The 14th season of “Project Runway” brought 16 designers from around the world to New York to go head-to-head in the intense fashion design competition.
Ashley Nell Tipton, a 24-year-old designer from San Diego ( Chula Vista, to be exact), has officially made it to the finals. In last week’s episode, she was chosen alongside Candice Cuoco and Kelly Dempsey to create and show a complete collection for New York Fashion Week.
Tipton attended University City High School and then earned a degree in fashion design and technology from Fashion Careers College in San Diego. She’s separated herself from the competition throughout the season, and not just because of her signature purple hair. Tipton won the very first challenge right out of the gates, making herself a clear contender with a distinct background in plus-size designs. 12 challenges later, she’s still in the running to be the next great American designer on “Project Runway.”
With two episodes remaining in the season (one for the hometown visits with mentor Tim Gunn and one for the finale at New York Fashion Week), we chatted with Tipton about her start in San Diego and what it’s really like to be on the show.
Hi Ashley! I’m so excited for you. Tell me about how you got your start designing.
Hi! I was seven-years-old when my grandmother stated teaching me to sew, and she always encouraged me to be creative. Being dyslexic, creativity was my way of expressing myself. When I got into high school, that’s when I stated dabbling in fashion design. I got involved in the theater department’s costume design and started to think that maybe I’d major in fashion design.
What was growing up in San Diego like for you?
I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. I have all older sibling, so I grew up a little faster. I had a hard time with bullying in school, so being creative was my outlet.
What was the biggest influence on you growing up?
Fashion. I was reading “Seventeen” magazine even before I was a teenager. I loved looking through the pages and getting inspired. I didn’t think I could be fashionable as a child and into my teens; fashion was more like something I would fantasize about. That’s when I went into college and had more interest in beauty. I considered going into cosmetology, but I loved designing because I love to create.
Have you always dressed so stylishly?
I think people always have said that I am always put together. I definitely get that from my mother. She always told me that first impressions are important and because I’m a designer, I need to carry myself that way.
How did the audition for “Project Runway” come about?
My grandmother passed away two days before I received an email from “Project Runway” asking me to audition. I was grieving and auditioning was way over my head at that point. It was a straight no. At the time, I was working in my studio and my cousin said, ‘I think you should do it.’ Since my grandmother was gone, I felt like I had nothing else to lose. I filled out my application and in two weeks, they wanted to do an interview in L.A. From there, everything kind of happened so fast.
I’m sure you thought about being on the show for a long time. How did it compare in realty?
I still can’t believe I’m on the show. I can’t see “Project Runway” the same way anymore. It’s a different feeling watching it. This was the first season in a new area and in a new workspace too, which was an honor.
Hardest part of being on the show?
Being independent and knowing that you can’t trust everyone. I give everyone a chance until they give me a reason not to trust them anymore. I was very real on the show. Maybe a little more shy when the cameras were rolling, but it was an interesting process and tests your abilities even more.
Did you ever get homesick?
I don’t know if I really got homesick because I knew everyone at home was supporting me. My head was 100% there. More towards the end - you’re so mentally exhausted - I was squeezing everything out of myself. There was a moment that I had to look at the mirror and tell myself: “You can do this.”
What’s something that fans might not realize while watching the show?
I’m just an emotional person. They get to know you in the applications and they analyze who you are. And we get pushed to our limits. When that happens to me, I cry. Whether that’s good or bad. It’s a stressful position to be on the show. This is what you want, and going home isn’t an option. The circumstances, like having 12 hours to make a garment, are really stressful because you want this so badly.
What was it like hearing that you were going to New York Fashion Week?
Music to my ears. It was everything that I ever wanted. Standing with Edmond on stage was really intimidating because the judges loved him and his story of returning each season to audition. But I think because they were judging on that competition specifically, they gave me the final spot. The fact that they believed in me was just the cherry on the top of the cake that has been building the whole season. I knew that if I ever made it to Fashion Week, I knew what it was that I wanted to create.
For those who don’t know you, how would you describe your design aesthetic?
Fun and funky and unique all around. I really try to design for someone who likes to stand out.
How will you be watching the finale?
I am planning on being at home and being surrounded by my family and friends and everyone who has supported me.
Cheer on Tipton in the last two episodes of “Project Runway” on Lifetime, Thursdays at 9 p.m.