It might not feel like prom time, but Kent State graduate and former Project Runway contestant Suede aims to change that Saturday with a spring style show.
He will unveil his new line of SUEDEsays prom and special occasion fabrics and styles at two shows at his alma mater.
“People can expect colorful, wearable, modern clothing for the young lady who wants to express herself outside of the mundane styles in department stores,” he promised.
Stephen “Suede” Baum turned his appearance on Project Runway in 2008 and on Project Runway All Stars in 2012 into something of a fashion empire.
Now 42 and living in Barryville, N.Y., he has an exclusive licensing deal with Simplicity Patterns and distributes his fabrics at Hobby Lobby and Jo-Ann Fabrics and Craft Stores.
He might best be remembered on the Project Runway shows for his purple mohawk, for referring to himself in the third person and for his nickname, earned at KSU when he picked a swatch of the fabric out of a barrel.
His ascent into fashion might be especially surprising considering he spent about eight years in an Amish school as a child even though his family was not Amish.
“My parents wanted me and my brother to see the world through different eyes,” which meant boarding with an Amish family in Charm, Ohio, he said. “I cherish those memories of growing up without electricity and taking care of animals.”
His skills at sewing surfaced early when he made his own Amish clothing — simple white shirts and black pants with suspenders.
Later he went to Normandy High School in Parma. He had grand visions of moving to Los Angeles or New York to act after graduation, but his dad, an engineer, and his mom, a physicist, wanted him to stay closer to home.
So he enrolled in fashion design at Kent State and found it was the right, er, fit.
He graduated in 1993, and with degree in hand, interned with Geoffrey Beene and has been a creative director for the Lee Juniors and Lee Girls brands of jeans.
His career really took off in 2008 when he was selected as one of 16 designers for Project Runway, a reality show that pits clothing designers against each other. The show has since moved from the Bravo channel to Lifetime.
It was Suede’s third tryout for the show, attempted because he had a dream of host Tim Gunn telling him he had won the top award. Fortunately, he wasn’t working at the time, so he had available the six weeks contestants needed to compete.
“I was thrilled and scared at the same time,” Suede said. He thought the show would provide him with a seamstress to stitch his designs.
Then there was the pressure that came with being sequestered and the pressure of living cheek by jowl with other contestants in a super-hyped atmosphere.
Contestants could make only one call a week — in front of a producer, as they were filmed, with the minutes taken from their precious sewing time. Of course, they could not reveal what was happening on the show, and to level the playing field, were not allowed to ask a telephone contact how to make sleeves or smocking or whatever.
It was common to work 16- to 18-hour days.
“You were completely shut off from the outside world,” Suede said. “No TVs, no newspapers, no magazines.”
He was buoyed when guest judge and actress Natalie Portman raved about his short, red-and-cream party dress, 300 copies of which went on to sell out in 24 hours at Bluefly.com. But he was eliminated in the challenge of creating a men’s wear design for a fellow contestant for not being creative enough.
So the invitation to be a contestant on the Project Runway All Stars spinoff four years later gave him pause. He had the lines of patterns and fabrics in the pipeline and wanted publicity to help fuel their launch, so he agreed to go on the show.
“I was shaking in my boots,” he said. “This time, I knew what I was getting into.”
He was eliminated in the Up Your Aerosol episode when his green-and-black party dress, created with spray paint and 7 yards of fabric, failed to impress the judges. “Too creative,” he remembers being criticized.
All that’s behind him now. His SUEDEsays line of materials has grown to include quilting materials for Hobby Lobby; his Simplicity sewing patterns have expanded from women to men, plus-size and children; and Hobby Lobby and Jo-Ann’s stock his fabrics. More plans are in the works, he said.
Fifteen high school and KSU students will model dresses made from his patterns and fabrics at the 1 and 3:30 p.m. shows at Rockwell Hall on the Kent campus. The fashion show will include a meet-and-greet with Suede between shows.
He also will appear at the Jo-Ann store at 5381 Darrow Road in Hudson from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Reservations are not required for any of the events and there is no charge to attend.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3729.