T Lo Interviews Irina Shabayeva
How was it, you know, having to keep it a secret for so long, especially being the winner?
I sort of just went back to my own world and kind of pretended it didn’t happen yet. It happened, but it didn’t happen for everyone else, so I kept it in the back of my mind.
Were you worried that this season wasn’t going to even air with all the legal issues going on? Did that bother you?
It did, because it was uncertain for a while, we didn’t know if it was even going to air. It was a little bit depressing after all this work and effort we all put into, you know, this might not even go anywhere.
That’s true, we even felt that when we attended the shows at Bryant Park. Was it tough to have to hide backstage and not be able to take credit for your collection?
It was, but you know what? At that point we were so happy that we were at least showing, everyone showed up, things were still rolling as usual. I personally wish we could have had introduced ourselves, but that was on the backburner of my mind, it didn’t really bother me that much at the moment.
Speaking of introductions, when did you tape that fake introduction?
It was taped very early when we first got there without an audience and then they added everything through the magic of television. Somehow, they made it look like we actually introduced ourselves.
Your father got very emotional when you won. Was that a cool thing to see?
Totally, he was so proud and so happy. It was definitely a very emotional moment.
Did you ever doubt you were going to win? It was clear to us when we saw the collections that you had by far the best one.
There were moments when I doubted and there were moments when I didn’t, it was sort of back and forth. The judges play so many tricks on you. They’ll say something nice and then something negative. You’re like, “Stop, messing with me, tell me like it is and let’s get this over with.” I was happy with what I presented at Bryan Park. I definitely felt that I got my point of view across. I knew it was strong, no matter what would’ve happened, I knew I had put together a strong collection.
Michael Kors was right when he said that you had the best sense of showmanship. Is that something you had in mind when you put your collection together?
Absolutely, it’s a show. Especially when it comes to Bryant Park, people want to see a show. I did keep that in mind, I definitely wanted to make it dramatic. It’s like when you go see a great movie, you want to leave with that sense that you’re taking something away from it. It leaves an impression and that’s something I definitely thought about.
One thing we noticed was that your collection was a little different than what you presented throughout the competition, was that deliberate?
Throughout the competition we get assignments that are so specific, we go to one fabric store with a very limited selection and then Heidi says to do whatever you want with $9,000 and you have a lot more time to think about what you want to do. That’s why it looks so much more polished and something that I could identify with a lot more, instead of challenge by challenge, especially in the beginning. It took a while to get used to the whole situation.
I’ve been saying all day today that I have so much more respect for every Project Runway contestant. It really takes such a brave person to do this sort of competition, to bare your soul every day and work like there’s no tomorrow and it’s intimidating standing in front of those judges under the spotlight, whether it’s good or bad criticism, it’s still intimidating.
You were very brave to disagree with Nina on the “too much black” issue, considering that she was one of the judges.
I’ve been a little rebellious all my life, I always do what I want to do, but this was for a good reason. It kind of evolved into being mostly a black collection because it was such a play on texture and leathers and the knits…I felt that adding color would take away from all the craftsmanship. I didn’t think it needed color.
That didn’t bother us. The knits were fantastic. Did you do them yourself?
I did with the help of one my favorite teachers at Parsons. She actually taught me how to knit and crochet, well, most of the crochet I forgot. That was the last extra thing she taught me. I made up all the patterns, knitted them in pieces, I would have a question with the stitch and then she would show me how to decrease and all these things I had forgotten since school and I needed a little bit of guidance.
We have a lot of readers who knit or crochet and they were so excited to see so much of that among the Season 6 designers. Is that a craft you always keep in mind when designing a collection?
I do. I’ve always loved knitwear. One of the things that was strong when I graduated is that I had a very strong knitwear portfolio. I sold a lot of knit swatches to people for inspiration, so that was a big thing, and I knew that was going to be one of the things I was going to really focus on. I don’t know if you guys could see it, but some of the pieces had so many different combinations of knit, they were really detailed, it was a lot work.
