Arts & Culture

Q&A With Project Runway’s First Palestinian

Forget the presidential election. Up until last week, the most interesting—you might even say fierce—competition on TV was the battle to win Season 4 of Bravo TV's hit series “Project Runway.” Would it be Christian “Young, Fierce, and Talented” Siriano, … Read More

By / March 11, 2008

Forget the presidential election. Up until last week, the most interesting—you might even say fierce—competition on TV was the battle to win Season 4 of Bravo TV's hit series “Project Runway.” Would it be Christian “Young, Fierce, and Talented” Siriano, Jillian “I Can Make Twizzlers Look Sexy” Lewis, or Rami “Drapery” Kashou?

Last Wednesday Christian emerged as the winner, but Ramallah-born Rami was a close second, and the judges praised his talent, vision, and drive. Rami didn’t talk much about his background on the show, leading many Jewish viewers to wonder if he was a member of the tribe (though his big crucifix suggested otherwise). In fact, he grew up as a Catholic on the West Bank, leaving the country for the U.S. after high school to pursue his fashion dreams. Prior to appearing on the show, he ran a small successful line worn by Hollywood stars like Jessica Alba, Tyra Banks, and even Paris Hilton.

During the show, the judges often worried that you relied too much on your talent for drapery. Did your background inspire your style as a designer?

I am the son of a mother who was a lover of fashion. My mother, who died when I was five, was Miss Jordan. She had all these amazing pieces in her closest, all these cocktail dresses. I guess because I saw women who wore veils with drapery, I liked the beauty of the fabric and the way it fell. So I guess maybe subconsciously that led to the draping in my designs on the show.

When ["Project Runway" mentor] Tim Gunn visited me right before Fashion Week, he looked at my collection and asked, “Where's the drapery?” That was when I realized I don't care what the judges say. I'm happy with my final collection for Fashion Week and that's all that matters. I'm finding my own voice and I'm glad they 'got it' in the end.

You already have a store and a studio in Los Angeles. Would you consider opening one in New York?

Yes! I'd love to, are you kidding me? I was in New York for a few days recently and what I love is that in New York, everything is so compact. There are so many people in small spaces—it's kind of like being shoved in an elevator–and all these people were coming up to me, and you never know who you'll meet next. It's easier to network in N.Y. than L.A. because of that.

What about in your home country?

I'd love to open up in more than one country, but with checkpoints in the Middle East, it could be hard. But it would be nice to have my work in different countries, to make it more accessible.

Do you think your previous fashion experience worked against you?

Honestly? Yes. You know, Jillian said something to me during the show that I thought was interesting. She said to me, “Rami, we want the career you already have.” But I don’t think people realize that I was doing it all on my own before the show. OK, I already had a label, but I wanted to win the money, not really the title, because the money would help my business. I do all of the dirty work for my label, which in a way takes away from the creative process sometimes. I deal with all the business stuff, all the bounced checks, arranging of events, everything. I just happen to be lucky that some celebrities liked my work.

Speaking of Jillian, what was your relationship with her like?

She was my BFF on the show and after the show.

When it came time to pick the three final contestants, the "Project Runway" judges had so much trouble choosing between you and Chris March that they ultimately asked you to compete in a separate contest. What was that like?

I'm sure it was really stressful for Chris, too, but when the judges said that both Chris and I had to design three outfits for them and then they'd choose between us, I thought, “Oh, great.” It kind of took the fun out of show—I felt like they cuffed our hands behind our backs and said, “Go design.” I used this analogy before, but to me, when the judges said they had to choose between Chris and me, it felt like I was handed a birthday cake without the candles…like, great, I don't get to make a wish?

How did you decide to audition for the show? I’ve heard previous contestants Nick Verroes and Santino Rice inspired you to sign up.

I was acquaintances with Santino, but I knew Nick from the same social setting and he said more good comes out of the show than bad.

Do you think your season was as gossipy as it’s been in past years?

Because I watched the previous seasons, I expected some gossip. However, I did learn after that there was a lot of editing done. People do say things and they get mashed up or get taken out of context. But other seasons were a LOT worse, I'll tell you that.

Did it bother you to see how you’d been edited?

Well, one thing they didn’t show is that I made all the shoes, hats, and pocketbooks the models wore. Only once I used a pair of Bluefly.com shoes because I needed a certain size. I liked working with Bluefly.com, but I wished the show acknowledged that I did all the etching and sewing and designing for the model's shoes, hats, and handbags—and I'd never designed handbags before. The chains were all custom-made, as was the quilting. I sewed all the bags and I'm happy with how the bags came out.

What's next for Rami Kashou now that the show is over?

Back to business! I just shipped out the Spring/Summer 2008 collection which you can find in NY at the store Big Drop. I’ll also be selling a design on the Home Shopping Network. And in mid-March, I’m flying back to the East Coast to attend an event for Seeds of Peace, which aims to improve relations and encourage peace in the Middle East. I'll be a guest there—it's a big deal. In the past they've had Susan Sarandon and Zac Posen as guests. It will be nice to move beyond fashion for this because I believe in the cause.

[[Correction: Rami initially said his work would be sold at Intermix, but it's actually Big Drop.  We regret the error.]]