Fashionably Great

Project Runway contestant Valerie Mayen talks about taking on reality television and what's in store for her Yellowcake line.

If you need a custom dress in five hours, give Valerie Mayen a call. The Yellowcake designer and current Project Runway contestant has had to improvise under a serious time crunch while competing on the Lifetime reality show (Thursdays, 9 p.m.). Using materials such as a pair of pants and a cocktail napkin, she's deftly turned everyday items into high fashion with the hopes of making it to New York Fashion Week when the season draws to a close Oct. 28. The Cleveland resident, who at press time was still in the running, recently talked to us about making it work.

Q: What was your response when the casting directors contacted you about Season 8?

A: I was hesitant because it's a lot of work and time, but I really wanted to do it for the city. I love it when unassuming things come out of unassuming places. If a really great fashion designer could come out of a city as unassuming as Cleveland, I think that would be really cool.

Q: What did you learn about design?

A: I learned a lot about what translates on the runway and what doesn't, when to pull back and when to go for the gusto. Styling can make or break your look. After the show, I have been more intrigued by using styling to elevate my work.

Q: What was it like to work with the other designers?

A: Aside from the stress and the lack of sleep, it was design utopia: fashion camp on crack. It can be a little lonely in my studio all day, every day, so it was nice to have other designers that were in the same boat as I was, struggling to balance buying fabric over buying food. We all have the same passionate drive and love for the game.

Q: What was your favorite challenge?

A: Episode 3, "It's a Party." With unconventional materials, I was forced to be more creative. How could we not have fun? We were surrounded by Dora the Explorer, glitter and color. I even got a Ring Pop.

Q: How do you feel about the show in hindsight?

A: Before I was tucked away in my cave making coats. Now, I have the support of my city, and people share this experience with me.

Q: What will the next year look like?

A: For Yellowcake, I am thinking of pursuing some retail space in downtown Cleveland to get more in the public eye and be more available. But, I am also developing Buzz and Growl, a design co-op where young designers can purchase a membership where they can access industrial machines and collaborate with one another.

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