I was very drawn to talk to one of our favorite Project Runway stars Amanda Valentine, designer of her own fashion line, Valentine Valentine. Not only am I a great fan of her work, but a fan of HER as well and I am not the only one. Described as a “fan favorite’ by many, but also a woman making a name and huge impact in the fashion industry. For you Project Runway fans/super fans, you know the beautifully formative gifted designer.
I was genuinely excited and so curious to meet Amanda when she was asked to guest host for Omaha Fashion Week. She has done so much from Project Runway, her fashion brand Valentine Valentine to her earlier career as a designer and stylist for Maroon 5 . There are very few people at a young age who are lucky enough to know what they want to do and who they want to be. Confidence is learned through life experiences, but also innate. Much like any characteristic or rather attribute, we have to use it, depend on it, own it. It’s only when it is truly tested do we know if we have what it takes to overcome small to gigantic obstacles. We are lucky if we have a any idea what or who we want to be when we are Sophomores in college. Am I the only one who changed my major at least 3-4 times? It might be surprising to some, but Omaha, Nebraska hosts one of the biggest fashion weeks outside of NY fashion week, which gave me a few minutes to observe her personality and I can tell you she is truly down to earth and prolifically confident. She is definitely cut from a unique cloth (no pun intended). That has set her on a path of success, rare journeys, and a recipe for success. Amanda is boundless with her creativity and career, producing timeless fashion for all women.
I think the beautiful thing about this piece is the timing. Days before my deadline I had a terrible accident running out the door in a hurry, cutting my finger and ending up with stitches. My primary hand and fingers, the worse being my index. Do you know how much you use that finger? A lot. You don’t know how much until you can’t lift anything. Typing was a priority, but so was brushing my teeth. Neither of them I did well! I chicken-pecked my way through this piece. So why is it a blessing? My right headed brain tends to paralyze me with a condition called “perfection.” So…if you’re correcting my typos, remember I haven’t washed my hair in two weeks. Thank you God for dry shampoo.
So here’s Amanda from Project Runway and Valentine Valentine!
Q: Amanda! It is such a pleasure to talk to you! I have been keeping an eye on your marketing on FaceBook along with doing a little shopping on your line Valentine Valentine. Tell us what else you have you been up to professionally since Project Runway?
AV: I split my time between my clothing line and wardrobe styling It keeps me very very busy. I’m now shipping internationally, which is a thrill, and I’ve learned a ton of business lessons running and growing one. I keep my clients down to a few of my favorite rock bands so I can really focus on them. Twenty One Pilots, who I’ve been with for a couple of years now, have kept me extremely busy and traveling this last year!
Q: You grew up in Nebraska, with four other siblings! Such a busy house and your background is so interesting. Your mom was a known as beauty queen/artist and your father a professor. The professional dichotomy of their professions had to make for an interesting, amazing well rounded day-to-day life. You are an advantageous, flourishing fashion designer, a well known Project Runway fan favorite and your brother, James Valentine is lead guitarist for Maroon 5. Can you give us some insight into what the Valentine house was like growing up? I have this picture in my mind, piano music by a fireplace, creating, making avant garde snowmen with lots of books! Can you share how your upbringing shaped you into the person you are today.
AV: I come from a pretty Type-A family. We are all super creatively driven, but we are all super studious and serious about what we do. I love that balance. My mom always painted while we grew up (and still does at age 70). There was always art being created in the background. My father traveled internationally for work and would always bring home pictures, back in the day when you had to develop prints! He also brought souvenirs such as fiber art from Mexico, silks from China, knick knacks from all over Scandinavia. It was so thrilling to see what he would bring back next!
They really let us do whatever we wanted to do, but if we chose an interest they pushed us to be the best we could be at it. Study, learn everything we could-outside of school. My parents taught us that we should be learning and improving constantly.
Q: And growing up in the Midwest? How does that play into the person you are?
AV: Whenever I meet another Midwesterner, I feel an instant connection. I’m serious! When I moved to the South 10 years ago, I learned that Southerners might be a little bit sweeter, New Yorkers might be a little tougher, but Midwesterners have a really great balance of both. We are a bunch of pioneers! I’m really proud to be a corn fed Nebraskan!
Q: Is this where you thought you would be at 15, 19, even 20 years old?
AV: Absolutely! I feel really lucky that I figured out what I wanted to do at a really young age. There was never any question that I know that is a special thing. I accepted a long time ago that I was going to have a strange, but not always stable career path! I like to think back to being 15 years old and think about how I would feel about what I get to do for a living because it keeps me feeling consistently grateful and not overwhelmed or exhausted!
Q: There can be some challenging times with what you do I imagine? Who do you turn to during those times? On the flip side who do you respect enough for help?
