SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers from Thursday’s finale of Project Runway. Read at your own risk!
Project Runway season 14 came to a close on Thursday with four very distinct New York Fashion Week collections. (For the full episode rundown, read our recap.) The judges clearly had a tough decision this season, but only one winner could be crowned: In this case, it was Ashley Nell Tipton, the first Project Runway designer to show a plus-size collection in the finale. Here, she talks with EW about her collection inspiration, what she learned from being on the reality show, and how she made Project Runway history.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First of all, congratulations! When they announced you as winner, what was your initial reaction?
ASHLEY NELL TIPTON: Well, first, hearing that Kelly went home, I was like, “Oh my gosh — does that mean I’m the winner? Okay, Ashley, don’t freak out. Don’t freak out.” And then I had to wait until Heidi came up to me and said, “Ashley, you’re the winner.” I was just like, “Are you guys kidding me right now? This is the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me, and I can’t believe that you guys are naming me the winner.”
And now that you’ve had a little time for it to sink in?
It feels amazing to be able to share it with the world. I can’t even look at my phone to see how many text messages and emails people have been sending me over the past 12 hours.
Going into the show, who did you feel was your biggest competition?
Myself. … I did say in my first interview that I thought Duncan was my biggest competition and after he left [in the first challenge], it just gave me perspective on how this show goes: Anybody could go home. At that point I thought I needed to keep myself going and try to find that confidence.
There certainly is a confidence in your final collection! How did it feel to be the first designer to show a plus-size collection for Project Runway?
It’s so amazing to be able to hold that title. I mean I always wanted to [show a plus-size collection], but I never thought this is the way it would happen. I thought I would have to jump so many more hurdles, but I think I jumped enough doing Project Runway. [Laughs] It’s just the most amazing feeling ever to be able to go to New York Fashion Week and have your collection go down and to have Project Runway, the judges, and our mentor be so supportive of me to create a plus-size collection.
Did you feel any additional pressure because you were the first to do a plus-size collection for the show?
I definitely felt pressure because I needed to prove to the judges that what I do is the perfect fit for me. You know how some people say they specialize in something, but they don’t do it very well? I wanted to prove to them that this is my niche and I can perfect it, that this is what I do. In the makeover challenge, I really didn’t show that, and I needed to make up for it.
I think the judges would agree that you did make up for that. Speaking of judges and your collection, your floral headpieces were probably the most controversial part of your collection when you presented the three-look preview. You wanted them on all the models; what made you decide to use less of them?
Heidi really loved the headpieces, and she wanted them on every model. But Zac and Nina asked what was more important — was it the clothing or the headpieces? I knew the clothing was the main thing. Zac had a great idea of maybe not doing the first couple, but the remaining have headpieces. I thought that was a perfect idea.
Let’s talk about your other final collection decision: pastels. You were so good with prints throughout the season, what made you go with pastels?
I always love pastels. Especially because we were creating a collection for spring/summer 2016, I wanted this collection to reflect who I am as a person, my personal style, and what it is I’m trying to send as my message to the world. In the beginning of creating this collection, I was buying my fabrics and I couldn’t see colors … I couldn’t see what colors I wanted to use, so I was just buying white material. I was like, “There is a reason why I’m just buying white right now: Because I can dye this, and I can make this collection the way I want; I can dye this fabric the way I want.” Finding my inspiration for this collection and then knowing that I wanted to use pastels just worked out.
What did you learn from Project Runway?
I learned a lot about myself from being there. I didn’t learn a lot watching myself on TV, [but I did] going through this whole experience. It made me such a stronger and better person, and I’m walking out of it with so much more confidence — knowing that I am a strong and very talented designer.
So what’s next for you?
I relaunched my website yesterday. We don’t have a store yet, but I’m letting everyone know more about me, who I am, and my journey on Project Runway. … We’re in the beginning stages of negotiating deals with big-name companies right now. There’s going to be a lot of Ashley in the next couple months; nothing is going to die down from here. It’s only up from here.