Last night, on Lifetime's season premier of Project Runway All Stars, Patricia Michael's A-line dress with "torpedo darts" sent the New Mexican designer packing.
As the finalists' first challenge, the designers were split right down the middle with the fellas busting out tasteful albeit edgy designs for Manhattan's downtown girl, and the ladies of the competition turning out a not-so-impressive array of questionable ensembles for the sophisticated likes of the uptown girl. The comparison was non-existent, as the men blew their opponents out of the water.
Leading the guys to victory, as one of the challenge's highest scored designers of the night, was Benjamin Mach from Project Runway's Season 11, cultivating an asymmetrical circle dress done masterfully in silk, rendering the panel of judges speechless. While the Australia-native isn't hard at work designing in the Big Apple, he books it to Lake Worth where he resides in his spare time pre- and post-Project Runway madness.
Only days before the airing of this season's All Stars, we hauled-ass to Boca Raton to chat up the former platinum-blonde Aussie, who still gets chills by the daunting words "you're out," about his new line of contemporary women's wear and life after his Project Runway Season 11 departure.
New Times: What was your initial reaction when Lifetime asked you back on to Project Runway All-Stars?
Benjamin Mach: It's funny because during the last season of All Stars, when I knew they were casting, I thought to myself, that'll be a great thing to do. I feel like I didn't get to show myself properly on Season 11, so maybe All Stars is a good way to get back in there. I reached out to somebody at the Weinstein Company and told them I was interested to come back, and they told me that they had cast the show already, but that it was great to hear from me and how glad they were that I was interested.
This year, they called me and asked if I wanted to do it: so much had happened since then. I started my line, and when they finally called all this anxiety from production started to come back. I took some time to think about it, and finally decided that it was a great opportunity because it's a really good platform now that I've started my business.
Yeah, the whole nation and even certain parts of the world all have their eyes on you.
When my season aired in Australia, I received a massive amount of press through the cable network who plays the show over there because I was the first Australian to be on the Project Runway. I went to Sydney to see my family while the show was airing in the states. I was at this party, and I just had people constantly coming up to me, who were watching it online and recognizing me. That's when I realized that this show really does hit a few different markets across the world. All of the sudden you have a bunch of people from China following you on Twitter and you're like, "I guess it's playing in China now." When a lot of people start following you from a certain country, you know Project Runway has started airing there.
Your background experience working at Marchesa and Wintel really gave you an advantage on Season 11.
Yeah, I had all of that experience behind me, but nothing can prepare you for Project Runway. You have no time at all to come up with an idea and execute it. On Season 11, I had some great pieces that I did, and I had some disasters. A big part of that is its such a surreal environment -- you have to adapt yourself to the process, and that can be very difficult to do. You totally get writer's block. The way I normally work is I come up with an idea and then I sit on it for a bit, then I'll look at fabrics. It's this drawn out process. With Project Runway, that has to be condensed into eight to nine hours, and you really don't have a choice about it. The only other alternative is to have nothing on the runway.
On Season 11, I was really distracted by the cameramen, who were in the room the whole time. You're mic-ed; so everything you say is heard by a producer. If you mess up, in come the cameras. In real life things go wrong: I'll be working in my studio making something, and all it takes is for my mind to be somewhere else and have a creative absentmindedness. Suddenly, I've sown two legs together into the armhole, and whatever, things happen, but it's not being captured on film. But with Project Runway, you say the word "damn" and the cameras come flocking. The good thing with All Stars is that I lived that experience already, so it wasn't a distraction this time. It was much more reflective to work on All Stars.
What was it like to hear those fateful words of "you're out" from Heidi on Season 11? Your fellow finalists seemed to be shocked when you got eliminated.
It's the worst. I can't hear those words without feeling chills. I just got chills right now. When I got eliminated, it was a little controversial. People didn't think my elimination was fair. It was hard on Season 11 because it was done in teams. So that could mean people could get through because their team got through, not because they would have. Being told, "you're out" is difficult, especially because you have all these ideas in your head of what you want to do on that platform. Initially, I was upset, but it is what it is, and at the end of the day, I got a great opportunity being involved in a show that's recognized across the world.
In All Stars, you're up against fellow Season 11 competitor and winner Michelle Lesniak. Did you have any inclination of her return?
Michelle and I have a great friendship. We've spent a lot of time together since Season 11. I may or may not have guessed that she was going to be on All Stars. When she appeared, I thought to myself, awesome, we're going to do this together. Last season's All Stars was the first time they brought back a winner, and to a certain extent it's hard because this person has already been given the maximum opportunity. Is it really fair to bring them back again? But it makes for good television, ups the stakes, and makes you push you to do your absolute best. Just because they've won, doesn't mean they're a better designer. And, the judging panel is different, so people are seen through different eyes.
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Can you reveal any gooey All Stars details to us? Any savory bitch-fights we should know about?
We all have some connection to each other, in someway or another. This season of All Stars is cast from the last few seasons save for Chris March and Jay from Season 7. Otherwise, everyone was from Seasons 10, 11, and 12, so we're all familiar with each other. But, of course, they want the drama, and there's definitely some of that. Without saying too much, sometimes, you hurt the ones you're closest to. But overall, there's some really good fashion. The thing that I love about All Stars is that they really focus on the actual design, the actual fashion -- they're not that focused on the drama, though, we've all got such big personalities, and claws are bound to come out. There are some conflicts, but there are also some really fantastic designs.