AV: I feel like I am constantly being challenged. And..I consistently have doubts. Seriously. I call my husband the “5 min business consultant.” When I’m struggling with a decision (which I often do , as a CLASSIC Gemini,) I come to him for help. He doesn’t make the decision for me or tell me what to do, but he asks ME the right questions to guide me to make up my own mind. It’s genius. It’s exactly how Tim Gunn was, an impartial but caring investigator.
Q: Your husband and family have to be so proud of you. Take us back to before 2014 when you first decided to compete in the Mercedes Benz Season 11 Project Runway. After 10 seasons, what was the catalyst that made you finally take on that gigantic challenge?
AV: About 2 years BEFORE season 11 (somewhere around season 8 or 9 I believe, I was approached by the casting directors of the show. I auditioned then, made it through the finals and then got dumped. The same thing happened the next year, though they tell me it’s because they already had two girls with black hair and bangs. They called me a THIRD time, but it was the summer of my wedding and I was NOT missing my honeymoon to be on TV! The following year, my husband in passing said, “I think this is your year, you should give it a try..” Sure enough, I made it through and immediately freaked out. It was so terrifying that first time around.
Q: Leading up to when the season starts, I have to guess if every designer walks in with their “go to ideas’ to prepare for the shows competitions. Do you think that disables a competitor from growing? Did you have pre-show designs make it on to the show?
AV: I will say that the FIRST time I was on the show, season 11, I did not have a plan. I had so much anxiety about just being on camera, living with strangers, being away from my husband, and cell phone. Seriously no phone/internet for 6 weeks! I kind of forgot to have a plan. the SECOND time around, season 13, I came in prepared. I had a “collection” of sorts in my head (no books, sketches, etc. are allowed) that I pulled from for each challenge. No shame at all for being prepared!
Q: As the season evolves and the judges input starts impacting the designers point of reference, I can imagine it’s easy for some designers to feel like you’re losing your voice. Designers can either choose to learn from each week from the critiques given, hone in on their skills, or go completely out of their comfort zones for certain challenges. Their opinions, or criticisms could impact a designer in a lot of ways. How did their feedback impact your process week after week?
AV: This is exactly why I am forever grateful I got a second chance. Season 11 Amanda was the Amanda who got it wrong. Season 13 Amanda was the Amanda that had learned lessons. It’s incredibly creepy to speak in the 3rd person, sorry hahaha! I learned there is a huge rush that comes from doing what you do and staying in your vibe, but shaking the edges a little bit…taking a risk that you THINK will pay off, but could possibly crash and burn. I’m pretty tough hooked on that exciting process. Big risk, big reward right?
Q: What was the greatest blessing, or obstacle Project Runway has given to you?
AV: I’ll be honest, I never in a million years thought I would be on a reality competition show or that people would recognize me at the mall. That was never in the realm of possibilities for my future! I thought I would hide behind a clothing label, or famous clients, and I was find with that! I am an extreme introvert (but really good at pretending I’m not!) The process was a little painful for me. In the end though being on TV, meeting people everywhere I go, and having to watch myself win and lose was a real gift. I have so much more confidence that I did 3 years ago. And it’s REAL confidence, not ego or vanity. I’ve been able to accept where I’m awesome and where I totally suck, and I am fine with it!
Q: I had to add this question, because I was so surprised at how Project Runway Junior inspired me. Did you realize how inspiring you were walking into that room where those kids were? Talk about a reception! The best I can describe it was a Rockstar Idol. I soaked a pillow through that season, I mean the camaraderie and bravery!
AV: THOSE KIDS! They were thoughtful and kind to each other- in addition to being some of the most sharply talented designers I have ever met. I mean, WOW.
Q: You are a genius at making colors, patterns and textiles just work and blend, it’s magic! It takes a true artist to look beyond what we see in the everyday world and translate that into a garment. With that said, there are way too many designers that can’t or won’t take those risks. Your fabrics are such high quality. They fit the body so well. If you had a magic wand, what would the red carpets or the streets across the US look like?
AV: I wouldn’t change a thing! I’m thrilled we aren’t all dressing the same! I don’t like to tell people what’s in our what’s out.
Q: I can imagine that designing clothing for VALENTINE VALENTINE has a unique process, even a story behind it. How are you inspired to create these pieces for your clients?
AV: I obsessively collect images. After I saw “Dior and I,” I was THRILLED because I thought “He does it like I do!” I essentially file away things that I respond to. I’m already doing that for Spring 2017. When it’s time to design the collection I spread them all out and look for themes. I also like to react against myself a bit from season to season. If spring was flowy then I want fall to be a little more fitted. If fall was dark, spring might be a little lighter… I am consistently influenced by different parts of the world or time periods and essentially challenge myself to transpose those shapes/colors/silhouettes on modern garments. And then after funneling all those things down I think, “What do I want to wear next spring (or fall)?” I think about what item my closet is missing, what I’m not seeing when shopping for my styling clients. It’s a process that I’m constantly engaged in – and one season is thought about for months before it becomes actual clothing.
