Fashion Fridays: Manicures + An Interview with Project Runway’s Samantha Black

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Project Runway Sammy B

LU: You had some security and did things on the traditional route.

SB: After working for higher end designers like Michael Kors, McQueen and Jill Stuart, I was like I don’t really love the higher end of it all.  I freelanced for Aeropostale a little bit after Michael Kors and it was fun. It wasn’t so mean. I was like ok, this is the route I kind of think I like. When I got back to the States they were hiring for their new company and I worked there until they closed the division. I had started doing fashion shows at colleges, just to do some fun things, because it was like denim was cool and I was learning a lot but it wasn’t all that creative. When the company closed I got a really good severance package—I got paid for a couple of months as if I was working—so I was like I’m going to work on my own line.

LU: That’s like one of those moments. If you had worked for a company that didn’t shut down, maybe you’d be making jeans right now instead.

SB: I don’t think I would have ventured off and done my own thing. I started speaking to some people that I knew from Jamaica that were models, and they were like you should come. Jamaica does Fashion Week with the two modeling agencies. Pulse does Caribbean Fashion Week [and]  Saint International does Style Week Jamaica. I did Jamaica Fashion Week in May [2009]. Me and my brother were like lets visit family and I’ll do the show. And I met a bunch of people there. When I came back to the States, the company that did PR is based in New York, so I bumped into them at an event. They actually did PR for Ashanti and other people so they started pulling my clothes for photoshoots for their artists. Then I went to a party [for] my friend Damon, he used to style Kelis. Someone who was there told me she loved my dress and when I told her I made it, she was like I have to introduce you to my friend, she’s a stylist. We exchanged contact information and she e-mailed me to say I’m about to start working with Keri Hilson, I think she’d be great for your clothes. Her first appearance on 106 and Park,  she ended up choosing my stuff out of the whole rack and I worked with Keri and her stylist Kim a lot after that. My stuff kept ending up in her videos. She wore my dress to the American Music Awards red carpet and to present, and then they flew me out to Cali to do VH1 Divas and I did a custom jacket for her.

My friend Damon, who’s besties with Kelis, was like she’s going on tour, I think this would be a good opportunity, do some tour outfits for her. Once people see you do something, they’re like oh I want to work with her. This whole time, I’m trying out for Project Runway. I was a finalist three times in a row. The producers have the final say on the absolute last people. They have to pick their characters. Finally, I got the call and then I get there and they’re like it’s season of teams and I’m like F this. I’m getting punked. Can I just be on a normal season? It was hard for me because with teams you have to please your teammates. I didn’t mind. I actually handled it well, working with a team, I was very helpful for a lot of my teammates but it’s trickier. Something about it just didn’t mesh well with me, I didn’t love it. I never loved the whole team aspect.

Project Runway Sammy B

LU: One of my favorite moments from this season is the episode with the flower challenge, when you won. I think Leyana or someone, the day of the runway show, was questioning you and checking to see if you’ll be good. And you [said]  “I know what I have to do, I’m going to get my shit done. Don’t worry about me.” You weren’t nasty, you were just very calm about it.

SB: Yes. Homegirl, please do not dream about my stuff. I got this. That was the first challenge where they gave us two days. It kind of sucked that they gave us a lot of one-day challenges because you don’t really have the time to think about it or come back to it. And that’s how I work. I’ll work on stuff and I’ll change things. With that, if you try to change things you can run out of time and not be able to finish. So it’s like let me try and make this horrible thing happen. Mine looked so different from everyone else’s on the team. Everyone’s is so feminine, all these flowers, and mine is metal. I was spiraling because I was so caught up with the fact that mine looked different from everyone’s but that is also what made me win. The fact that it actually stood out from my team’s. It’s a mind game. You try to please these judges because every week their opinion changes and it’s like, “what are they going to think this week?” I spend a lot of time choosing my fabrics when I design. We only get thirty minutes to sketch and choose fabric so for me, it was hard doing that.

LU: As far as I could see, before Project Runway you were already doing really well. So how come you felt like you still wanted that experience?

SB: Honestly, I almost didn’t try out [this last time] because I was like I don’t need Project Runway anymore. I’m on my own little path. My brother and my roommate were like you should just try out one more time. I wasn’t going to at all and then I was like fine let me just do it and then of course, that’s when they call me back. I was like alright, if I’m doing this, why am I doing it? And I was doing it mainly to branch out to a new audience and I figured it can’t hurt to get a new audience, meet some new people. Maybe Nina Garcia would never know who Samantha Black was. Now she knows. You know what I’m saying? You know, it’s worldwide now. Even though not as many people watch Project Runway like they used to, still, you never know who is watching, or who a guest judge is going to be.

LU: I read you talk in interviews about being a black woman and the struggle of not being labeled an urban designer. Maybe one reason Project Runway could help is with that.

SB: Definitely. That’s why I was like well let me find some new people to be interested in. Because I have been with music videos and artists and things like that, but maybe now I might have some actors and actresses interested. My clothing is definitely funkier than most. It’s not for everyone but that doesn’t automatically make me an urban designer, you know what I’m saying? It’s just really annoying. I figured why not take the opportunity to be more, and have some more exposure.

LU: Could describe what your aesthetic is, in your own words?

SB: I say my aesthetic is feminine with an eclectic edge. And I say that because everything that I do has a feminine aspect to it. Whether it’s  body conscious or just making the woman feel very feminine or sassy or sexual, sensual all those things, I feel like I have that in what I do always. I also add an artistic edge. I like to add things like this braiding detail. You know, when chain became so popular? I was trying to do chain but with fabric and so that’s how the braiding came from, because it kinda looked like chain to me, and then it just kind of became its own thing. I do things like that that become kind of 3D. I like to work with a lot of shapes, prints and patterns. I like funky things. And I just add that into what I do day in and day out.

Read on for Part 3, as Samantha talks dancehall, and how being Jamaican and West Indian influences her style.