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Seth Aaron Henderson wears his heart and finesse on his sleeve. Literally. A true fashion designer in every sense, when it comes to clothing, the seventh season winner of TV’s “Project Runway” adores all things style. Structure, craftsmanship, attention to detail and bold aesthetics are Seth’s signature traits. He’s meticulous over form and takes no short cuts when he’s devising a new collection. In fact, the harder, higher road — sewing for 18 hours a day six to seven days a week — is what got him to his goal of being a “Project Runway” winner. He’s a household designer label name, while being true to himself and his passion for fashion.
Seth is also husband to his wife Tina, and father to teenagers Aaron and Megan. He currently resides in a humble home in Vancouver, Washington which has a modest studio. Even though Seth has rubbed elbows with hundreds of movie stars, attended the Oscars and won over runway queen Heidi Klum, he’s down to earth, easy to hang out with and is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy.
Up next for Seth Aaron in 2012 is a glaringly bright future full of promise, creation and the unveiling of his signature sustainable clothing retail line in partnership with EarthTec. He will also remain part of “Project Runway” in a judging capacity, take part in style commentary on E! Entertainment Television and continue to wow audiences around the world with new collections at various prominent fashion shows. We were fortunate to catch up with Seth and talk about his life as a superstar fashion family man.
Janna: Fashion week recently occurred in Portland and you released a fabulous new line of sustainable clothing. That must have been totally exciting! How was that received?
Seth: The sustainability of it was definitely well received. My new partner, EarthTec, is the manufacturer, so basically it’s my line. I’m the creative director and head designer. It’s what every independent designer dreams of because you have freedom, budgets to do what you want. But the manufacturer end of it takes care of everything else — license, branding, retailers. All the knowledge you don’t want to deal with, or you don’t have, they do. It’s a great partnership. They need the creative person, I need the business end of it. I had three weeks to put together a collection from scratch because it was a last-minute signing and fashion week was right around the corner.
J: No pressure … (laughs)
S: I work better with short deadlines. If I have too much time, I constantly change my mind. My efforts come from the gut. I put together that first collection in three weeks. We just showed in Vancouver, B.C. I expanded it to 16 pieces. It developed into a solid collection.
J: Do you get to interact with fabrics before you actually create a piece based on them? Are recycled material fabrics as forgiving or flexible as regular materials?
S: We have organic cottons. We have 80 percent recycled water bottles with 20 percent organic cotton. When you feel them you can’t tell the difference between just cotton or silk jersey. They feel exactly the same. This collection was put together with what was on hand. Moving forward I’ll be working on developing fabrics, synthetic leathers from recycled products for example. I will be involved with the graphic design, weave of it or whatever we need.
J: You worked so hard to reach this point. This is something that years ago you probably only dreamed of.
S: Six years ago, when I picked up a machine, I had a goal from day one. I sewed about 18 hours a day for over a year and half. I had a showroom open to the public. People would come and purchase items which kept me afloat. I would open the doors, sew all day, close the doors, come home eat dinner, go back to the showroom, sew until 2 a.m., then back at 10 a.m. and do it again. Six days a week.
My goals were to accomplish craftsmanship, apply for “Project Runaway,” get on, win it and move forward. That’s exactly the way it happened. That’s been my goal since I started. My wife knows that. It’s always been, “This is what I’m going to do” and of course you run into hurdles. The point is that you never lose focus, where you’re going and what you want to do.
J: Some people create goal boards, make dream lists. Did you watch “Project Runway” every night before you went to bed to help ensure clarity of the goal? Did you have any rituals to help manifest your dream?
S: Yes. I sewed. I never lost sight of who I was or where I wanted to go. You definitely find a voice as a designer. With me it’s construction, it’s graphic, and I can sew. I applied three times and made it a little further each time. Tim [Gunn] would give me advice each time, then I’d come back and he’d say, “Well you fixed that,” but he groomed me not to waste an opportunity. He told me if you get on this show, you want to win. When you get on, you don’t want to win a couple challenges and then be booted because you aren’t ready since you didn’t know how to do something. So I listened to him. When I applied that last time, he said “You’re ready, you know your craftsmanship, there’s no question there … just do what you do and not what you think the judges want to see.”
J: That’s probably one of the greatest life lessons we could all stand to learn.
S: It’s determination. Ultimately, at the end, you have to please yourself, otherwise you’re unhappy.
J: Many people wonder what reality shows are like behind the scenes. Do they edit segments together to make them appear more dramatic? How “real” are they?
S: I know producers that do reality shows. “Runway” is one of the unique ones, because it’s not scripted or prompted. Some shows are and they may even tell cast members to start problems or try to create them. With “Runway,” you are cast to sew. We don’t talk with the cameramen. They just film our interactions on a daily basis. If it was on TV, it was said. We work 18 to 21 hours a day, seven days a week for the entirety of the eight-week show. Not everybody handles mental breakdown and pressure, so you can see people get grouchy over time or start to mentally fall apart.
J: How have things changed for you? Your career has taken off, but do people treat you differently?
S: Not the people I’ve known because I’m the same person they’ve always known. I’m doing exactly what I was doing two years ago, except it’s magnified by 300 to 500 percent. In the beginning it was odd. I was in New York at JFK and this group from China came through and were all “oohhh … ahh” (laughs), getting excited because they knew who I was and they’re from China. That was the coolest. I get emails from all over the world, from people in little towns. The personality, the celebrity, whatever you want to call it, is totally new. But that’s where I’m comfortable. I have no problems being there because it all has to do with how you handle it.
J: You once mentioned that you’ve always known where you belonged and were comfortable with fashion even though it isn’t something most young boys are drawn to.
