Carol Hannah Whitfield might not have taken the top prize on Season 6 of "Project Runway," but she ended up a fan favorite and the subject of some intrigue with her are-they-or-aren't-they? relationship with contestant Logan Neitzel. The Anderson native and College of Charleston graduate dishes with us (via e-mail) on her favorite challeges, coming back to South Carolina, getting recognized, and, of course, Logan.
First of all, congratulations on making it to the Final Three and on your impressive show at Bryant Park. You didn't ultimately win, but you seemed pretty at peace with the outcome. Months later, have your feelings about the outcome or the season overall changed?
No. I went in to "Project Runway" without any other expectations besides thinking it was a good way to get my work out there, meet some interesting people, and have a good time while showing the world what I can do. I feel I've successfully achieved all those things. I had so much fun!
How hard has it been to keep the results a secret? Come on, you can tell us—Did you share them with anybody between the end of filming and now?
It was definitely hard at times. Simply because of the length of time between filming and airing, it was really tough to keep my involvement a secret and maintain my friendships without giving anything away. It definitely isolates you from your normal life and that can be really trying at times. I didn't tell anyone the outcome, and you wouldn't either if you signed the contract that I did!
The judges loved your individual collection pieces for the Bryant Park show but said the whole thing lacked a "connective thread." How did you feel about that assessment?
I feel like now that I'm through with the experience and can step back and look at the collection a year later, I can see things I could have done differently to make it more cohesive. I think there was a definite theme and color story, but I could have repeated certain silhouettes, details and treatments. I feel like there was a lot of pressure to show everything you could do and I may have gotten a little distracted by that, especially after moving to New York where everything is new and inspirational.
What was going through your mind when you got so sick days before the Bryant Park show?
I remember when I woke up that first day so sick at 5 a.m. I just cried. The timing could not have been worse. Once I got into the city and started working I tried not to think about it while we were in the workroom, but every night once we left it kind of hit me when I got back to the hotel. I was really worried that I'd run out of steam, and it was not exactly encouraging coming into that situation knowing the other girls were well rested while I hadn't eaten or slept much in two days. But I was determined that I was not going to go home, give up, or give in.
Can you tell us a little bit about how the show has affected your career? What are you up to now and what are your plans for the near future? Word has it that you've opened a studio with Epperson and Logan?
Why yes! I have opened a studio with them! The studio is very exciting. It's a big step in the right direction. It's so nice to have a place to work that isn't in my living room and a place that clients, buyers and stylists can come. It's also great to be working alongside such talented people, it's been motivating on a daily basis. Next up, I'm launching my new wedding line. I'm debuting it back in Charleston on March 20, and then taking it to bridal market here in April. So exciting! I'm also going to be working with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to fund-raise through a marathon I'm running in April. I think it's time to turn some of this attention towards something good!
Speaking of Logan...We don't want to be too nosy, but you know we have to ask—what's the deal with you guys? Did anything actually happen between you two during the taping of the show? How about afterward? How did you feel when Althea Harper picked him during the "13th piece" challenge?
Logan and I are very close, and we'll just leave it at that. :) I was somewhat disappointed when Althea chose him for the last challenge since Logan and I worked beside each other the whole show. He knows how I work, and it would've been helpful to have him as a partner, but at the same time I was very grateful to have Christopher (Straub) there. If you need a shoulder to cry on, Christopher certainly understands!
Other than Epperson and Logan, do you regularly keep in touch with any of the designers?
Yes—I actually live with Malvin (Vien) and Althea. We've all been living together since March. I also keep in touch with Mitchell (Hall), who is one of the funniest people I've ever met. I talk to Christopher pretty often as well.
Do you think the show did a good job of portraying each of you as you actually are? For instance, Logan referred to Irina Shabayeva as "Meana Irina." Do you think she deserved that title? Do you think the way you were portrayed was accurate?
Well, let's just say that Logan wasn't the only one calling her Meana Irina. Yes, they can do some magic with editing...but at the end of the day, if you said it, you said it. I think I was portrayed pretty accurately. I didn't go into the show looking to play some kind of character or game. I'm a goofy person and I like to have fun while I work, but I still take my work seriously. I think that came through pretty clear.
Do you think your design sensibility changed at all from the beginning of the season to the end? How have your designs change since the show?
I think my designs were pretty consistent throughout the show. At the beginning, everyone was trying a little too hard because we were worried that it was the only chance we had to show a point of view...but after we got a few challenges under our belts, people became a little more comfortable and designs became a little more natural and relaxed, rather than over-thought. As for how my designs have changed since the show, I can definitely see evolution in my work. It's kind of funny to watch the show a year after it was filmed since so much changes over a year. I feel like I'm an even stronger designer post-"Project Runway" because of the experience, the feedback and living in New York for a year. I think my Southern roots are still evident, but it's fair to say there's a bit more of an urban influence in it now.
Looking back on the whole season, is there anything you would have changed or done differently?
Nope, not really. Like I said it's a year out, so if I did the show over again now it would probably be pretty different, but I'm happy with everything I made on the show. I think I successfully got my aesthetic across, and I'm pleased with the outcome. I'm very grateful to have been able to make it through the show without losing it or being snarky because that was probably harder than the challenges themselves.
Out of everything you designed for the show, what are you most proud of? Anything you designed that you wish you could have a do-over on?
There were a lot of pieces I loved, but I did really enjoy the paper challenge and thinking back it still amazes me that all that work got done in one day. There were a lot of ways that could've gone badly between the dye and the drying. I think that was the shortest challenge...we only had about six or seven hours that day. I would not take a do-over on the Getty Museum piece, but I would like about three more hours on it because that dress was definitely not done. It was not intended to be so simple. I think we all ran out of steam on that one!
Have you started to get recognized? What is that like? Who is the coolest celebrity you've met as a result of being on the show?
It's pretty fun! At first, it was very strange. Now I just feel like I'm friends with the entire world, which is kind of amazing! Coolest celebrity...probably Malcolm-Jamal Warner, aka Theo Huxtible!
You've gotten tons of love on Twitter and Facebook. What's it like being a fan favorite in cyberspace?
That's amazing, truly amazing! It's been pretty incredible to receive encouraging and moving messages from people I don't know. The morning after the finale, I was checking my e-mail, and there were just hundreds and hundreds of e-mails from fans, and by the end of it I was just crying!
You and Tim Gunn seemed to get pretty close over the season. How was it to have him meet your family? Do you still keep in touch with him?
It was really fun to have Tim meet my family. It was a nice treat for them as well, I think. My family has been beyond supportive through all of this, and I was glad to have them involved in such a fun way. I keep in touch with Tim a little bit. He's a busy man!
Any plans to come back to Anderson for the holidays or anytime soon? What is it like, having been in New York for a year, to come back now?
Yes! I'll be there for Christmas, and I'm really looking forward to it. It's kind of a relief in many ways to come back. The city can put you in this work, work, work mindset. Coming back home always re-roots you and reminds me of what really matters. As much as I love New York, there are still a lot of things I miss about South Carolina.
Out of all the former "Project Runway" contestants, whose career would you most want to model your own career on?
I think that one of the nice things about the fashion industry is there are so many routes you can take. I don't know if there's necessarily one person whose footsteps I'd like to follow in, but I do think Jillian Lewis is doing a great job building her brand. Rami Kashou has created a great niche for himself as well.