Q&A: Local Designer Makes it Work Post-Reality Television
By SUSAN A. ROHWER, CUNY J-School
Video from Lifetime
Clothing designer Serena Da Conceicao, 32, applied to be on the reality show Project Runway twice, but only made it on camera once. The Local contributor got to show off some of her designs on season nine of the reality show before being bid “auf wiedersehen.” Ms. Da Conceicao was one of three contestants out of 20 eliminated on this season’s first episode. And even though she was disappointed to be kicked off the show so early on, she still calls herself a Project Runway addict.
When Ms. Da Conceicao isn’t hunting for inspiration in the neighborhood she’s designing for Miss Tina, the clothing line by Tina Knowles. We’ve edited and condensed this interview with Ms. Da Conceicao which we did in her Fort Greene home.
The Local: How did you feel when you got told you were “out?”
Serena Da Conceicao: We’re all sitting together and they tell us all together and we’re holding our suitcases so after they tell you, you have to get up and go. I knew I was out after my interview.
The Local: Why?
SDC: I just knew it. After spending time with the other people, who I had met, we all really got to know each other. Everyone there is so nice, no matter what they may seem like on the show, everyone was so amazing and nice and sweet. I just knew that I wasn’t like “bitchy” enough. And I’m not saying that those people were bitchy but they knew how to turn on that bitchiness.
I don’t have the alternate personality or maybe I didn’t think about it enough, maybe they spent more time being like “this is who I’m going to be on the show.” But I didn’t do that. I went in being like — I’m just going to be myself, they can take it or they can leave it. If I lie or try to fake something it’s going to be too stressful for me to keep it up, so I’m just going to act as I am and they’ll either accept it or not.
I knew afterward that I didn’t pump it up enough. I should have been a caricature of myself, and I didn’t do that so I knew, kind of right away — they are so not going to pick me.
I was disappointed but I wasn’t surprised. But I had a lot to go back to so I was okay, and then I like, went and got married!
Local: Right, you said on the show that you had to put off your wedding to Tim Bright — who is also a The Local contributor — to go on Project Runway?
SDC: Tim and I had booked a trip to go to Iceland and we were going to elope and when I found out that I was going to be on the show I had to cancel our vacation/marriage. Because the day we were going to leave was the day I had to move into the hotel. So I canceled it but then the day I came back we went ahead and did it anyway.
Local: Do you think that you were what Project Runway was looking for?
SDC: I think they are looking for drama, number one — it’s a television show as much as it is a reality show.
I think they were looking for dynamics of people. I said this to them, I don’t really care how it comes off — I think David didn’t make it because he was another “Gay-sian.” They couldn’t have two Gay-Asians you know? They already had two women of color and I was the third woman of color. I can say I was the least dramatic, and I’m not bitchy and I don’t bring that to the table, and I think they made for better television.
I don’t think they didn’t pick me because they didn’t think I was as talented I just think that I didn’t make good television.
Local: Do you pull inspiration from the neighborhood?
SDC: Definitely. This neighborhood is so mixed culturally, it’s amazing. I mean on the weekends these babies that are being strolled around and you’re like — are they all going to be supermodels? You’ll see African-Japanese or you’ll see someone that may be a weird mix of Icelandic-Hawaiian. There are so many amazingly mixed and beautiful babies around, I love that.
I take a lot of photographs on my iPhone. I think I use the camera feature more than the phone part of the phone.
The street artist Swoon just put up a piece on Lafayette Avenue. It’s not just the piece that’s amazing, but it’s also where she put it. There are smudges and stuff in the brick and there are these pastel pink smudges on the brick that are gorgeous. I could see it being a print.
Local: What are you going to do now?
SDC: I’ve been looking at retail spaces in Williamsburg and I’ve been considering having an almost weekend boutique. I’ve spoken to some jewelry designers and accessories designers about renting out space in the store.
Local: Has life has pretty much returned to normal?
SDC: It’s different. I find that I still have this burning fire in me to do my own thing, you know? I’ve been working for other people now for many years,over a decade, and I’ve made it up the ladder, I’ve done well for myself, I own a house, blah, blah, blah. It’s reminding me that I can’t let that go and that I have to pursue it on my own and that I don’t need a reality show to get me there.