Season 8 of Project Runway started off with plenty of surprises including the shortest challenge ever and the most disappointing first elimination yet. Somehow, a cute blue dress with a fun bubble skirt sent McKell Maddox home while a backwards kimono with staples kept Jason in the competition. I was able to chat with McKell about her time on Project Runway, her feelings towards Jason's outfit and what's next for this Utah-based designer.
FMF: Tells about your design aesthetic.
McKell: My main focus is to make women feel beautiful. I love to tailor. I love to just kind of, you know, make something that just fits over a woman's body and hides all the things that they may not like but really enhance the things that they love about themselves. I just really want women to feel beautiful when they put my clothes on.
FMF: Did you feel you were able to show your point of view as a designer in the first challenge?
McKell: [Launghs]. Absolutely not. I don't think anyone got even a glimpse of what it is that I'm about and what I do. So, no.
FMF: It was the shortest challenge in Project Runway history. How did you approach making a garment in five hours? How quickly do you typically work?
McKell: I work fairly fast. I would say as an artist you're forever working on things so deadlines are probably the best thing for me, but as far as the amount of time and what my strategy was—I was definitely playing it safe. I wanted to do something that I felt would represent me in some ways and then just really to be able to complete what I was doing. So, that was really what was important to me—was to send something down the runway that was finished.
FMF: The judges complained about the fit of the top of your dress. Did you get to do a fitting on the models before the dress was finished? How did you feel about the fit?
McKell: I was able to do a fitting, and, you know, like we said, five hours is not a ton of time. When I saw it on the model I thought, “Oh, you know, [the side cleavage is] a little steep.” At the same time, I felt like it's not something that is so crazy and such as big deal that it would get me kicked off, but I guess, you know. . . After hearing what Tim said to me as well, I think we were both feeling like it was safe, it was cute and it would get me through to the next round. So, I was definitely just really confused with that, but five hours isn't much time.
FMF: The judges attacked your styling choices. Why did you make those choices? And do you stand by them?
McKell: I stand by my purse. The reason why I chose the purse was because of the color, and I like the contrast with the blue and the fuchsia pink color. I just felt like that's something I do a lot of as far as the contrast of color. I could have done a smaller bag, which to me, it doesn't seem like it's that big of a deal. The shoes, I probably would have picked different shoes. Other than that, the hair and makeup I felt like it wasn't anything that was that crazy and off the wall that it warranted the mean comments that were thrown in my direction.
FMF: How much time are you given to style your models and choose their hair and makeup? How much help do the hair and makeup people give you?
McKell: I think maybe if I would have asked for a little more help from the hair and makeup people, they probably would have given it to me. I just felt like the concept I was going for I had it pretty much how I wanted it done, and I think that they accomplished that for me beautifully. And then as far as the styling choices, it was just the first challenge so I think a lot of it for me was like, “OK, first I gotta get the garment done and then I'll work on the styling.” I think if I would have got to the second challenge I would have really focused a lot more of my efforts in spending more time with my styling and just perceiving it all before it all happens. I think where it was the first challenge, I didn't know what to expect and it was all so new and scary and all these things that I know I would have done it differently the second go around, but I think it was fine for the first time. We were all learning.
FMF: As you were working on the first challenge, did you have time to look around at what others were doing? How did you think you would rank as you looked at the other designs?
McKell: I was looking around at the people that were closest to me because you're hearing the huffs and puffs of everybody and everyone's freaking out. I did look around and there were I few that I was like, “OK. I'm going to get by. This isn't some crazy outfit that the judges are going to hate.” I felt like I was going to be doing OK just by what was going on around me.
FMF: What was your favorite design (besides your own)?
McKell: I think Michael D. He was the one that got my shirt and I think that he really did a great job with it, and it was probably one of my favorites.
FMF: The FMF readers and I were outraged to see you go home so early. Did you feel the judges were unfair to send you home so soon? What did you think when Heidi said you were aught?
McKell: Yeah. I was just totally confused at that point. I just really kind of felt like it was a personal attack on me because my styling aside—and I understand even if they didn't like my dress—I felt like I did the challenge. I did what was asked of me. I met all of the criteria that was put out, and to have, Jason, who didn't even sew, who was stapling his garment it appalled me, and I was extremely just disappointed. And I truly felt like I was from a different universe. I think Micahel Kors hit it right on the head [when he said I was from a different universe] because I just didn't get it.
