'Project Runway' exit interview: The winner speaks! And no, he is not a Nazi. | EW.com

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'Project Runway' exit interview: The winner speaks! And no, he is not a Nazi.

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Seth Aaron ended season seven with a big ol’ bang of bold colors, conflicting patterns, and fierce silhouettes, all of which helped him clinch victory. The fast-talking designer from Vancouver, Wash., rang us up to chat about his win — and to clear up that whole Hitler/Stalin business.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations, Seth Aaron. Has the high worn off yet?
SETH AARON HENDERSON:
Actually it hasn’t even started! [Laughs] It hits sometimes and it’s like holy s—! Then it’s gone a few minutes later. We watched [the finale] last night and I woke up this morning, the alarm went off and I was like, “S—, what do I gotta do today?” And then my wife’s all like, “Uh, it’s over. It happened last night.” And I’m like, “Yes!” I just forget. It’s totally exciting. I love doing all the media events. It’s been a real good time.

Did you have any inkling that you had a good shot of winning?
[A hugely noisy fire truck goes by on his end of the phone] I’m sorry. That’s a fire truck. Okay, well, the way I thought is, once I get on [the show], I have a great shot at winning. I’m a faithful fan, I’ve watched every episode of every season, and it’s something I knew I could do. If I could just get on, I can win this. That’s the attitude I had — not to come there to beat anybody else or I may get knocked out, who knows? But if I just do what I know I can do, I could win. And you know, as I got there, right after the first challenge, I just was in my zone. It’s what I love to do. I love to be pushed and pressured and rushed. That’s an environment I like. That’s why, I guess, I’m in the fashion industry. I couldn’t sit in a cubicle. I would go crazy. I would go nuts.

People on our message boards were rooting for you because they like your designs and because you seemed like a nice guy.
That’s ludicrous! [Laughs]

Yes, I’m sure in reality, you’re actually quite evil. Anyway, you never got involved in any of the petty backbiting that so many other designers did. Were you conscious of staying out of that?
No. I was there for a purpose. When I left my house, my wife and kids said, “Don’t worry about us.” That was my only big thing: I’m leaving them for a long time during the summer when we go do all our fun trips. That was the sacrifice they made. They said, “This is what you do, this is what you love, pursue your dream.” They gave me that support. So when I got there, I knew that [catty] stuff was going on, and I really didn’t give a damn if it was said about me or anybody else. I just look at it like, I’m confident and happy with myself. I don’t need to make someone else look bad to make myself look better. There’s just no point in it. It distracts why you’re there. You’re there to create and win. It’s not The Real World, the TV show. It’s not a bunch of college kids getting drunk and hitting each other up. It’s about someone that wants to make this their full-time career.

What have you done since winning?
I’ve just been doing media, media, media. I whipped up 15 new designs of dresses and jackets for a couple trunk shows at a boutique I sell at. But as far as creating a new collection for next season, I have not started because I have to let this play out. And now that it’s over, now I can go back, take a breather and say “Okay.” First and foremost, I need to find a manufacturer because if I can deliver the garments, they’re sold. I’ve been making ’em myself and selling them for nearly five years now. I need to get a manufacturer. I want them in New York and L.A. and my area, going out to department store, small boutiques, whatever. And then I can focus on creating collections for upcoming seasons and so on.

How are you going to use the money to invest in your future?
First of all, a nice little vacation with the family to make up for last summer. But the manufacturer’s number one, and investors, backers. $100,000 after tax — it doesn’t go far. I think [season 5 winner] Leanne Marhsall said, “Enough money was left for me to move my household from Portland to New York and set up a little design studio and now it’s gone.”

I have to ask you to explain the 1940s German/Russian military inspiration.
Someone else asked that too. It’s totally understandable. This one particular website, [someone] commented: “Shame on him for doing Nazis and shame on Lifetime for making him a winner after claiming that!” And I’m like, “Who ever claimed Nazi? What are you talking about?” I don’t have any love for the Nazi party whatsoever. No. Okay, first of all, I’ve met several German immigrants — they’re well in their 50s, their 70s — they lived there during that time. And all their stories were so fascinating because they said it was horrible, just absolutely horrible. But the one thing that was very clear is, they made a presence and even though they’re gone, people remember it.

“They”: the Nazis?
Yeah and the KGB, all them. It was about a statement. They made a statement that people didn’t forget. That’s the inspiration. It wasn’t literal with any of the actual uniforms, it wasn’t literal with any of the beliefs. I loved growing up watching all the old James Bond movies with the Russian KGB spies. It was that kind of stuff — fun memories. You say “German military,” instantly, everybody thinks Hilter or that army. Because they made a statement. May not have been a positive one, but they made one. And that’s my point, I came bold, graphic, and left an impression. That was the inspiration. It has nothing to do with f—in’ Swatiskas or anything like that. Did you see any of that in there?

No, but one EW.com reader said your red dress was a disguised Swastika.
[Sighs] Oh Jeez.

You’re right that people are automatically going to think Nazi. That’s a tricky thing to evoke.
And that’s why I made sure I said German and Russian. I was watching a movie just recently and it was based in the ’40s in Russia. The military officers’ uniforms were so detailed and tailored. They’re beautiful clothes. It’s all about the presence of the individual. My girls on the runway were there to make a very hard presence in that sense. So of course you’re gonna have crazies say this and that, but whatever. I love red and I love yellow. That’s not a crime. You gotta take risks. And some people are gonna love it and some people are gonna hate it. That’s the way it goes. [Laughs] Hopefully people will get it after they start reading it on every site. It’s like, helloooo! But a good controversy never hurt anybody.

You seemed to grow the most out of all the designers this season. What do you attribute that to? Listening to the judges and Tim? Pushing yourself? All of the above?
All of the above. This season, people only saw one level of me. I mean, I do it all. And so, I came there with this bold, mid-range of who I am and I stuck with it. I think that’s why I made it all the way till the end. I didn’t switch it all around. But I definitely did grow as a designer, from all the critiques from Tim and advice from Nina, Heidi, all of them. It definitely helped me grow, that’s the point. I didn’t want a pat on the back from any of them. I wanted them to tell me what I can I do to make myself better.

You were more open to listening than Emilio. At least, the edit he got was that he was not going to listen to Tim. Ever.
Well, yeah. And you know, doesn’t mean the edit wasn’t somewhat true. [Laughs] I wasn’t gonna do that. I mean, you’d be a fool not to listen to them. Michael said 80 percent of what you hear on the runway, you can throw away; 20 percent you can take as tools to better yourself. And it’s true.

I and at least one of my colleagues would kill to have one of your coats, so let me know when they are available.
Yeah, hopefully [at] Target soon so everybody can! That’s what I’m thinking. That would be a nice retail. That feeds the kids and I can actually work on high-end runway shows. [Laughs]

Speaking of your kids, I loved seeing them next to you on the runway. They dress so conservatively compared to you.
Yeah, they’re definitely their own people and I’m the black sheep of the family.

So their teenage rebellion will be to dress conservatively?
Yeah, exactly. Which I’m all for. I’m all like, be who you want to be. I’ve always been this way my whole life and I’ve never really changed who I am to fit in. I just haven’t.

No reason to start now.
I’m too old for that now! [Laughs]

Well, best of luck. I’ll look forward to those affordable Target lines for us poor journalists.
For everybody! I shop at Target, come on!

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