Project Runway’s Judy Gao talks setbacks, her dirty sense of humour and presenting in Paris

11 December 2018
By Fashion Quarterly

As one of the only self-taught designers on the debut season of Project Runway New Zealand, Judy Gao was the dark horse of this competition hustling all the way to fourth position.

Judy was many things on Project Runway. A silent assassin, an underdog, a little lamb, but above all else, a ball gown queen. Having never had formal dressmaking experience, Judy’s unconventional method of assembling garments was one of extreme delicacy and admiration. Where more critical designers fell, Judy rose — let’s just say we’ll never forget her avant-garde design from week five, nor her whimsical creation from the Pascoes jewellery challenge in week nine.

With only the final episode remaining, Judy, 24, chats to Fashion Quarterly exclusively on her time on the show, what the producers didn’t show, *cough, her dirty sense of humour*, and where we can expect to see her coming collections.

How has your life changed since Project Runway?
I’ve learnt so much from this experience. My design aesthetic has grown tremendously. I now appreciate a lot of different styles outside of my own, as well as being more critical of my own work.

I’ve also gained a lot of confidence after surpassing my own expectations. Especially making it past the tailoring challenge! I picked the most difficult fabrics and was on the verge of giving up but managed to create an outfit I was proud of.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen about yourself on social media?
Luckily for me, I haven’t seen anything weird about myself. No one’s made a meme of me crying yet.

When and where was the first time someone recognised you?
I was at a fabric store with Beau, so we were super obvious.

Tell us about your strongest friendship on the show and why?
I bonded with Kerry the most. We were roommates so we got to spend extra time together and I know he’s always got my back.

Your design work is very specialised – very intricate and labour intensive. How did you remain focused in light of challenges that pushed you beyond your style; and what advice would you give to other young creative or entrepreneurs developing their aesthetic or brand?
At the start of the competition, it was really hard to push outside of my aesthetics because that was all I knew how to do. But as the show progressed, I felt more comfortable to experiment with new techniques and ideas and I’m truly grateful as this helped me improve as a designer.

I also constantly had the judges in mind, wondering if my look will impress them or not.

The advice I would give is to find a style that represents who you are and that you’re truly passionate about. Develop that to your best ability and people who share the same passion will gravitate towards you. But… also keep in mind the people you’ll need to impress to keep the business running (buyers and customers.)

Being told no, being rejected, and failure, in general, are hard realities we all face at some stage. How do you cope with failure?
I always remind myself not to take it personally. It’s not because you’re a failure as a person – setbacks happen to everyone and you can only learn and grow from them. For example: with my failures on the show (the sunshine mess and the last challenge), I learnt to be more confident in myself and to play to my strengths instead of focusing on what I can’t do.

What’s something our audience didn’t see or know about you on Project Runway?
I have a dirty sense of humour but we had to keep it PG for television.

What has been your favourite outfit in the series (of yours and from another designer)?
It’s hard to choose just one! The styles of the other designers have really grown on me and opened my eyes to new design aesthetics. I’ll be biased though and go with my Avant Garde look. It was so much fun to create and I would love the opportunity to experiment with new techniques again. In the commercial world, we don’t often get the chance to be as creative as we do so this was really refreshing.

And the $50,000 question… what would you have done with the cash if you won?
That would give me the kick up the butt I need to expand my business. I would hire some help and open a pop-up store. Also, would start marketing my brand to Australia.

What’s next for you?
Really excited for the future ahead. I was recently invited to show a collection at Paris fashion week so will need to sort that out soon. Also, launching a bridal collection that’s been long overdue!

Photos: Supplied, Instagram

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Watch Project Runway New Zealand on TVNZ 2 every Monday at 7:30pm from October 1, 2018, or watch it on demand.  


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