FMF: What was it like meeting Tim Gunn?
McKell: Meeting Tim Gunn. That was definitely the highlight of whole experience for me because I've been an avid watcher of Project Runway. I've been in love with him. I think he's just such a phenomenal person and then to meet him and have him be exactly what I expected—it was a really, really cool experience.
FMF: Was he helpful with his critiques in the work room?
McKell: I thought they were. And I think Tim was also just as surprised as I was by just the cruel bashing that went on with me. It was really confusing I think for both of us. I think what Tim says—it is extremely important to listen to those things because he knows what he's talking about. And he is very helpful. I would have listened to him again if I stayed there. His word is like gold to me.
FMF: Tim was also shocked to see you go. Did that bring you any comfort as you left?
McKell: Yeah, absolutely. I was feeling extremely defeated after that point and questioning myself and what I've been doing for the last ten years of my life. Then to have him say the kind things that he did say to me as I was leaving... it definitely helped me keep my chin up and realize this was just one bump in the road, and life will go on.
FMF: Have you been following the show since you left?
McKell: Yes. I actually just barely watched the second episode and it just reopened that wound for me to see Jason on there and the safety pins. It really made me want to throw up in my mouth. I was pretty disgusted.
FMF: How did you feel about the eliminations in Episode 2?
McKell: I honestly felt like Nicolas didn't deserve to go home. I think there were a couple things to work on, you know, grow, but I think he did a fairly good job. I think it was pretty unfair to send him home. I didn't think that he deserved that. Jason. It was like “Oh my god it's about time.” I can't even believe he made it on the show. I don't know him as a person, but as a designer, I think it's just a bash to all the other designers out there who tried out the show [that he made it on]. I'm just extremely disappointed in the whole Jason situation.
FMF: What made you become a fashion designer and why do you love fashion?
McKell: Oh! I love fashion and the art of it and just the beauty that you get from it and the way you feel when you put on that favorite t-shirt or your favorite jeans there's just something about it that just feels so comfortable. It can really just change the feeling that you're feeling inside. That's a lot of why I love fashion so much. It has been a part of my life ever since I can remember. I just remember going shopping with my mom as a little girl and loving all of it. Loving cutting up my clothes and painting on them and just having fun with it.
FMF: What inspires you as a designer?
McKell: Everything really inspires me. I constantly just have my eyes open to everything that's around me. I really pull from what's happening in my life. And I would say nature is a big thing for me because its so beautiful and it just kind of happens. It falls together so perfectly.
FMF: What is your training background?
McKell: I went to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and that was the first time I learned how to sew. I didn't sew. My mom didn't have a sewing machine that she could teach me with so that was where it really all started for me was in college. Then I won an internship with Jeremy Scott, which was one of the most amazing experiences because he is just truly a gracious, just loving human being. You don't get a lot of that in the fashion world. It's just meant to be so bitchy and catty, but he was such an amazing person to start this career with so I feel extremely blessed by that.
FMF: What advice to you have for aspiring fashion designers?
McKell: My advice would be just to stay true to yourself and love what you do and be proud of it, and never stop learning because it is one of those trades that is endless. You can always learn, and you can always grow, and it's a really fun and exciting constantly changing industry. As long as you're learning and growing, you're going to do great.
FMF: What do you wish viewers could have seen from you before you left Project Runway?
Mckell: I would say, my tailoring and my attention to detail. I think that's something that I'm really strong at that I really think a lot of people missed out on, but I'm still here, and I'm still designing, and I'm still making beautiful clothes. Hopefully they will keep in touch with me and see what I do.
FMF: What's next for you? What are your plans for the immediate future?
McKell: My plan for the immediate future is to put out a line and just continuing doing what I love to do and following this dream that I have.
FMF: We can't wait to see more from you. Do you have a website we can watch for updates?
McKell: It's www.McKellMaddox.com and there's also FiceGallery.com.
We hope to see a lot more from McKell in the future. Visit her website to see some her work. I'm excited to see what comes next.