'Project Runway’s' 'Original Tomboy' Alicia Hardesty Talks Fashion and Being Out

Project Runway Season 10 has a host of colorful characters among the cast, few as interesting off screen as lesbian designer Alicia Hardesty. A Kentucky girl with fierce dreads who still loves fried green tomatoes and anything her mammaw cooks, Hardesty moved to Los Angeles with her girlfriend, actress Lauren King, in hopes of taking her own clothing line, the Kickstarter-funded Original Tomboy, to the next level.
By: Diane Anderson-Minshall
August 09 2012 4:15 PM

Project Runway Season 10 has a host of colorful characters among the cast, few as interesting off screen as lesbian designer Alicia Hardesty. A Kentucky girl with fierce dreads who still loves fried green tomatoes and anything her mammaw cooks, Hardesty moved to Los Angeles with her girlfriend, actress Lauren King, in hopes of taking her own clothing line, the Kickstarter-funded Original Tomboy, to the next level. So far she’s had few moments to really shine on Lifetime’s Project Runway, but tonight’s episode could change all that. SheWired chatted with Hardesty about lesbian fashion, being out on TV, and why designers can’t make a good pair of women’s pants.

SheWired: We’ve had a couple of episodes of this season of Project Runway air already. Is it strange to see how everything is edited or does it feel very true to life?

Hardesty: Well so far, it’s just pretty true to what was going on. From what I’m hearing from people that are watching that are fans of me, they want to see more of me on the show, but I do remember being sort of quiet in the beginning, and trying to feel it out and just do the best that I could. I was very focused on my work. It’s fun to watch for sure, and then sometimes, it’s like, it’s hard to watch because I have to relive all of that stress and all of that, and everything that was going on at the time, so it’s, sometimes it’s hard to watch.

Are you happy to just keep being safe, or are you in those moments thinking, “God, what do I have to do to get to the top?”

It’s a little bit of both, honestly. I came into the competition thinking that I have the potential to be on top and after the first episode, it’s like, ok, “Well shit, maybe this isn’t what the judges are looking for.” For the candy challenge, I honestly was glad to be safe, for that one, because I had no idea what the judges were really going to respond to and half way through that work day, when I’m working on mine, I look around and everyone else’s stuff looks like this evening gown or it looks like this really pretty dress, or it looks very realistic in a way. And mine was a little more…

I don’t do bright colors really, and I stepped out and did some things that I wouldn’t normally do so I was a little nervous about it, but I was glad to be safe on that one. But yeah, it’s kind of frustrating, because you want feedback, you know, you want to see what they’re thinking.

Alicia's designs from week one, two and three

And how much does Tim Gunn’s feedback impact you?

He always has really helpful things to say and he’s very honest. So far he’s not said anything to me that I thought was way off base. I take what he says very seriously.

The show is obviously super gay friendly, but I think you’re still only the second out lesbian on the show.

Yeah, I think so.

When Zulema was on, her sexuality was sort of edited out in some ways. Did you have a role in how out you are in the show?

From the very beginning I’ve been very out. In the application process, the very first thing is they ask you a lot of questions. They want to get to know you, and so I was very, very honest. I gave them stories I thought would be interesting, I really didn’t hold anything back. I’ve just been very open from the very beginning and I think they took that and sort of ran with it. They were like, “Ok, this is really cool, this is different for us.”

They ask me a lot about being a lesbian in the industry. Obviously there’s not very many of us and so you know it was kind of cool, because it was a talking point. Usually in my experience in the industry you don’t talk about that stuff, because most everybody is straight and if they’re gay, it’s a gay guy and it’s very different, so it doesn’t get brought up a lot. People are always cool, like they’re really cool with it, but it’s not like a topic that gets discussed.

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Jenna Lyons and Patricia Field aside, there are just not a lot of lesbians visible in fashion. Do you have a role model in that realm?

In terms of fashion, not really, not like lesbian specific. I have some style icons that I sort of look to. Patricia Field is very cool. I was so excited that she was on the first show because just the way she came dressed to the show, I was like, “Yes finally we get somebody who I can relate to.”

Chanel was a big influence for me just because I thought she was a really cool lady; she’s not really a lesbian role model for me, but just because of what she’s done for women’s fashion and women wearing pants and all of that. That kind of stuff is what really sticks out to me versus, you know, sexuality.

Who are your other style icons?

I really dig Tilda Swinton. I think she just has such a cool style, and she’s able to stand with the rest on the red carpet and be very elegant but she’s very different at the same time. She’s not out there with the next Oscar de la Renta gown; she’s doing something different.

And then Ellen DeGeneres—she’s the most visible especially for the lesbian community and just for the public in general, which is why I do like her so much. She’s all over the country and everyone really likes her. She has this personality and this sense of humor that everyone likes and everyone relates to. Her style is very lesbian, and then people kind of ignore that part and they’re just very cool with it, so it presents us in a very positive light, especially with fashion.

I can see both of those women actually fitting in your own line, Original Tomboy, that kind of women’s menswear with a retro feel.

Exactly.

