We've all seen how the Project Runway story usually plays out, and it ain't always pretty: With the exception of Season 4 winner Christian Siriano, the majority of contestants have quietly faded into fashion obscurity, occasionally emerging for another shot at the win (so to speak) on All Stars.
But such has not been the case for Season 2 runner-up and fan fav Daniel Vosovic. Sure, he's been quiet alright since his untimely aufing--quietly plotting his return to the fashion scene as a fabulous, legitimate designer and businessman! Last year, Vosovic was one of the lucky fledgling designers chosen for the CFDA Fashion Incubator, where he was assigned mentors to help foster his talent and grow a sustainable brand--where he recently completed his first quarter of the two-year program.
And so far, so good: With celebrity endorsements from perennial best dressed lister Emma Stone and Downton Abbey actress Elizabeth McGovern, and 23 international stores now carrying his eponymous New York-based line, it feels safe to say that 2013 just might be the year of Daniel Vosovic. We chatted with the unbelievably pleasant and optimistic 31-year-old (who really is as likable as he seemed on TV) about making it as a young designer in the reality of a post-reality show world.
Fashionista: Hi! So obviously I have to start off by asking you about Project Runway... Can you walk us through your decision to appear on the show? DV: Absolutely. Well I was on the show about 7-and-a-half years ago, right after I graduated from FIT. I was 24 years old, I was very, very naïve. It was essentially my first job. And it was a huge opportunity for me because, like all of my peers, we were all looking to jump into the grind. So when I got onto the show, it was about, well, let's make the most of it. I didn't have a job to leave, I didn't have a name in the industry yet, so to me, I really had nothing to lose.
Fashionista: What do you think about other designers, like Christian Siriano, who seem to want to really downplay their affiliation with Project Runway after their seasons? DV: I think anyone who goes on a show like that or does anything as high profile needs to understand that it's not the final destination--being on the show will not make your career. It certainly will give you press and exposure, but it doesn't give you a business. So for all of us who have legitimate businesses since the show, we recognize that it's an amazing opportunity to get to have our own line at such a young age and all of those things, but because fashion moves so fast [and we were on the show a few years ago] it's no longer as relevant. Like, yeah, it happened, but if I'm still using that to open doors, that's a problem. So in regards to what other contestants are doing, I feel like there's been so many other stepping stones along the way that I can understand the hesitation to keep intro-ing with [Project Runway].
Fashionista: Did you experience any post-season fame depression? DV: At that time, being 24, and having this sort of whirlwind six months and all the things that came with it, if I didn't step up right away and have a plan, I'm sure I would've felt very lost and all of the negativity that comes with that. I had a really great group of mentors, a really solid family, and I had to make a decision fast: Do I grab onto this shooting star of fame and try riding this into a legitimate long-standing career? I didn't have the experience to run a company. So when I decided to step back from all of that, I said, you know what, it was a great sort of 15 minutes of TV fame, but my 15 minutes as a designer? I'm in the first second of that. I haven't even started my first millisecond of my career's 15 minutes. So I decided to step back and choose a different route from other contestants. I went back into the grind, I worked as an assistant designer, I worked as creative directors, I picked up these small companies, and that's really where my focus was: Choosing to step back from all that at a time, so that I could build my foundation stronger and for the long term.
Fashionista: You were recently accepted into the CFDA Incubator Program. Deets please.
Fashionista: You were recently accepted into the CFDA Incubator Program. Deets please. DV: I'm so, so grateful, I can't even tell you. It's a huge opportunity, it's insane. In an analogy, before, I felt like I was singing a really good song to an auditorium filled with friends and family. Now that I have the CFDA on my forehead, I'm singing the same song--it might be a little more finely tuned--but now the auditorium is starting to fill with people who can really make a difference in my career. So that's how I sort of equate this. Like, Daniel, stay focused, keep the vision the same, keep the point of view strong, and basically just keep going, because now I have a wider set of resources.
