Fashion studies student reflects on ‘Project Runway’ experience

By Oona O’Toole

Being surrounded by cameras while designing and sewing can be unnerving, but Alexander Knox, a senior fashion studies major, had to adjust quickly as he entered a televised fashion world.

Knox competed on season 13 of “Project Runway,” the popular Lifetime design competition hosted by Tim Gunn, a mentor to the designers, and noted model Heidi Klum. 

Knox, the youngest contestant this season and the only one still enrolled in college, was eliminated on the Sept. 25 episode, placing seventh in the competition.

“When I was first eliminated, I was super bitter,” Knox said.

The elimination came down to Knox and another designer, Charketa Glover. Glover had been given extra time by the other designers because her model broke the zipper in her garment and was about to go down the runway half-naked. 

“Knowing the outcome, I would have been like, ‘No, I don’t care,’ and been that a—–e for the next two episodes,” Knox said. 

But this particular model was a “muse on the street,” he said. She is a preschool teacher in her daily life and has a daughter. Knox said had he not known that about her, he would have objected but did not want to embarrass her. 

Knox said he was introduced to the competition in April when a professor urged him to apply. Despite being “up to his forehead” in work for finals, Knox made a five-minute audition video with help from a friend. Shortly after, he received a call from the show’s producers telling him he was a finalist for an interview.

“That interview actually was with Tim Gunn, and I had absolutely no idea that he was going to be there,” Knox said. “It’s on TV—I’m just in shock—I walked into the room and I’m like, ‘Hi.’”

Gunn, also the department chair of fashion design at Parson’s The New School for Design in New York City, praised Knox’s work, saying it was some of the best student work he has seen.

“I just hope you know how profoundly good this is,” Gunn said during Knox’s audition. “I haven’t been this excited since—I’ll be blunt—Christian Siriano.”

Knox said the response was enough to make him fall on the floor, and 10 minutes after his interview, he got a call from producers asking him to come back.

“That’s where it started,” Knox said. “It was kind of just this whirlwind amongst finals and all that.” 

He said his perspective of women’s fashion helped keep him in the competition for as long as he was.

“I definitely like to have a more avant-garde approach,” Knox said. “I tend to steer away from things that are super form-fitting. I like to go for things that are more oversized and larger than life.”

Dieter Kirkwood, an assistant professor in the Fashion Studies Department, said Knox had a unique way of viewing menswear while in his class.

“Alex had a way of viewing menswear through a lens that was not so masculine,” Kirkwood said. “He was able to try and soften up a lot of his menswear designs.”

Knox said he was first inspired to pursue fashion design after buying fashion magazines from Barnes & Noble.

“I would just ogle over them for hours,” he said. “I would just look at them and it took me to another place. That’s where it began.”

Knox saved money from babysitting and eventually bought his first sewing machine—a “Project Runway” Brother model.

As a “Project Runway” contestant, Knox also had the opportunity to participate in  Mercedes Benz New York Fashion Week because the event occurred while the series was in production. 

He was given a budget of $9,000 and three weeks to create a 10-piece collection to show in New York City. Knox said his collection had a futuristic vibe and kept the color palette very monochromatic, using a lot of metallic linen to keep the looks appropriate for spring. 

Despite being eliminated, Knox said he found a mentor in Gunn, and the two have kept in contact since filming ended.

“It’s crazy to be able to sit here and tell you that yes, Tim Gunn would come in and spend 30–40 minutes sitting there talking with me about my design,” Knox said. “Just being a student and to have feedback from him [is] an experience I will forever value.”