Interview: Oscar Lopez, Winner of 'Project Runway: Under the Gunn'

Oscar Lopez, winner of Project Runway: Under the Gunn
Oscar Lopez, winner of Project Runway: Under the Gunn
By REESE AMOROSI

Under the Gunn, the Project Runway spinoff starring Tim Gunn, recently named 40-year-old, Cuban-born designer Oscar Lopez as the winner of its premiere season. At the final runway show held at the Los Angeles Theater, Lopez competed against Asha Daniels (25), Sam Donovan (23) and Shan Keith (33), but it was his sophisticated 5-piece collection that wowed the show's regular panel – celebrity stylist Jen Rade, Marie Claire magazine's senior fashion editor Zanna Roberts Rassi, and designer Rachel Roy – along with guest judges Heidi Klum and Neil Patrick Harris. During my phone conversation with Oscar, I was charmed by his positive attitude, enthusiasm for his work and his melodic accent.

Before Oscar Lopez found international fame and fortune on Under the Gunn, he was already a hard-working, sought after designer. After leaving Havana, Cuba in the year 2000, Oscar spent four years in Mexico pursuing a musical career. Then, in 2004, Oscar made his way to Coral Gables, Florida, where his original designs, immaculate construction and tireless work ethic earned him a strong following amongst Miami's fashion set.

REESE: After you left Cuba, you first moved to Mexico to pursue a career as a singer - what style of music were you into? Do you still sing?
OSCAR: In the shower (laughing). It was Latin, like meringue, Latin-flavored mixed with salsa.

REESE: You're multi-talented - what made you focus on clothing design?
OSCAR: I always liked everything that is related with art, singing, dancing, I took ballet, painting… So, I always did design since I was very young, eight years old I was already dreaming about designing clothing and jewelry. I started singing and dancing because it was always related with art and I like it, but I decided on design because it was the strongest.

REESE: Does your Cuban heritage have any influence on your designs?
OSCAR: If you look up the history of Cuba before the Castro government, Cuba was so into couture. We were the first Latin American country to have television, and also the seventh country in the whole world to have train transportation. Tourists went to Cuba like a resort, and those rich women, they like to dress with couture, with hats, glamorous, so I think I have in my genes that kind of feeling.

REESE: What led to your audition for Under the Gunn? Were you a fan of Project Runway?
OSCAR: Initially, it was my partner (Rick Pedraza), he was like "Oscar, you need to be there, you need to show the world what you do because I believe in you, you have a talent. It's incredible what you do without an education in couture school… it is a gift."

I have to be honest with you, he said, "Let's do the paperwork, and see if they pick you, but before, just go and see some episodes," because I don't have time, I'm always working, my passion is so time consuming for me, you don’t have an idea. So, I know about Project Runway, and I have seen some seasons. I saw season 11, I was watching season 12 and All Stars, but you know, it's a reality show, and from my point of view, it was so like a jungle, you know, like a battle. I was like "Oh my God," it’s so much drama, there's so much editing, you never know how they edit in order to get a good show. So, I came back after seeing all the other episodes and I was like this: "If you want me on the show, it's not for me to question Project Runway, but I'm gonna be so afraid to go there, so I prefer, this is going to be an adventure, and I will just compete and put all my heart and my passion in that competition.

REESE: You mention reality TV being a jungle - I was impressed that you were always nice to everyone, and that everyone liked you.
OSCAR: That's what happened, when you see this kind of a show, that is your perception, like, "Oh my God, I'm going to be surrounded by mean people, they're going to try to destroy me," and you know how a true artist is really sensitive to everything, the true artist cannot help his emotion, and you know how some people are really mean and they can destroy you just with a look? When I was in the competition I felt really peaceful. I'm very tolerant with people, and it was such an experience there - I was willing to help everyone.

They did not show on the show this detail that I'm going to tell you: I always was the first designer to wake up in the morning and to run into the shower, then when I finished I run to the kitchen because I have to have breakfast, we're gonna compete that day, we need to have strength and we need to be healthy, so I went to the kitchen and I always made breakfast not only for me, I left breakfast for everyone there who wants to have a nice breakfast, like coffee with milk, and of course, an omelet. And I took my Cuban-style coffee machine, so I will make you coffee. I like to give love and care, that's what I like.

REESE: Under the Gunn was based on the designer-mentor relationship – how did Nick help or influence your work?
OSCAR: Nick is amazing. I mean what a guy, what a talent. He told me to edit and the direction that the style should go. He never gave me idea, never. He was just like, "Be careful with this, this could be too much for the show. You need to be focused in your elegance, don’t get too over the top because people can be overwhelmed." When you are introduced as a new designer or as a new creative person you have to be very careful because people can feel overwhelmed with all the details, so he was so wonderful, so nice, so classy. He was like the uncle of the workroom - he was the mentor that every time he came into the workroom he said "hi" to everyone, he gave you a hug, it doesn’t matter if you were not part of his team, he was so classy. What a person.