Q: I am sure how the fabric feels, how it will move and how it will enhance a body type is a part of the process. I have never felt softer versatile clothing. Who or what does your brand speak to?
AV: My brand is all about opposites. I’m a Gemini (I say that a lot to explain myself) and I love how disparate ideas, shapes, colors can live together. And conceptually, I love the dichotomy of bold and effortless. Something I always want my clothing to simultaneously encompass.
Q: Will you ever share what your trademark design means?
AV: The Evil Eye/Pyramid? I get asked that ALL the time because it’s pretty classic Masonic/Illuminati imagery. The truth is my brain likes those shapes. I think it’s pretty. Ha! I’m pretty dazzled by mystical imagery – I’m just attracted to it. I think playing with that in a pop culture way is interesting. I like lending a mysterious-ness to something as simple as a t-shirt.
Q: I am sure your creations for Valentine Valentine are dear and near to your heart. What kind of challenges have you faced in this industry? What has and is the biggest obstacles throughout your career thus far?
AV: Well, having a fashion brand outside of New York is difficult. And many fashion purists would say stupid and impossible (hahahaha,) but I made a decision to have a certain kind of lifestyle so I have to accept the consequences. Same thing goes for other decisions I’ve made. I don’t have investors, so while it means I’m in control it also means money is tight. It’s a always a trade off. Same thing goes for being on Project Runway. The classic fashion community kind of turns their nose up at the show, but getting in front of those many people was priceless for me. Obstacles always have hidden positives!
Q: You are designing right now in a momentous and groundbreaking time in the world of fashion when it comes to women and body image. Standards of beauty are changing on the runway, TV, and print. Look at Sports Illustrated’s cover of Ashley Graham. You are a part of this era designing for women that usually wouldn’t be included in a runway show or on a cover of Vogue. It has certainly touched nerves in the fashion world, however brought a whole new sense of empowerment to women across the globe. What are your thoughts and feelings about how the eyes of fashion are being turned towards this movement?
AV: I love it. It’s incredible! I want to see every kind of woman represented. But let’s remember, all women are “real women,” even traditional models. I can’t wait for the day we stop saying “real bodies” or “real women” and accept our differences.
Q: If you could have designed during any time period in history, what era do you think you would have liked to have been a part of?
AV: I would design a gown and headdress for Cleopatra.
Q: When you design for a private client, how much of your guidance goes into that dynamic? Where do you draw the line?
AV: The truth is I don’t really like to pass judgement on what other people wear. I like to say that I’ll only tell you what you should be wearing if you are paying me to do it. What I love best about fashion is that it really is “anything goes” and everything is so individual. So I never want to contribute to the judgement of especially women. We’ve gotten enough of that- we’ve been judged based on our looks for all time and it’s just not a game I want to play!
Q: Who would be your dream client, and why?
AV: I’m obsessed with dressing ALL women! I’ve sold the same dress to a 20 year old and to a 70 year old which is my ultimate goal!!
Q: Who or what keeps you grounded?
AV: You know what, it’s pretty easy to stay grounded as an artist. Ha! It’s a tough life. My paychecks don’t come every 2 weeks. I’ve funded my business without investors and that means that all my expendable income is dumped back into the business to help it grow. It means I retain full control and ownership, but it makes for a tight lifestyle. So I would say the hard work keeps me grounded!
Q: Can you describe to me a “light bulb” moment(s) that was (were) positive in your career?
AV: I was struggling with really nailing down my brand identity, my “girl” a few years ago. Finally my husband just looked at me and said, “Well, would YOU wear it?”. Now that’s the question I ask about every single garment I make.
Q: What is a message you would give to someone who really wants to be doing something that requires them to take a risk and just go for it.
AV: You’ll always regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you do.
Q: For kids today (even my own) face so many obstacles and open criticism from their peers. I am less naive now as they get older because I really thought the common and ignorant stereotypes had diminished in this changing world. You got a chance to be around those truly inspiring kids on Project Runway Junior and wow is all I can say. They are refreshing, inspiring, and motivating. I value and envy their confidence. I truly imagine schools filled with that kind of all encompassing hope and morality towards others. Bravo to them and their parents. What would you tell kids today that you wish you or someone would have told you when you were setting your goals, or facing any stereotype?
AV: No one else on the planet is born with your brain and the strange magical things that your brain can create. Comparing yourself to others or allowing yourself to be judged by others is pointless.
Q: Finally! What is your definition of success, and do you think you have reached that level?
AV: My definition is of success is a moving target. Sometimes it’s sales, sometimes it’s finishing a certain collection. As long as I can make a living doing exactly what I want to do I’m pretty satisfied. There are just a lot of cherries on top I would like to add…
We can’t wait to see what those cherries are! Thank you Amanda. Please check out Amanda Valentine.com for more information on her clothing line. Follow her on Twitter @avvalentine or follow her Facebook for looks and info!