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.