Designer Mark Ray is covering all bases when it comes to his pursuits in the fashion industry. And with the popularity of “Project Runway,” the full-time student considers trying out for the Bravo reality series a reasonable step.
“I was looking for something to catapult me into the industry, and if you make it on to ‘Project Runway,’ you will get a job,” Ray, 46, says while interviewed in the fashion design workroom at Pima Community College.
So last spring the husband and father of two took “a leap of faith” and drove to Los Angeles to audition for the show’s third season. He showed pieces – a couture tuxedo vest and skirt, a blue floral tube-top dress – to judges that included “Runway” mentor figure Tim Gunn, and was asked to describe his design aesthetic.
“I am influenced by other designers from ultraconservative to radical,” Ray says, citing Alexander McQueen and Donna Karan, among others. The response was rather neutral.
“Tim said, ‘You’re not exactly what we’re looking for this year,’ ” recalls Ray, a retail and consumers science major at the University of Arizona and fashion design student at PCC. “I can only assume my stuff was right on the line.”
Ray, who also follows lower-profile shows on the Sundance Channel – “Signe Chanel,” about the Chanel fashion house headed by Karl Lagerfeld and “House of Boateng,” which follows British designer Oswald Boateng – is certainly not the only design hopeful tuned in to fashion TV.
“I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’m totally into those shows,” says 18-year-old Tawni Ryan, a fashion design student at the Tucson College of Design.
Ryan hopes her training eventually will launch her to Paris to design costumes. While she looks at the aesthetics and trends displayed on “Project Runway” for inspiration, she realizes that sometimes good fashion may take a backseat to drama.
The competitive nature of the show, however, is relevant to some Tucson Design College students’ day-to-day experiences.
“Sometimes we can have a very tense atmosphere,” TDC fashion design student Dustin Beaver, 25, says.
Leigh Lubbers, 23, a TDC fashion retail and merchandising student, has noticed that fashion terminology used on “Runway” has traveled to the school’s workrooms.
“Sometimes the teachers will say, ‘Make it work,’ ” referring to Gunn’s signature phrase, Lubbers says. “But it’s more like a joke.”
Ray continues trying to “make it work” by preparing for auditions for the fourth season of “Project Runway.” He is creating multiple pieces to show and immersing himself in fashion literature and media.
“It has been invigorating,” he says, “to go out on a limb and try something.”