as self-taught in the fashion industry and working hard for success and a spot in the coveted "Project Runway" cast.

Before sewing away on "Project Runway," Henderson was spending his days framing houses in California. On the other hand, Guerra was working retail at an amusement park, a profession, and a uniform, he hated.

"I'm not really a polo shirt kind of guy...with khaki pants, I mean who does that," Guerra joked.

Leaving khaki pants and construction behind them, Henderson and Guerra set out for New York City. Guerra, coming from Denver, Colo. with $14 in his bank account, was overwhelmed by the transition. After the fashion company that he initially worked for closed its doors, Guerra auditioned for an earlier season of "Project Runway."

Making it through all the way to the end of auditions, Guerra received a call telling him he had been cut. Guerra didn't give up on his chance to nab a spot on the show and auditioned again for season eight—where he made it on to the cast.

At first, he said he was completely terrified, but soon got a boost of confidence and went "full Guerra" once he won the first challenge. It was a difficult process for Guerra, who said that the show's contestants are isolated from their life back home during the show's taping. However, Guerra said thinking about his friends, family and art teachers helped give him the motivation to continue with the show.

Henderson also auditioned multiple times before finally making it through to the top 16 constants.

"Once I get on, I am not getting kicked off," was Henderson's motto throughout the season, he said. 

From the moment Henderson arrived at the audition for season seven, he knew it was going to be "[his] season," as did Tim Gunn, a fashion icon and mentor for the show's contestants, who had seen Henderson's previous audition material. Gunn was proven correct during the show's finale episode, when Henderson presented his collection at New York Fashion Week. During the final moments of the show, Henderson was named the season seven winner and received $100,000 to start his own fashion line along with a photo spread in Marie Claire magazine.

Toward the end of the night, in addition to a photo and autograph session, Henderson and Guerra opened the floor for questions and answers from the eager audience. They fielded many questions about everything from what other contestants were like in real life to how to succeed in the fashion industry.

"Always stick to what you know and it will bring you joy...When you start trying to make others happy, the only unhappy person is you," Henderson said.

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