Fashionista: It sounds like a huge relief! DV: Definitely. I've probably gotten $50,000 of free consulting, it's amazing. And the mentors are so generous and giving. If you're like, let's do this, they're right there with you. We literally got 23 new stores in one season. I mean that's huge. The program goes for four six-month terms. Each term, as an individual business owner, I choose whatever focus I want to focus on. So it could be anything from, hey CFDA, I'm having trouble with branding. I'm having trouble with production. I'm having a trademark issue in China. I want to open my first store in SoHo. Whatever it is in the scope of business, they'll team you with four to five mentors who are experts within that field.
Fashionista: Has it been a challenge standing out in the industry as a young designer? DV: You know, there's just so much shit in the industry. There's 300 shows in New York, and there's so many press releases that go out and there's so many red carpet events and everyone is considered a celebrity nowadays—I mean, you know! It's insane, that's the only word. INSANE. So, here I am, I love what I do, I love my clothes, and I'm trying to dress what we internally have dubbed the 'whiskey-drinking perfectionist.' A cool tomboy who can roll with the boys but always looks put together. For us, it was just about continuing to find her at every level: The customer level, the celebrity level, and that's tricky because so many celebs nowadays don't have personal style, their stylists have personal style. And that's not something we've ever chased, dressing a celebrity just for the sake of dressing a celebrity. We're always about relationships.
Fashionista: Let's talk Emma Stone--she's been a big fan, which is obviously huge for you. How did this happen? Was it a surprise to you? Did she just start wearing your stuff or...?
Fashionista: Let's talk Emma Stone--she's been a big fan, which is obviously huge for you. How did this happen? Was it a surprise to you? Did she just start wearing your stuff or...? DV: Love her! It happened through genuine interaction. Long story short, Emma's stylist Petra Flannery's assistant was a friend of a friend. She thought our collection was great. So last season, Emma ended up wearing two outfits to smaller press lunches, and I heard through the grapevine that she really liked my stuff and so Petra reached out to us to dress her for this upcoming event [the launch of Revlon's Nearly Naked]. I've learned that trying to build genuine relationships with everyone at every level in this industry has proven to be more successful for me than trying to dress a Real Housewife. It's just not why I wake up in the morning, and it's certainly not why I work 15 hour days. I do it because I want the people who are wearing my stuff to love it.
Fashionista: Any other starlets popping up in your repertoire? DV: Just last week we dressed Elizabeth McGovern--we're huge Downton fans here at Daniel Vosovic. Last season, my friend was doing hair and makeup for her new movie, and he suggested I bring over a few outfits and see if [McGovern] likes anything. She ends up choosing like three or four outfits for all these events over the weekend, and as she's leaving, she calls me and says “Daniel, I'd actually really love to get three of the dresses.” And I'm like, well those are original samples, so I can't just give them to her... And she's like "Oh no, no--I want to BUY them!" And I'm like, "but they're not even produced yet!" And she's like "I know." So in the back of my head, I'm like, shit. Sometimes when you have celebrities at that level, they just assume that they're gonna get it for free, and I'm wanting her to understand that while I'm obviously very appreciative of her exposure, I also need them for production because they're originals. So she's like “I'll pay full price for them!” and hands me a credit card, and I'm like, "but I didn't even tell you how much they are!", and she's like, “You make me feel confident, you make me feel sexy." She's like “I LOVE these garments.” And so she ended up just buying three dresses full price! Literally out of my hands."
Wow that's amazing. DV: She's been such a big fan. She was in town last week to promote Downton's third season, and she's like “DV, I need some stuff. You, me, like you're speaking my language here so let's make stuff work," and she ended up wearing this beautiful red suede and white fitted top with these sort of slouchy trousers on The View, and then she wore something of mine for Good Morning America. I just love the fact that I have someone like Elizabeth McGovern who is 50, and Emma Stone who is 24--both of them represent who I dress. I just think that's awesome. It's like a young sensibility, regardless of age, regardless of body type. It's badass girls who are doing what they're doing, with a smile on their face, and I LOVE that. That's who I dress. That's who keeps me excited. And I love that we span the ages.