S: I was always interested in the clothes. I did race motocross as a kid which I loved. I shot guns. I did all the things boys did. But then I had this side, when I went out, I dressed appropriate. When you’re muddy racing your dirt bike, you don’t wear those clothes to go out to dinner. Everything needed to be pressed. I color-coordinated my closets.
J: Working so many hours and then with your career taking off, how did you manage time with your family?
S: The great thing about Lifetime (Network) is they are a family-oriented network. So “Project Runaway” is the same way. They’re very supportive. I went and cast season nine for Tim Gunn. If I have to go to New York for a month they fly me out, put me in a nice hotel along with my kids, my wife and the babysitter, which was grandma.
J: It’s a package deal.
S: Their attitude is, “You’ve got a family and we respect that.” A lot of them have families. So they get it.
J: How great for your kids to see and be exposed to places, people, ideas and creation.
S: If it’s a one- or two-day trip, they may not always be interested in going. But if it’s an extended stay they’re always able to go if they want to. They have experienced some amazing things.
J: Do your interests rub off on your kids or do they have their own things?
S: My son is into filmmaking and does films and music videos that are terrific. He’s already researched the college he wants to go to in L.A. My daughter is a writer. She’s got some major natural talent for writing. She’s also excellent with hair and makeup.
J: You can be totally proud of them and you’ve said it was important they were proud of you. They got to see you accomplish something big.
S: My success has been a good lesson for them. No one hands you anything. That’s one thing that some people on “Runway” don’t get; they think everything is handed to them. You have to work 20 times as hard; no one is beating down your door.
J: Most who are an overnight success have worked really hard to get there.
S: Some take many years to reach success after “Project Runway.” But one who stands out for me is Christian Siriano because right after his season he hit it hard. He stayed in the public eye. That’s my goal. People forget because next season moves on. You have to be in the public at events and remain doing your clothes.
J: Your dream is here and now. You‘re involved with many aspects of the fashion world, including the amazing new sustainable line.
S: That’s a great element that I didn’t intend. I’ve always thought sustainable fashion would be great to do. We recycle in our household. Then to have the opportunity to collaborate on this was phenomenal. EarthTec is an outdoor lifestyle company. I have great sustainable fabrics to work with.
J: Are you going to stay in the Portland/Vancouver area?
S: Yes, I bought this house. I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of it. We do have a goal of getting a second home maybe somewhere like Los Angeles to go to but not to live full-time. We spend a lot of time there. We love New York and spend lots of time there, too, but I like the idea of having a pool in my backyard. I grew up in San Diego so that’s the way I grew up and my kids like it, too.
J: Wherever you land, you’ll have a huge 2012 ahead including unveiling the Seth Aaron line into the retail environment.
S: Yes, it will be mass retail too. Everybody will be able to afford sustainable clothing at the same price point as the non-environmental-friendly labels. That’s what I’m excited about. Though we’re starting with women’s, it’s going to expand into men’s, kids, accessories, shoes. That’s a great thing about a factory. I did my runs of small, medium, large; put them in a boutique. But with retail, clothes will be size 0–18. It’s available to the mass market for whoever wants to wear it.
J: What’s it really like to do a big fancy runway show?
S: When I went to Bryant Park, that’s when I showed, but I’ve been back there since. I’ve been to Lincoln Center twice. It’s a grand event. It’s like the Oscars.
J: Do you stand there and jaw-drop at everyone else’s fashions?
S: What’s funny is Nick Verreos is a good friend of mine from season two. He is all Hollywood coverage. When he and I get together it’s fun because all we’re talking about is “Oh, she didn’t wear that!” (laughs). I actually did fashion commentary with him which will air in January for E! Network. We did “Red Carpet Revolutionaries” which comes out a week before the Oscars. Then we did “Style Star,” so both will air on E!
J: Being paid for honest opinion about something you love, now THAT is awesome!
S: It’s all an opinion.
J: Fashion has shaped cultures throughout time. There’s no denying the impact fashion has on how people see themselves. All you have to do is flip through a magazine from the 1930s and ‘40s …
S: Which I do. People often ask, including Michael Kors or even Tim, where I learned to construct. My parents were both involved with some form of art. Though it wasn’t fashion, shape has always made sense to me. Curves. Shape. The way I learned is I got the machine, went to yard sales and vintage stores and bought 1930s and 1940s patterns because they didn’t have stretch then. Fabrics were stiff, so when you learn to construct as they did then, that’s where structure came from. It’s like an honest-to-goodness structure. Sometimes we have silk jersey stretch gowns and so on. It’s like “Whoosh! Wow, that fits you.” Now let’s see you construct a 32-piece pantsuit to fit like that. Not a lot of people can. I think the basis starts from the root, the actual construction, when you master that, then use the stretch.
J: Your favorite designers?
S: Though there have been lots of recent bandwagoners, (Alexander) McQueen has always been one of my favorites, ever since I started in fashion. I‘ve been a fashion stylist for 12 years for magazines and videos and he has always been exceptional. Working on casting season nine, it’s funny, 90 percent of the applicants have McQueen listed as an influence. When I cast the season prior with Tim, we maybe saw him listed once or twice. I like Tom Ford’s sleek seductive look to his clothing. I like Christopher Bailey for Burberry and Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel. Classic Chanel.
J: Will you have a chance for some downtime soon? What is your family doing for the holidays this year?
S: I’m trying to talk them into getting on a boat, like a cruise ship, though we’ll probably end up staying home. I put up the traditional Christmas tree and lights but my kids are getting older. They are teens. My mother is going to California to be with my grandmother who just turned 90, so we may do that. I don’t like it all planned out.
J: No plans are probably just what you need at this time …
S: I like to be spontaneous in my life. Going with what comes is what keeps life fresh!