You call it “brand new and Tom Sawyer like all at once.” Can you tell me a little bit about how that line came about?

This Tom Sawyer aspect comes from using my childhood as inspiration and growing up in the country in Kentucky. I was a tomboy. I was always outside and I never liked tucking in my shirts. I didn’t like dresses and I’ve always been very stubborn and just wanted to do what I wanted to do.

I didn’t understand rules and all of that, especially when it comes to dress so I just thought that was a clever and cute way to kind of put it, Original Tomboy. And then I have the whole vintage Kentucky, or vintage South [influence]. At the same time I use these other things as my inspiration but I bring in some very modern details and I want to get more into using different kind of fabrics and really moving forward with the fashion industry, but keeping that Tom Sawyer aspect to the brand.

Growing up in Kentucky, obviously that really influenced your work. Now you’re living in Los Angeles, are you seeing it impact your work as well?

I lived in New York before here and I think what impacts me with LA is the casual aspect with fashion, or the big impact that knits and denim have on the industry out here. I’ve been able to incorporate that into my line. I never really had any solid denim experience. For example, I’ve been mostly in men’s knits and wovens, and with this line, I’ve really been able to get into stuff that I’ve always wanted to work on. Los Angeles has made that easy for me because knits are just everywhere out here. And there are plenty of places where you can get your denim samples and work on some washes. I think that’s a big thing that LA has offered me, is to work on what I’ve been wanting to work on.

It’s hard for masculine women to find clothes made for them and there have been a few designers who have tried to make a go of that and haven’t succeeded long term. What’s kind of different about what you’re doing?

Sometimes it seems like people who get these brands started, they don’t have a strong foot in the fashion industry, and I think that’s where some of the problems come in. I feel like with my fashion background and just my style as a designer in general it offers Original Tomboy something different; it makes it stand out.

I want to create something that lesbians really attach themselves to because they want to wear it and it makes them feel good. I want them to be able to buy things that they like, but I’m also creating a brand that sort of is almost like a crossover. I want the feminine girls to be able to buy it too, like if they really like the stuff and they can style it differently, they can wear heels instead of sneakers and they can belt it and make it a little more fitted, or there are some things that they can do to make it more girly. I think that’s what I’m trying to with this brand that’s different from what other people have done.

It’s about being a little more inclusive in terms of the girls and the women that are going to be buying this stuff, and for women’s wear, the problem that I see is people don’t see styles they want to buy, the fit is not there, the details… I feel like I have a good sense of what will sort of bridge the gap between something that’s too masculine and something that’s too girly.

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Tell me about your girlfriend Lauren King. She’s so cute and she seems fashion forward. Does she influence your work in any way?

Yeah she does. She’s very fashionable and she always knows what she likes and she knows what looks good and she has a fashion background as well. She’s an actress now, but she’s very good with styling and she’s got a really great eye so she’s always my go-to person. If I’m not sure about something I always ask her about it and I always run everything by her too. She’s been a big help for me and getting this brand together and she’s been right by my side through this whole process, whether I’m getting dressed or whatever I’m designing I always say, “Hey babe, what do you think about this?” and she always has a good point of view to offer.

You said she’s an actress. Would I recognize her?

Not yet, she’s done mostly independent projects and some short films and stuff like that. The competition out here in LA - it’s just ridiculous. It’s crazy, but she’s going out on auditions and she’s got a really good agent so we’re hoping it picks up soon.

How long have you guys been together?

We’ve been together four years. We actually moved out here to LA together. We met in New York.

Was it tough being apart while you were filming Project Runway?

Yeah it was. It’s not as tough in the beginning, to be honest, because you just dive right in — you’re in this new place, you’re around all these new people and you’re focused. You’re there for a reason and there’s so much going on that you don’t really even have time to think. But towards the middle it’s like you really start to feel it and you’re just stressed out all the time and the phone calls are very limited, so it was tough.

You also do some modeling. You were in Pink’s music video, and, on How I Met Your Mother.

Yeah.

Are you just a big multitasker or is that a backup career?

I like to be involved in a lot of different stuff and being out here in LA that kind of stuff is always around. I have a very specific look, so I would get calls for music videos mostly, and sometimes for featured spots on TV shows or movies. I’m hoping to come across more opportunities like that especially after being on Project Runway. That’s another door that I hope to open and to continue with.

So women have been wearing pants since the 1900s. Why do designers still seem to get them so wrong?

That’s a good question. [Laughs] That’s a good way to put it, too. I don’t know. It’s funny because my girlfriend rarely finds a pair of women’s pants that fit her. They can’t seem to get the back rise right. And what she’s decided is that most of these brands are designed for skinny white women and the hip shape of a white woman is very different from her hip shape for example; where she needs the room, and where she needs it tighter. It’s just not achieved in most of the labels that are out there. I don’t know why they keep getting it wrong. I know what I’m missing in a pair of pants and I’m [changing with] Original Tomboy is that the rise is always way too short and the fit is just way off. They make pants for stick figures, I think, and then based off that pant, they scale it up and it just doesn’t work. 

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