[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from the Season 6 finale of “Project Runway All Stars.”]
Even before the latest winner of “Project Runway All Stars” heard the words “You’re in,” he had already made history. Dubbed the Fantastic 5, the show’s group of finalists all happened to be men of color, a first for the show. The Top 5 designers included Edmond Newton, Stanley Hudson, Fabio Costa, Ken Laurence, and winner Anthony Williams.
Williams spoke to IndieWire about what it meant to be part of the Fantastic 5 in such a public platform:
“Not only does that send a message globally about [gay] men of color… and what we could do and what we can accomplish as we stand together, but I think even vocally and within our own individual communities, it shows people that even today, there is strength in numbers,” said Williams. “Everybody can’t go to the march, but I can lead the march wherever I am. And not a march just for men of color, or people of color but for people who want a better day and a better tomorrow, period. People who want a better life. That’s what we represent.”
Check out the rest of the interview with Williams about the unique concept for his final collection, the relationship among the so-called “Sister Wives,” and the lofty goals for his future career in design.
The Final Collection
For the final collection, the remaining three designers were instructed to be inspired by the Smithsonian for the theme “Making History” (which could be interpreted as they saw fit). In Thursday’s finale, Williams presents his imaginative and entertaining theme, “What if Audrey Hepburn lived long enough to become Rihanna?”
Although the theme may sound cheeky, the two style mavens represent two sides of Williams.
“The truth of the matter is, I’m from the projects,” he said. “People think there is no excellence in the projects but they don’t check the history books. Most of the people have become great leaders and inspire people, inspirations in this world they come from places like the projects or a place where poverty is great.
“Coming from that world, being introduced to couture and women of wealth, I’ve always had this balance of these two girls that kind of live inside of me. I just enjoy the idea of Rihanna, but I’m always going to play homage to vintage and things that are classic. Who else represents that to me and a kind of parallel in the style? And I think it’s Audrey Hepburn. Once Rihanna start wearing Christian Dior, she starts tapping into the wonderful world of Audrey Hepburn, so that’s how I saw that role.”
In the final runway competition featured on Thursday’s finale, Williams pays homage to the two women by outfitting his models with pixie-cut wigs. The collection itself features elegant couture looks in a predominantly monochromatic palette that gives way to the peacock-tones in a jumpsuit and final showstopper gown.
As with any reality show, sometimes the editing manipulates the narrative in a way to create more drama. The perception before the final runway made it seem that Costa and Hudson had their collections finished way ahead of time, and that Williams was scrambling to finish pieces because he had never shown a collection before and wasn’t realistic about his goals. While it’s true that the other two were able to relax a bit more, Williams saidthat comparing his design style to theirs isn’t the same.
“Everyone was working until the last minute, but there is a difference in what we do,” he said. “First of all, I am a couture designer and I worked with my assistant, who had worked with leather. We both do beautiful work, but the hand in which we work with the fabric was quite different. They make ready-to-wear; I make couture. I decided to scrap one of my dresses. In order for that finale gown to be built and move the way it did on the runway, there had to be real infrastructure. I couldn’t cheat my way through making that dress. So even though they may have seemed ready, when you compare, when I look at our body of work, I definitely did far more construction and all of that.”
Strategy and Sister Wives
Although Williams was as well known for his jokester persona as he was for his ability to drape impeccably, he was all about the hustle. Anyone who didn’t see that he put thought, strategy, time, and craftsmanship into his time on “Project Runway All Stars” underestimated him at their own peril.
An even more exclusive group than the Fantastic 5 was the Top 4, whom the other contestants had dubbed the “Sister Wives.” Williams didn’t love that name: “We didn’t want the Sister Wives to become a bigger storyline than our talent that we brought.” But he did acknowledge that “the audience has taken it and liked it.”
These men weren’t just friends; they were active allies who did everything in their power to get each other to the top together. Williams said that this sort of group reminded him of his days as a drag queen.
“My name was Kennedy Lauryen O’nassis. Some people called me Klo or Miss Kennedy,” he said. “When I did drag, you and your girlfriends competed in pageants together. If you left your earrings at home, I don’t mind making sure [you had earrings.] You’ve got to have earrings for talent cause you’re representing the city of Birmingham, Alabama. So we’re not competing against each other until we get on stage.
“When I came into ‘Project Runway All Stars’ …it sort of reminded me of my days of drag and having like drag sisters. Ken Laurence, Fabio, Stanley and myself, we all entered into a covenant to champion each other. The producers were a little frustrated with us because we were helping each other. You can see it worked in the end. I have pictures in my phone from when we would be backstage helping and hand-stitching each other’s dresses.”
The strategy extended to their public personas as well, especially when Newton stayed in the competition long enough to make the inclusive Fantastic 5.
“We realized we need as many opportunities for press, so what we did we came together and we created the same messages online and the same images,” said Williams. “So we could promote and get more traffic through social media as well. We very much keep in touch. As a matter of fact, this Thursday we [had] Fantastic 5 finale watch party here in Atlanta, Georgia.”
Although Williams’ couture styles make it seem like he’s destined to go the traditional designer route, he’s been bitten by the Hollywood bug. He’s already been a costume designer for TV and film, and is looking to be a presence on camera as well.
“I worked on ‘Single Ladies,’ I worked on a show called ‘Let the Church Say Amen,’” he said. “There’s a movie coming out this year called ‘The Trap.’ I make couture gowns in my craft but the movie ‘The Trap’ is set in the hood. It’s this story with T.I., Mike Epps and Loretta Devine, where they have this restaurant called Jay’s Chicken. That continues that balance of my life that I’ve always had. Couture is a thing where you make these dresses for people, and it’s beautiful, but the truth of the matter is the people I grew up with they can’t afford couture.”
Despite how well Williams performed on the show by producing his own work, he hopes that his future career is more about design and presentation and less about the day-to-day grind of producing the clothes.
“One thing I definitely will be getting away from is doing custom-made bridal and couture gowns,” he said. “If you enjoy sewing and you are a designer who also sews your clothes, then hallelujah and good for you. But I am not that designer. I don’t enjoy sewing at all. There are a lot of talented amazing people who did have a plan from getting behind the sewing machine that are still stuck behind the sewing machine with all those amazing plans and ideas inside of them. And I don’t want to be that person so I’m actively pursuing film and television projects.
“Do you know anyone that works at HSN?” he asked. “That’s really where I want to go. I think that’s a network that would really appreciate my presence… I’m really great at selling and I’m really great at television and I’m awesome at working with people and I feel like all those things could be found on local HSN channel.”
Williams, never one to rest or stop the hustle, had already been perfecting his on-camera looks on “Project Runway all Stars.” Before the interview ended, he asked how his hair looked on the show. For a reality show contestant who is constantly under the gun, running around, and sleep-deprived, Williams always did look surprisingly well-coiffed.
He admitted, “While everybody else was asleep, I was getting my hair done.”