Vanessa Simmons Talks ‘Project Runway,’ Fashion Faux Pas And Prioritizing Motherhood
VIBE: How did your new gig as host of Project Runway come about and how’d you prepare for audition nerves?
Vanessa Simmons: I actually didn’t have a chance to prepare for my nerves. My manager called me earlier in the day saying, can you make it downtown in an hour in a half to audition for this show? I said the show sounds amazing and definitely something I want to be involved with, I’m in. I only have time to take a shower, get down there, fall (laughs) and then deliver my audition in flip-flops and I got the job. I didn’t think I was going to get it. It was my first time wearing heels after having a baby and I fell right outside of the audition with the executives from The Weinstein Company and Lifetime. Planted face first in front of film. I went all the way there in six inch heels, of course.
I was like well, I didn’t get that job. So I call my manager like, I just fell right before the audition and I had to wear my flip flops in front of the camera. I totally didn’t get it. He called me back two minutes later, saying they loved me. Maybe I should fall more often before going into an audition. They had me come in just because my fashion background and television background and it was something that was really natural for me to do being that I just had a new baby and working with kids and fashion. It was the perfect job for me back from having a baby.
How were the kids on the show? Did they seem like nervous or where they ready to go? Were the personalities there?
They’re ages 11-16 and they had one day to create full on designs and present in front of a really prestigious panel of judges. I was kind of their mentor and the host along the way. So these kids were super advanced and I absolutely believe that we will be seeing their collections in stores and magazines in the next few years because of how dedicated and how passionate they were. Sometimes we had a lot of special people and judges on the show during the season and I think those people ramp up their nerves, but these kids were so into what they were doing that they have that “laser like” focus. It was impressive. Can you imagine being an 11-year-old, just sewing?
I can’t even sew now.
Hello! Me either! I’m into fashion, I love designing but I’m more conceptual. I conceptualized designs and then I work with people who do what they do. These kids are full package. They’re conceptualizing the ideas, delivering designs, more than one! At the end, they are essentially presenting two designs to the judges. We give them their main challenge and then they get a surprise challenge in between that kind of throws a wrench into the whole system. Shakes them up a little bit. But they handle that like really well. They’re not treated like their age. They’re treated like professionals in the industry because that’s how talented and advanced they are in fashion. I believe that I saw a glimpse of the future of fashion. Some of these things were so impressive coming down the runway. I’m like first of all you’re 11-16, you’re creating these things and you’re creating them in 24 hours.
They were allowed to bring along an assistant and usually it was like one of their parents or grandparents or something like that. Sometimes they would bring along people who didn’t know how to sew. Like Lauren’s dad was more into football and stuff, so he was there for moral support. They were their bosses, so she was just like “Dad! Glue this onto this!” or “Sew this onto this!” They’re teaching their parents right there how to sew because now they have to manage making two different outfits at a time and behind the scenes. They’re not getting help behind the scenes. I want to make that clear that all the work they’re doing is strictly on-camera, no help and they made some really good stuff. It’s impressive. Crazy to watch, honestly.
Did you see any pieces that you wanted to snag for yourself?
Yeah, you’ll hear me throughout the season. I’ll be like, “Thatss something I would totally wear.” What was so cool is that they were capturing the essence of things that are trending now but then also adding their own spin as designers. They were creating new trends, so to speak, and it was great to watch and inspiring. And being a mom, that’s the message I want to translate to my daughter. It’s never too early to start believing in a dream and going after what you believe in. Me and my sister started a sneaker line relatively early, so I do want that value instilled in her. I want her to believe that anything’s possible.
Speaking of your sister and your family, how have they supported this new venture? How’d they react to the news that you got the part?
My dad was like, really? Because it was two months after I had the baby. I was home really concentrating on her. My focus after having her was being at home, being with her, bonding with her and learning how to be a mom, because it’s a lot thrown at you all at once. But then this opportunity came. I love fashion, so to be involved in that level, I want to take this opportunity. They were excited and definitely really supportive of my decision to jump back into work so soon.
Do you think your daughter is going to be a little fashionista like her mom and aunt?
I want her to discover herself. I’m not going to push her in any one direction. I want her to discover herself and do whatever it is that makes her happy and pursue her interests. But at the same time, my sister [Angela], her aunt, is crazy fashionista and every time she comes to L.A. she’s bringing her a bag of clothing from some store. She has to stop by Nordstrom. And I’m no different because every time I go out, I can just be going to CVS and I will find an outfit from Burts Bee’s Baby. I come back home and I’m supposed to go out to get dish detergent and Mike [Wayans] is like, you went shopping for the baby again? I can’t help it! It’s a girl! She’s like a little baby doll. I do think she’ll have that fashion side to her.
Angela’s super into being a fashionista, and so are you, but what makes you guys different in that sense? What will Ava Marie pick up from the two of you?
See, me and Angela are different, but we’re the same in a lot of ways. We’re sisters and we grew up in the same house. I think she’ll take some things from Angela like the toughness and how strong she is. How she approaches situations. I hope she takes that with her and is a tough cookie and doesn’t let anybody affect her and what she believes and stays strong in her beliefs. As far as fashion, I hope she takes a little from me. She has a lot of fashionable aunties and uncles. She’s got a whole lot of inspiration to take from.
Finish reading her interview on VIBE.