The TV competition, Project Runway: Under the Gunn, currently features Sam Donovan, a 23-year-old designer and Gap associate in Natick, Mass. We chatted with Sam about his experience on the show and more – here are some excerpts.
Tighe Flatley: What inspired you to become a designer?
Sam Donovan: I worked in the fitting rooms at Gap and would talk to customers about the clothes. There’s this amazing moment when you help someone find a product that they love, especially if they were afraid to try it before. When I figured out that I could make things myself and create that moment, I knew I wanted to be a designer.
TF: When did you start at Gap?
SD: As soon as I was legally allowed to [laughs]. I applied when I was 16 and 17 and was told I was too young both times. So I marched in there on my 18th birthday and applied again and got the job. My love for Gap borders on unhealthy – in the best way.
What I love about Gap is that it creates accessible fashion for people. Fashion can’t be fashion unless people have the capability to partake in it. Gap provides a quality product, especially for the price point, and that’s so inspiring to me. And the people I work with are fantastic. Our store really is like a family.
TF: Are you able to use your design experience in store?
SD: Definitely. I have this vocab now that’s a lot easier for me to help people – I listen to what they say they want, and I can figure out what they’re really looking for.
So many people feel intimidated by shopping and it’s my job as a designer and Gap employee to make clothes less scary and remind people that fashion belongs to everyone.
TF: Let’s talk about the show – what motivated you to apply?
SD: When I first interviewed with the producers for Project Runway, I didn’t get it. They told me I needed to develop more confidence. So for my next audition, I took their advice and was more confident in my presentation. One of the producers chased me out of the room to ask me to come back the next day.
So, I guess it’s true – confidence is key to all aspects of fashion. When they offered the position to be on Project Runway: Under the Gunn, I took it, in part because of the increased Tim Gunn presence!
TF: What was the filming experience like?
SD: The energy is amazing – everyone is just paralyzed with excitement on that first day. It was also really cool to be in LA and see whole different side to fashion. I’ve spent all my education and design career in New York City, so it was cool to experience that new energy.
TF: We know that you won the first challenge – what was that like?
SD: [Pause] Words. Just words. What are you supposed to say? “It was a dream come true” doesn’t even explain it. I don’t know what to say – I already told you Britney Spears song lyrics because I didn’t know how to describe something. [Ed. Note: He did, before the interview started, and it was awesome.] I didn’t believe it until I saw it on TV.
TF: Is Tim Gunn as hilarious in person as he is on TV?
SD: Yes. Very possibly the most genuine and sweetest and funniest man I’ve met. And he’s got some sass.
Watch Sam on Project Runway: Under the Gunn on Lifetime Thursdays at 9:00 p.m. (check local listings).
On social? Cheer Sam on with hashtag, #designersam!