A Conversation with ALTHEA HARPER
By Lori Zimmer
We first met the lovely Althea Harper nearly three years ago on Season 6 of Project Runway. The blond bombshell wowed us with her beauty, and her innovative designs–earning her runner-up. But the momentum doesn’t stop there–life after Project Runway is a pretty sweet one. It seems to be the only reality show that yields alumni that we actually hear from again (earth to the slew of Top Model contestants that fell of the face of the planet). Former Project Runway “losers” are popping up everywhere–collaborating with shoe companies, mainstream stores, working under iconic fashion houses, and even hosting their own reality shows.
Althea is no different. After Season 6 came to a close, she moved herself to New York to continue the buzz she created with her smart designs on TV. Although she had internship experience with industry greats (McQueen, Sui, Westwood), Runway helped her snag a job in New York at Tory Burch, where she got her New York feet wet, and set the stage to gain the experience to launch her own line.
Her first Spring collection, “Assimilation,” debuted in fall of 2009, and she has been steadily on the up–becoming a staple at New York Fashion Week since. Althea’s collections stand out from the rest in their subtle hues. Her fabrics tend to stray from the showy or fussy, but instead simple and sleek, the perfect canvas to show off her fine design and fitting. The soft hues are fused with hand-designed patterns that harmonize with each dart and pleat of her garments.
Her latest collection which just debuted has more of her expertly tailored pieces–whisper-light fabrics in creams, greys and blacks, sexy open-backed dresses with delicately placed straps, and her signature draping. Althea consistently proves, she may be a reality TV star, but she is here to stay.
Lori Zimmer: Your gorgeous prints are all created by hand. What inspires your textures and patterns?
Althea Harper: There are all different things that inspire me. This season it was old photos where people thought they saw the supernatural spirits. In the past it has been sound waves, and old movie posters.
LZ: Your F/W 2011 collection featured neutrals, off whites and steel grays. Why did you choose such a muted palette?
AH: I generally opt for more monochromatic color palettes because it allows me to play more with design while keeping the collection unified.
LZ: In a world of inane reality shows, Project Runway is perhaps one of the only ones with true artistic integrity. How do you think it has helped shape your career?
AH: I don’t think that with my age and background I would have been able to start my own business without that push Project Runway gave me. I went to PR directly from college and it helped form me into a professional designer verses a design student; as a student you design for yourself. Being judged by all these people that I respected and would hope to dress, and hearing how they viewed me and what my strengths and weaknesses are helped give me a clear view of the type of designer that I am. Also, the amount of publicity and press that I was able to generate from being on the show has been extremely helpful.
LZ: Before Project Runway, you interned with industry icons Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Anna Sui and Zac Posen. Had you dreamed of working for one of these fashion houses, or did you always see yourself with your own line?
AH: I definitely always dreamed of having my own line! I even took business and entrepreneur classes in college because I wanted to be prepared when I had my own business (unfortunately nothing can prepare you!). However, I definitely needed all the work experience that I got and think that it is necessary to have experience working under people before starting out on your own. I worked full time at Tory Burch before focusing entirely on my own line.
LZ: Do you still keep in touch with any of your Project Runway alumni?
AH: Not as much as I used to unfortunately! I still talk to Ra’mon-Lawrence Coleman fairly frequently because we share the same factory.
LZ: What would you say is your own personal style? What can we find you in on an average day?
AH: It really depends on the day! I am sure Tim Gunn would not approve, but there is always a joke around the office that I am always in my workout clothes (leggings and tank). I tend to wear that when I just have a day running around the garment district or just have production meetings. Otherwise I like to dress in jeans and a blazer with a fitted tee. I tend to wear more fitted clothing as it looks better on my body then oversized.
LZ: What was your inspiration for your Spring/Summer 2012 collection?
AH: I was inspired by the supernatural; the power of the mind and all the things that it can create.
LZ: What is your favorite off-the-runway trend?
AH: My favorite off-the-runway trend are skirts that hit the mid calf; cocktail length skirts or dresses, especially more tapered versions. I think this is such a feminine, and sexy cut! I also think that this is more about proportion on where it hits your body, and less about how tall you are (people assume you have to look like a model to wear this length).
LZ: What are your New York favorites (shop, café, etc.)?
AH: I love walking down the west river from Canal Street down to Battery Park in the evening–it is so beautiful and calm. I love SoHo for shopping and Columbine in Tribeca for the best food for lunch. Morimoto in meatpacking is my favorite place for dinner.
Althea Harper is a New York based fashion designer, who was a contestant on Project Runway Season 6.
Written by Lori Zimmer
Photography by Hadar Pitchon
Design by Jillian Mercado
Althea Harper, Spring 2012 Collection and After Party, Stone Rose Lounge, Time Warner Center, 2011, Photography by Hadar Pitchon