Andy South / Before you could say, “auf wiedersehen,” Hawaii’s own Andy South, local contestant on the upcoming season of Project Runway, was saying, “aloha” and heading to the Big Apple. South’s journey from Waianae to New York City is a Cinderella story in the making…only he’s designing the dress before midnight. We caught up with him to chat about making the cut, the fierce competition and the Asian invasion.
Where are you right now?
I’m at home, in Hawaii.
After someone competes on Project Runway in New York City, what’s the first thing they do when they get back to Hawaii?
I went to dinner with my mom, my sister and my best friends. Something very laid back, where I could finally center myself now that I’m home.
You’re originally from Waianae and Waipahu. What’s it like growing up there wanting to be a designer?
I was always seen as having the “creative thing,” being the artsy one, a little weird at times, but that’s how it is. Growing up in Waianae was very different. People probably think it’s tough, but it never stopped my dreams. Once I left though, I realized how being from [Waianae] helped me grow and build my character and I’m really proud now.
When did you start designing?
I started designing my junior year of high school, but I was more into dance. As far as real design, I didn’t start until college.
And who encouraged you to audition for PR?
A lot of friends, photographers and models I’ve worked with. They always told me to audition and the first and last time I did was two years ago. Ever since then, they would keep asking, “Are you going to do it again?” So, I tried again.
On the show, when you see your designs coming down the runway, not to mention in front of Heidi Klum, Michael Kors, and Nina Garcia, how does that feel?
It was really surreal. I remember our first runway show, you kind of realize, wow, Michael is really there, Heidi is really there and we’re really here. For me, that feeling never fully settled until later: how huge it was being a part of PR.
You used to work as a sales associate at Michael Kors.
(Laughs) Yes. It’s strange how it goes full circle.
Did you ever look at other contestants on the show and think, “My dress can destroy your dress?” In other words, do you thrive on the competition?
I can be a competitive person, but that’s just the Asian influence in me, to be the best at everything. I’m also soft-spoken and quiet, since I’m never one to boast that I’m going to win, although of course, I hope to; again, my Asian upbringing. For me, the real competition was with myself. The reality of every challenge was to be true to myself, and that’s all you can do to make an impact.
At 23, you’re relatively young. You’re the second youngest contestant this season. Were you intimidated?
I don’t know if I was intimidated because I went in knowing I could compete. I felt like a strong competitor in this fruit salad of people. The cast is filled with so many different characters, so it wasn’t so much intimidation, it’s just when you first meet people, you don’t know what they’re capable of yet.
You consider one of your weaknesses to be the tendency to constantly change your designs.
What I learned from the show is to commit to something. At home I can edit as I go, but on the show, while on the constant time limit you’re given, you have no choice but to commit.
Is there anyone in the fashion world who you particularly look up to or identify with?
Asian designers like Yohji Yamamoto and Junya Watanabe. I feel like I understand their aesthetic and vice-versa. They’re people I can relate to because of my background.
Describe your design sensibility.
It’s definitely more avant-garde. I have a background in theater and dance. I’m definitely the dramatic one, the theatrical one who wants to set himself apart.
You list rice patty workers, Chinese lanterns and bamboo fields as inspirations. Do you find Asian culture and nature to be a constant theme in your collections?
Well, this is because I was always a mama’s boy. Meaning she’s always been involved with her immediate community and maintaining that culture, to be knowledgeable of ourselves, that really keys into my design aesthetic. Also, I love the story between clothes and culture, especially in Asia. For them, fashion is function. You see it in remote mountain tribes where they’re wearing perfectly designed clothing because it needs to be, yet it’s still beautiful artistically.
On the PR website, you give a tour of your home: dresses hanging on the walls, rooms full of fabrics, stocked with sewing machines, you even have buckets outside where you do all your own custom dying. How long have you been working out of this fashion plantation in Waipahu?
I was working like that for two years. Designing had become everything I did, but there was a time before that when I was working out of a tent…until it fell apart. (Laughs) I’ve had to sleep on my cutting table before because of the lack of space.
You wear a lot of black, and dramatically so. Growing up in Hawaii, how do you navigate owning a polarizing sense of style?
It’s normal for me. That’s how I’ve been dressing recently and I’m very comfortable in that. There are times when I’m gawked (at), but definitely the people I hang out with embrace it.
In general, how has Hawaii influenced your designs?
Mixed cultures, Asian cultures in particular. Being from Hawaii, it’s such a melting pot, you can’t help it. If I moved to New York, I ask myself, “Would I be able to sustain myself creatively if I draw so much from home?” It’s something I still ask myself.
What do you think is lacking in the fashion scene here in Hawaii?
Nothing in particular. I think it’s just the willingness to embrace a lot. It’s not really “lacking,” it’s just we’re so comfortable here. Hawaii has a very casual lifestyle. An energy unique to itself; it’s beyond fashion, but there’s definitely a movement. Look at the Chinatown art scene. There’s something going on there.
Do you design with a specific woman in mind? Who’s the Andy South customer?
She lives in my mind, the Andy South woman. She’s really strong, with a strong aesthetic and edgy. She travels the world, she takes little things from everywhere she goes and incorporates it into her wardrobe with a specific love for culture, incorporating everything into a Western fashion perspective.