REESE: What was the best advice you got from Tim Gunn?
OSCAR: Well, Tim, you know, I just don’t understand the way that they edited the show because he was all the time like, "This is gonna look too mature," but I don't think a woman too mature can use an open leg that high, or a neckline so low, because I work with real clients, believe me, I know what mature ladies want. They want to feel young, but not ridiculous. But, he was very honest.

REESE: What did you learn about yourself during the competition?
OSCAR: Well first of all, you have to stick to your point of view as a creator. There's some people that are gonna like you, and there's some people that are not gonna like you, so you cannot try to please everyone, that's impossible. So, you have to stick to your point of view, you have to have an identity, not only as a person, also as a designer, as a creator. I learned so much about the show, about what people are expecting of you as a designer, what people are expecting of you as a person, it was amazing. It was very worth it to be there.

REESE: Did you learn anything from your fellow contestants?
OSCAR: Oh yes, of course, we are always gonna learn something from everything around us. Natalia (Fedner) was incredible, she's such a sweet girl, oh my God, she was so sweet, she has so much energy that sometimes people, it's really difficult for people to tolerate that, you know? But you don’t have to see that side of it, Natalia was amazing, I really love her.

Shan, he's such a good soul, Shan is amazing, that guy's so helpful, he was all the time so in control of himself, he was incredible. Asha also, she's not like they portrayed on the show, she's a good person also, let me tell you. I love Blake (Smith), Blake was so fun, so refreshing. I never understand why he was eliminated because he had such amazing ideas, so fresh and so classy, but oh well, it is what it is. And Michelle (Ɯberreste) also has good ideas, she was very nice. Sam was a kid, he was lovely. There was a lot of personality there - we need that ingredient to have the perfect formula.

REESE: I loved your black cloak from the Marvel challenge, and I also loved the flowing dress you made in your partnership with Shan for the Francesca's challenge. What was your favorite garment that you made on the show?
OSCAR: Oh my God (laughing), that is so difficult because I love all my outfits. I would say that I have to agree with you, the cloak was so amazing, so original for me, and you know, it was made out of felt. They were like, "It's a million dollar cloak made out of felt," that was Asha, she was so impressed, and Shan… they would look at me draping on the mannequin… it was an idea that is not already done. Sometimes people will say, "This is something that I have already seen." I mean, you cannot invent anything. In all arts, everything is created already, you just do your point of view, and you mix this with that. You go back to the history of couture, from the very beginning, you will see those details today on the runways. This cloak for me was so original, so different, I love the piece.

Oscar Lopez for Francesca's
The Francesca's dress for me was so incredible because, let me tell you, that was a difficult challenge for me because if you see my work, I'm so into couture and handwork details, so to create a dress that you have to sacrifice all that was really challenging, which I love, and I was so surprised to be able to do it and in the way it came out. You know, in a week they sold out the dress. It was incredible.

REESE: How will your day-to-day existence change now that you've won Under the Gunn?
OSCAR: Oh my God, the most amazing thing is people - they write me so much on Twitter, Facebook, in all the media. It's incredible how people can find inspiration, so many things, in someone that is on a show, and to be that kind of a positive figure for people, I love that.

REESE: Who is your dream client?
OSCAR: My dream client is the woman that wants to feel special, the woman that wants to be beautiful, the woman that has to have that dream come true and feel gorgeous, that's my perfect client. The woman that is not afraid of anyone's opinion, this woman is so secure about herself. It's not a woman that likes to blend in the back, definitely, because women are not made to blend in the back, that’s why they are the only ones that create life. I always say that.

REESE: You seem to have such a respect for women and such an admiration for them; you must have a strong relationship with the women in your family.
OSCAR: Yes I adore my mom, she's my queen, and my sister, she's hilarious, let me tell you.

REESE: When you wake up tomorrow, and you've won Under the Gunn, and you’re this fabulous designer, what is next for you?
OSCAR: I'm going to keep working like always, and I'm trying to not disappoint the expectation that I already put on myself, and the rest of the world. This is my passion. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing that I want to do is to run into my studio to make something, I really enjoy it.

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As the Project Runway: Under the Gunn winner, Oscar received $100,000 cash, a trip to Paris, a Brother sewing and embroidery studio, a 2014 Lexus automobile, a fashion spread in Marie Claire magazine, and the opportunity to design a new uniform for Benefit Cosmetics employees. The new Oscar Lopez uniform will be unveiled at Benefit's Soho boutique in New York City on Monday, April 14, 2014. As Oscar's mentor, Nick Verreos triumphed over mentors Anya Ayoung-Chee and Mondo Guerra; he won a 2014 Lexus, a spread in Marie Claire, and a one-year position as guest editor for the magazine.

L to R: Nick Verreos and Oscar Lopez
To see more Oscar Lopez designs, visit his website at OzcarG.com. To see more of our Project Runway: Under the Gunn coverage, click here.

Oscar Lopez photos by Adam Taylor
Sketch and dress photos courtesy of Lifetime

Reese Amorosi (aka Glamorosi) is the editor of Glamorosi Magazine. To follow Glamorosi Magazine on Facebook click here.

Posted on Monday, April 13, 2014