More than 50 shades

An interview with designer Sebastian Grey

The road to Bravo’s “Project Runway” hasn’t been as glamorous as you might think for fan-favorite contestant Sebastian Grey. He gave up a career in Colombia and arrived in the United States where he worked as a housekeeper in a hotel. Something good did come of that; it’s where he met his husband Matthew. Additionally, he applied to compete on “Project Runway,” where his sewing skills, solid work ethic and talent landed him a spot in the final four. Fort Lauderdale resident Grey was kind enough to answer a few questions in advance of the Season 17 finale.

Gregg Shapiro: Sebastian, when did you first become interested in fashion?

Sebastian Grey: I first became interested in fashion when I was probably 14. I was in a professional ballet school. I graduated as a professional ballet dancer. When I was in school, I was watching how they produced the outfits for the plays, how they communicated so many things with the outfits. I thought it was super cool. Maybe this could be my new career. I was always going to the factory where they were producing the costumes, and I was always helping them, especially with the tutus. (I was) learning how they kept everything in place. That was my first introduction to fashion and how to make clothes.

GS: Were you a fan of “Project Runway” before you became one of the contestants?

SG: I was not a crazy fan. I watched it a couple of times in Colombia with my mom. Sometimes she’d say, “You are going to be on there!” I’d say, “Oh, mom. That’s the United States. We live in Colombia. That’s never going to happen!” And here I am! Final four!

GS: Your mom is a big supporter of yours?

SG: She always supported my career. My dad, too. They were always super supportive, even with being gay. They were super-open with everything. It was never an issue for them.

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GS: What does it mean to you to be on “Project Runway?”

SG: It was one of the craziest experiences. It’s amazing! I guess this year the platform evolved towards more real fashion. Because they have the CFDA, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and they are building real designers. This year, for me, they were more concerned with knowing more about the designer and being able to showcase that to the world.

GS: You were there at just the right time.

SG: I guess it was the right time.

GS: What was your favorite challenge this season?

SG: It’s difficult (to choose). I learned something different from all of the challenges. Maybe the “Unconventional (Challenge)” because it was in the woods, and we were sleeping and eating there. It was fun.

GS: What was your least favorite challenge?

SG: Yes! My least favorite, the one I didn’t enjoy at all, was the “Elton John Challenge.” I struggled a lot!

GS: How much do you think your strong sewing skills contributed to your success on “Project Runway?”

SG: I think that’s very important, especially for “Project Runway.” We have to be able to do everything. Having good sewing skills is going to help because you’ll be able to finish everything quicker, and if something goes wrong, you can change it faster.

GS: And it will look better, it will look finished.

SG: Yes, because they are judging you based on that. How it looks, how it’s finished, the design, the construction and the idea.

GS: This season of “Project Runway” featured contestants with big personalities, such as Hester and Kovid. As someone who is quieter and more reserved, what do you think of the way everyone was represented?

SG: I think you learn to behave yourself. Yes, I’m a little crazy sometimes, but when it comes to my work, I’m extremely focused.

GS: That’s admirable, because sometimes the bigger personalities get more attention.

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SG: For me, it was not about the personality. It’s about your work. Let that speak for you and make the noise.

GS: What do you think of Christian Siriano as the “Project Runway” mentor?

SG: It was super cool having him as a mentor. He always guided me in the right direction. He always had the right advice. And he was part of the show, so he knows exactly what the judges are looking for. He built a relationship with these people through all these years, so he already knows who they are in terms of their work aesthetics. Seeing him and how much success he’s having, (I think), “That can be me! He was part of this.” It’s very inspiring and it makes you want to keep going.

GS: What do you think of Christian as a designer?

SG: I think his work is really amazing. The way that he’s pushing the boundaries with gender equality and making fashion more inclusive for all kinds of shapes and genders.

GS: He designed the piece for Billy Porter.

SG: Yes, the tuxedo gown.

GS: You and your husband Matthew live in Fort Lauderdale. What do you like best about living here?

SG: Being close to the ocean. That’s the best thing.

GS: How did you and your husband meet?

SG: When I was working at a hotel as a housekeeper. One of the housekeepers said, “I have a friend I want to introduce to you.” We started talking and one day we went on a date and we never separated from that date.

GS: That’s wonderful! We’re speaking before the final episode of this season of “Project Runway” airs on Bravo. What would it mean to you to be the winner of season 17 of “Project Runway?”

SG: If I’m the lucky one, it would prove to me that I have what it takes to start building my dreams and my brand. To be able to achieve all I want in life.

(Editor’s Note: Jhoan “Sebastian” Grey went on to win season 17 of “Project Runway” on the show’s finale broadcast on June 13, besting Hester Sunshine and Gero Sparo. The unexpected victory was surprising for Grey who shared with media that he “died for a few seconds” and then began to cry. His collection was Colombian-inspired and captivated the judges (fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg, author, journalist and editor Elaine Welteroth, ELLE magazine editor-in-chief Nina Garcia, fashion designer, television personality, director and photographer Brandon Maxwell and model and entrepreneur Karlie Kloss) in making their decision. According to People magazine, Grey received $250,000 furnished by the Pilot’s FriXion Erasable Gel Ink Pen — a feature in ELLE, and his or her own featured role in a Bluprint digital series as well as $50,000 to put toward their own design studio also courtesy of Bluprint, and for the first time ever, a one-on-one mentorship with the Council of Fashion Designers of America, including all the tools and connections to create, grow, and sustain a business in fashion. This season’s prize package was the largest one in the history of the show.)

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