Christopher Palu, a finalist on Season 10 of “Project Runway,” visited Drexel March 7 to discuss his experiences in the fashion industry and his personal life in Ruth Auditorium of Nesbitt Hall.
Before Palu landed a spot on “Project Runway,” he experienced a series of ups and downs in the fashion world. He joked about how hard it is to get into the fashion industry.
“You literally have to wait until someone dies,” Palu said. He also jokingly promised that he’s “not ready to kill anyone yet.”
Palu began his talk with an “outline for [his] own life, which is ridiculous.” Growing up in Massapequa, N.Y., Palu described his high school experience as the “traditional bullying story” and said that he was “literally tortured in high school.” He also spoke of his outgoing personality that ran in his family. He and his two sisters were very prominent in the arts, including clubs like drama.
Palu had a heart attack at the end of high school, which prevented him from working on his last two weeks of class and his finals. He failed his art class, which prevented him from getting into his dream school, the Fashion Institute of Technology.
“I still had a grudge against that art teacher,” Palu said while laughing it off. “She emailed me for dinner once — you know, after I was famous? — And I never emailed back.”
Despite his disappointment when he was not accepted to FIT, Palu lightened his situation as well as his talk with humorous sarcasm.
“I had to take these steroids after my heart attack that made me gain like 30 pounds,” he said, rolling his eyes and engaging the audience to laugh.
“It was like a time in your life that you had to accept,” Palu said. He went to community college for a time and transferred to The College at Old Westbury, State University of New York. He soon reapplied to FIT and was accepted.
“I can’t stress enough that whatever your passion is, get into that immediately. Just so that you can be aware of it,” Palu said, talking about his experience after getting into FIT. “English, math, and social studies — I can’t even deal with. FIT brought out my talent. I’m very proud of you guys for pushing yourselves in getting your degrees.”
After leaving FIT, Palu worked part-time as a hairdresser and later worked for the fashion magazine ELLE, which included doing a photo shoot with Alexander McQueen. “It was a cool thing to try out. It was like Mecca,” Palu said. Palu worked at Vera Wang as an embellishment intern and made two bridal gowns that made it into her collection. Palu had the audience in hysterics when he joked about when Wang found out that two of the bridal gowns belonged to him, saying, “She came into the office with a glass of vodka in her hand saying, ‘Who’s that boy? We have a boy intern?’”
Palu received a job designing shoes for Sam Edelman at an FIT college house after his internship. A couple months later, he started designing for American Eagle.
Palu was laid off from his job at American Eagle and lived off unemployment checks for a year. “I was just constantly sewing and making stuff for myself and redoing my portfolio. The amount of times you send out a resume and don’t get anything back is discouraging,” Palu said about his unemployment. It was then that his old boss at the hair salon had forwarded him the application to “Project Runway.”
After Palu was accepted into “Project Runway” and received his first challenge, he said, “It never stopped. It was craziness and it was fun.” For the first challenge, Palu had two weeks, one of which he had already dedicated to attending a friend’s wedding. He said, “I literally had to sew like a maniac.” Despite the time crunch, he was the winner for that challenge.
When discussing other contestants’ work, he said, “My jaw dropped. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. … You don’t just want to be the best in your class and sit in the back. You want somebody who is better than you.”
One contestant on “Project Runway” thought the producers were adding drama to the show, Palu said. “Everything you saw on TV was spot-on. You think they switch everything around” to create drama, but it was not so.
The only time Palu noted added drama was during the candy challenge. They filmed Palu and Gunner to make it appear as if they were fighting, but Palu assured they weren’t. In reality, Gunner and Palu did experience quite a bit of animosity toward each other but not during that filming. “[Gunner] thought they’d keep him on longer if he was a villain,” Palu said. “I was the little one he was mean to. I didn’t like him.”
Palu is confident and proud of his work. “I never thought that I’d make it to Fashion Week,” he said. “Just making it that far and having to build a concept and having it out for the viewers was a really great opportunity. … It was really nice to be creative and have that freedom on [the show’s”] dime.”
Although Palu didn’t win “Project Runway,” he said, “After everything, I thought I was going to get job offers like out of control,” but to his dismay he didn’t get one. He joked, “I’m a celebrity.” Afterward, Haute Hippie “hired [him] full-time to be an associate designer.” He smiled and said, “I’m really happy at this place.” Although “the hours are sick, 9-9 and weekends,” he shrugged, “That’s the industry, and I’m really proud to be in it.”
Palu answered questions about his experience during and after the show, including mentioning that his personal favorite design was his Rockettes costume. When an audience member asked Palu if he would consider returning for the “All-Stars Season,” he smiled and replied, “I don’t know. It stresses me out. Tim isn’t there. Heidi isn’t there. I don’t know if I would do it. … I’d have to think about it.”
Another audience member asked how “Project Runway” changed his creative process. He responded, “I always worked fast in school. It was a really strong thing to have. Staying under budget is not a hard thing … [if you] take everything into consideration.” Often, Palu said he would be up until 3 a.m. sewing.
“It’s going to be rewarding once you get paid for it,” he said. “Believe in yourself. You’re worth it.”
He offered advice to anyone who wishes to be on “Project Runway”: “Have a really good portfolio and professional pictures of your garments. … If you really want it, you’ll do it.”
At the conclusion of Palu’s talk, he raffled off a tablet computer he received from “Project Runway.” When Hayley Miller, a design and merchandising major, won, he said, “I hope you have fun with it.”
He encouraged fashion majors to practice constantly and to experiment with different garments. “My best advice to fashion majors: a lot of Red Bull.”
Additional reporting by Azwad Rahman