Exclusive: 'Project Runway' Season 13 winner Sean Kelly talks (Part 1)
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 10/24/2014
Project Runway crowned Sean Kelly its thirteenth-season winner during Thursday night's finale broadcast of the Lifetime fashion design competition.
Sean, a 25-year-old designer from Brooklyn, NY, was chosen as the winner of the competition by judges Heidi Klum, Nina Garcia, Zac Posen, and guest judge Emmy Rossum in addition to the input provided by the contestants' mentor Tim Gunn. Sean beat out runner-up Amanda Valentine, third-place finisher Kini Zamora and fourth-place finisher Charketa Glover for the win.
Sean won with his 10-piece collection entitled "Betrayal of Caesar," which he created with a $9,000 budget and unveiled during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week at New York City's Lincoln Center this fall.
In an exclusive interview with Reality TV World on Friday, Sean talked about his Project Runway victory and experience. Below is the first half. Check back with us soon for the concluding portion.
Reality TV World: Before Heidi Klum revealed the results, Zac Posen was shown saying during the judges' deliberation that the winner had become "crystal clear" after talking it out a bit. Were you surprised to win or did you feel the same way, that it was sort of obvious you'd take the title?
Sean Kelly: I was very surprised. My fellow competitors were equally -- everyone was, in their own category, strong. It could've gone either way. I was never like, "I've got this in the bag!" I was like, "Whatever the judges decide today, it could go either way."
So yeah, no, I didn't think it was crystal clear. I really respect the other competitors and they genuinely did a really amazing job, so it could've been anyone.
Reality TV World: Last night's finale felt anticlimactic to me, like it was edited to appear like Amanda was going to win the whole time -- except you ended up winning. Did you get that same sense from watching the show last night and could you compare that to how you felt while filming? Did it feel like a race to beat Amanda or even a race for second place at the time?
Sean Kelly: I don't feel like when we were actually in the judging and in the reality of it that there was a strong weighting. I mean, they went through all of our collections and pulled out good things and bad things. I felt like when we came out of the final critique, we were all just confused, like, "They liked some of it, but they didn't like some of it," and they said that to everyone.
It wasn't like, "Amanda, we loved everything you did." It was like, "We liked this. We didn't like this." And that was why it was a surprise. No one was confident, like, "Oh yeah, I nailed it!" Maybe you felt like it was edited that way, but no, I think it was very even in the thinking.
Reality TV World: The judges appeared to pick you as the winner because you had the most "wow moments" during the show and took some risks, which paid off. As you were designing your collection, did you feel it was as risky as they apparently saw it to be?
Sean Kelly: Yeah, but it depends on how you define the term "risk." I didn't think when I was making it that it was too risky. I was more interested in the ability to create something beautiful, or create something interesting that has a life to it. And I wasn't thinking about risk. It was more like, "I'm interested in this path and this is where I'm going." So, yup!
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Reality TV World: Had you not created that one orange dress at the last minute, the one without fringe, do you think you still would've won? That one ensemble seemed to make a big difference in how the judges would've perceived the variety of your collection.
Sean Kelly: Yeah, that was a dress that I made a day before the show. I guess it helped. It's kind of like, you get that critique like two days before Fashion Week and you've already done your collection.
And then they were like, "Well, how much fringe?!" And obviously I couldn't change it because it did have fringe on it, so I just kind of had to work through a strategical plan. I guess it might've helped.
Reality TV World: When Tim Gunn visited you at your workshop at home, you worried about doing too many pieces with fringe considering the judges told you they didn't want to see it again or you were overdoing it or something like that. But he told you it represented who you are as a designer and you needed to go with your gut. Did you ever consider not taking his advice, and imagine if you hadn't?
Sean Kelly: (Laughs) Well I did consider it for like two seconds, but then thought, "I should probably just continue and not scrap half my collection at that home visit." But I knew it was for the better. Timmy was only ever saying things to help us. He wants us all to win. If we could all win, that would be the show for him. He really has a clarity.
And I had been working on that collection day and night with my head down without really -- I mean, I was really, really waiting for him to come with his clarity and his voice. It really helped in that situation, when you're working so hard on something in such a short space of time.
Reality TV World: Your inspiration for your collection, the "Betrayal of Caesar," was very specific. The other designers seemed to observe the structure of buildings and colors. How did you come up with your idea? And do you think the judges favored you partly because of your creative storyline?
Sean Kelly: Yeah, I mean, the judges really responded well to the inspiration behind the collection. I think I've just been trained that way, in that way of thinking, and it's how I get interested in developing a collection.
If it's a story, it has direction, it has purpose, it has meaning, and it's all about how you interpret that and how you can work with fabrics and color to try to tell the story. So that is the way that I design. I always try to tell a story or try to valid it and make it feel more real. It just gives me a good direction to work from.
Reality TV World: A short clip from last night's finale showed that all three of your Fashion Week competitors thought you had the best collection. Does that surprise you? What's your reaction to that?
Sean Kelly: It doesn't surprise me. (Laughs) No, I felt like my collection was very strong, I mean, it really stood out from the others. I felt like it was a collection that [someone] would wear every single piece walking down the runway.
Check back with Reality TV World soon for the concluding portion of Sean Kelly's exclusive interview.