Behind the Scenes at the DAM

Q&A with Project Runway designer Julie Tierney

The fashion frenzy continues at the museum March 30 during Untitled #45 (Haute). We partnered with Fallene Wells and her production company Forever Darling to host a runway show with eight designers from the TV hit Project Runway. Each designer created a collection inspired by the legendary fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent and the museum’s recently opened exhibition that celebrates his entire creative output, Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective. What’s really cool for Colorado is two of the designers call this state home. We e-mailed with Grand Junction-based Julie Tierney to pick her brain about fashion and the future.

Denver Art Museum: How did you get started with fashion design?

Julie Tierney: In 2005 I left Portland, OR, because I was just not making enough money as a graphic designer and bartending on the side, so I decided to return to a ski town. I have a Kickstarter project to raise funds to get Julie Tierney Fashion off the ground, and the small video I have on Kickstarter best describes my backstory.

I lived in several ski towns as I pursued a career as a pro-snowboarder that did not work out, so I have lived several places with different lives. But, when I moved to Breckenridge, CO, I went right into bartending and I was making pretty good money. But, I knew this is not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I had paid for a trademark that was a name of a women's fly-fishing brand I would eventually make. But, I had no experience in how to do that, or how to design clothing.

The trademark took several years to get because it went through two appeals, but I already paid the money, so I thought I would at least ride it out. The process took so long, that I made a wager with myself, that [if], I actually get this trademark I will go to fashion school. Three years and three months later, I won my trademark, and I took it as a sign to apply at a fashion school. There was no way I could afford to put myself through school, so I was going to have to get a scholarship somehow. I met with SCAD, (Savannah College of Art and Design) in Denver, and they looked at my graphic design work, and said I should look into the scholarships.

I worked for months on finding, fixing and organizing my old work, and then packaging it super creatively. I was awarded a scholarship in graphic design, and SCAD allows students to get scholarships in one area, but switch if they want to. So, I signed up for fashion. But, I thought fashion was more along the lines of pattern making, and more like engineering than art. I struggled at first and thought I made a mistake because everyone was much younger, and had come from art high schools. I felt way out of my league. But, I decided to just finish out my degree because I signed myself up for this, and should at least finish. But, after a year in half I finally learned to fashion sketch, which I was positive I would never know how to do, and it was in my intro to accessory design class, that I thought I had a chance.

I made this bag, and people thought it was awesome, and questioned who made it? As though I could not afford a bag like that? Then I started thinking maybe I do know something. For my senior collection I ended up working with Catherine Malandrino, and my collection was a hit along with my illustrations. A piece of my collection was featured in NYLON, and my collection from school in 2010 was more popular in 2011. I found out I was ahead of my time, and I was pre-trend. Who knew? So, I moved to NYC, where I was told to move to Paris because I was too cool for NYC. I took an internship back in Colorado at Loki Outerwear because I was out of money in New York. I was in Grand Junction, CO for 3.5 months before I was cast on Project Runway season nine, and went back to NYC. So, me becoming a fashion designer just kind of happened, in a roundabout way. As a little girl I did not see myself as a fashion designer, I was thinking I would be a professional football player or astronaut.

DAM: Where do you look for inspiration?

JT: I have traveled around for years, so I use my current experiences, people and places and tie them all together to make sense. And, I try to have inspirations relative to where I am and who I meet. So, for my Kickstarter promotion I did a photo shoot out at Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction, CO, where I live now.

DAM: Sum up your design aesthetic in five words.

JT: Utilitarian, sophisticated, fashion-forward, cool Americana and fun. DAM: Are you excited to show in Denver? Yes/No/Why?

JT: First off, if you would have told me when I left for fashion school several years ago, that I would be part of a show at the Denver Art Museum, I wouldn’t have believed you. I was really not expecting all this, and being on a reality show. I don't think I knew exactly what I was getting into? And, I sometimes think it is strange that I am a fashion designer because I really don't feel like one. Not that I would know what that would feel like, but I am still getting used to it.

DAM: What gets you through the design crunch before a show?

JT: I try to not think about the good or the bad, but think about celebrating when it is done. I try not to get too excited early, and wait till I can look back and see it all together.

DAM: What was the most exciting or challenging moment you had as a designer in the last year after your Project Runway season ended?

JT: I thought the Pet Shop Challenge was my most exciting challenge. The garment I made, I thought was pretty cool, and I was confident I was not going to finish. It was in the last minutes that thing got thrown together. You don't see it on the show, but I did not have a garment until about 10 minutes before the runway.

DAM: What can people expect to see from you this year?

JT: Some enthusiasm! And something cool.

Ashley Pritchard is communications and media relations manager at the Denver Art Museum. Ashley has been at the DAM since 2008 and her favorite exhibition that has been on view here is Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective. She gets to peruse the galleries some mornings around 4 am for TV segments and loves having a little quiet time with the art.