Photo courtesy of Lifetime
San Mateo fashion designer Alexandria Von Bromssen is on this season of Project Runway, which starts tonight on Lifetime.
Photo courtesy of Alexandria Von Bromssen
In Von Bromssen’s Camp Couture workshop, kids recently sewed a map of the United States out of denim.
This season of Project Runway on the Lifetime network will feature local fashion designer Alexandria Von Bromssen, who produces her own line and runs Red Square Boutique, a design collective in San Mateo.
Von Bromssen, 38, first applied for the fashion design competition around five years ago and received a harsh critique from Tim Gunn, the famous flamboyant mentor to the designers on the show. Gunn told Von Bromssen that her work belonged in a museum, meaning he thought her clothing wasn’t wearable to the masses.
“I was disgruntled after he said ‘you belong in a museum,’” she said.
But that didn’t stop the designer from trying again years later to be on the show, after she had developed herself more as a designer. She created her own one-woman fashion house for her line, AVB Designs. She designs and produces a wide variety of clothing items, including swimwear, maternity wear and costumes.
Her designs, she said, are meant for “strong women” of all ages.
“I think strength is sexiness,” she said, adding that her aesthetic is edgy, modern, chic and elegant.
Applying to Project Runway for a second time with her same vision, Von Bromssen thought the producers would think she was crazy.
“I didn’t think it would happen and it did,” she said.
Designing for judges
On Project Runway, Von Bromssen competes against 16 other designers. Celebrity judges include the famous Victoria’s Secret model Heidi Klum and designer Zac Posen, whose clothing can be found at Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Each week, the designers are given wild challenges — in the past, contestants have had to make garments out of flowers or things found in the supermarket — and are eliminated by the judges one by one.
“It was a really cool opportunity to focus on yourself,” said Von Bromssen, who said she is constantly critiquing her own work.
Working long hours and creating pieces of fashion that require highly technical skills did not intimidate Von Bromssen.
“I can work with almost any medium,” she said. “I’m OK under pressure.”
But the challenge for her was finding a way to make something that pleased the judges while also staying true to her own vision.
“You have to know yourself and you have to know who you’re designing for,” she said. “Maybe I lost myself a little bit to learn what the masses want.”
Now, after the show, Von Bromssen is back in San Mateo focusing on finding herself again. She is inspired by the kids who participate in her “Camp Couture” sewing workshops at her Palm Avenue location.
Her first day back with the kids, they were making an all-denim map of the United States.
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
The kids learn to embrace themselves, she said.
“Kids are told what to do all day, and I think that’s sad when that happens,” she said, adding that her camps consist of one day of learning how to sew and the rest of the week the kids are free to make what they want. “Here they flourish. It’s like Project Runway without the judges and the drama.”
Model turned designer
Von Bromssen — who was born in California and grew up in Stockholm, Sweden — started in the fashion industry at a very young age. Her first glimpse into the world of fashion was not as a designer, but rather from another side of the industry. At 13, Von Bromssen, was 5 feet, 10 inches, which made her a great subject for the camera.
“I guess I took a decent photo,” she said.
By age 14, she was a professional model getting calls from Vogue and Elle and traveling the world for magazine shoots and runway shows.
She lived in Italy, Spain and Greece.
The young worldly Von Bromssen loved learning about other cultures, but the modeling gigs weren’t for her.
“I didn’t love it, actually,” she said. “It just wasn’t something I was passionate about. My mom wanted it more.”
Von Bromssen moved to New York to study at New York University. She studied business and got a job with Time, Inc., in San Francisco after she graduated. But again, there was something missing.
Instead of filling the voids of work with happy hours, Von Bromssen took art classes.
She found that she loved getting messy and creating her own works of art.
“My nails were dirty with paint like these cool war scars,” she said.
Then, fate stepped in. Von Bromssen lost her job after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. She decided to go back to school and get her master’s in fine arts from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
“That was probably the best day of my life,” she said. “I was thrilled to have an outlet.”
She has been designing fashion in the Bay Area for 10 years. She works from her home and her store.
Living in San Mateo, away from the constant happenings in New York or San Francisco, has allowed the designer to concentrate on her work.
“It’s quiet enough for me to produce,” she said. “It’s allowed me to focus.”
When Von Bromssen isn’t designing, she’s running. She has run more than 50 marathons and run two ultra marathons in the Alps.
She said the discipline of running helped her get through the intense Project Runway experience.
“Running has kept me sane throughout this process,” she said, thinking of the long hours of working through competitive challenges on the show. “You have to pace yourself, and breathe.”
Season 12 of Project Runway premiers tonight on Lifetime at 9 p.m. Von Bromssen’s Red Square Boutique is located at 1628 Palm Ave., San Mateo. For more information visit redsquareboutique.com. For more information on workshops with Camp Couture visit thecampcouture.com.