You said that your inspiration was Coney Island, but we also saw a lot of military, warrior influences.
It fell a little bit into that, but that wasn’t the focus, I didn’t want a military collection. I wanted a collection that is about NY, inspired by NY, feeling vulnerable, sort of what it takes to survive as a woman and still feel fragile and also tough; it’s OK to be both.
The felt hats were gorgeous.
I knew I wanted headwear, I love accessories, handbags, hats, shoes…they always make an outfit. I’m sort of an accessories addict. I wanted hats, but I always sure about the style of the hats and I couldn’t find anything in the market that I really liked so I decided to look for patterns, I ordered some supplies online, the chemicals…and I said, you know what? I’m going to give it a try, see what happens. I made one; it’s almost like sculpting, the chemicals make the felt really hard. It’s really great; the whole process is like the traditional way of making hats. Then I made another one and got all excited about it and kept making them, before knew it I had 6, 7 hats. They’re the same, slightly different.
The slashed pants were also hot.
Thank you, those took forever because the metallic matched the black and they had to be appliquéd by hand and then sewn on. It was definitely a very meticulous collection. It required a lot of hand sewing.
The t-shirts had this interesting technique. What was it?
I love play with chemicals. I love figuring out how to change fabrics. The technique is a burnout technique. You have to buy very specific jersey that has just the right amount of cotton and synthetics in it for this burnout to work and it needs to be done at least five times because the chemical is so strong, it would eat right through the t-shirt. The grey one in particular, I had to do it several times because the fabric would just melt with the chemical. You basically apply the chemical, you let it dry, you iron it over and it turns into this brownish yellow, you wash it by hand very delicately and it basically peels off a layer of the fabric. The clouds, for example, that’s the under layer of the material.
Was it hard to get that phone call from Tim and hear him saying that you had to rethink the whole thing because of copyright issues?
It was tough because I wasn’t sure. That was my first go at t-shirts, so I didn’t know the rules and regulations. You see t-shirts in the market and they always have iconic images. With the Coney Island images; that would’ve been OK to use had Lifetime paid for them. I got the image from a vintage postcard from the 60s or 70s and added my own graphic twist to it. It wasn’t straight from the postcard. It was manipulated enough that it was my own image, but they still had to pay for it and that’s something they didn’t want to do. I ended up having to scrap that.
Now for your new idea you did use lines from the NY magazine article “Reasons to Love NY 2008.” Wouldn’t that be copyright infringement as well?
Yes, I did use them, but those were actually from – the funny thing is when I was working on it, I said, “Wow, this is serendipity.” I got that article and it wasn’t like one author. They interviewed random New Yorkers; a chef, a messenger…you know, like people you see every day in New York City and they said their favorite things about New York. I did include one of my own lines, which was “Because it loves me back.” I thought what better than just sort of throw all that in there because this is New York, all these different opinions. Everyone experiences the city so differently.
We think the issue with our readers, and the viewers of the show, is that you never brought that up as your source of inspiration. We never heard you saying something like “I was reading this article…” That never came up.
Because it was all edited out, so many things were edited out; so many nice things were edited out, interactions with each other, but you know, that’s their right to edit it the way they want to.
Did it bother you to get the Meana Irina editing?
It didn’t. I thought it was kind of comical at first. Listen, it’s a show, it has to be fun, it has to be creative. It didn’t bother me. I was pretty assertive on the show. In real life I’m not as blunt, the stress and the exhaustion does that to you, you tend to not beat around the bush.
We were loving it; at least some excitement.
I saw it, I got Miss Congeniality quite a few times [laughs].
So, what’s next for Irina?
As soon as I’m done with the festivities, I’m going to dive right into creating fall 2010 and I’ll be showing in New York Fashion Week. I’m really hoping to grow my brand, maybe home and other areas. I’m definitely going to get a show room in the near future and even a store.
Fantastic! You’re very talented and we wish you good luck. Thank you so much, Irina.
Thank YOU guys.