Southern ‘Project Runway’ Contestant Amanda Perna Takes a Quick Break to Chat With ‘Southern Living’
The South is making it work. Fort Lauderdale native and Alabama graduate Amanda Perna is representing the South–again!–on season 14 of Project Runway. Perna was kind enough to take a few moments away from her hectic schedule of designing on a deadline to chat with us about growing up in the South, returning to the national screen, and, of course, her beloved Roll Tide. Check it out below, and be sure to catch her on Lifetime on Thursdays at 9/8c.
Southern Living: I’d love to hear about your time at Alabama and how you discovered designing as a career. How did the school influence you? Also, as an LSU grad, I just have to add Geaux Tigers!
Amanda Perna: Always nice to chat with someone from an SEC school. The passion and school pride is endless. So I have to start with a big Roll Tide! I am a very proud UA graduate. I actually went to Alabama because of the unparalleled Honors College and entered as a Psychology major. I took a design class and fell madly in love. Because of the faculty at Alabama, I had an amazing education and I was able to land incredible internships (at Oscar de la Renta and Calvin Klein) and a design job right at Calvin Klein after graduating college.
SL: Did you ever imagine you’d be on Project Runway? Was it a dream of yours, or did it come into your life unexpectedly? I’d love to hear the story.
AP: Once I saw Project Runway, I fell in love with the idea of the show. I never really thought I would try out, but after the urging of my friends I eventually applied. Once I made the decision to apply, I made it a goal to get on and am so thankful that this dream became a reality.
SL: Did your Southern roots, from Florida to Alabama, guide your taste at all?
AP: My Southern roots definitely influenced my design aesthetic. My designs are very much a reflection of me and all the places I’ve lived.
Growing up in South Florida I was surrounded by bright colors and bold prints. This is a huge part of every collection I make. I even design all my own prints for the fabric I use for my brand, The House of Perna. I spent a lot of time in Palm Beach growing up, which influenced the breezy fluidity of my clothes.
After going to school and being surrounded by beautiful, classy Southern women in Alabama my style became very feminine. I fell in love with full skirts and pieces that are sexy in a classy, subtle kind of way.
SL: How about the way you design or the kinds of things you’d like to design?
AP: I believe in always being positive and surrounding myself with people who also are kind and supportive. I always try to help others, both in day-to-day things and in achieving their dreams–it’s a very Southern thing to help your neighbors and share love. Dresses are always my favorite thing to design, but I also love to design pieces that are chic but easy to wear.
SL: As a designer, what do you see as your biggest strength? Your biggest weakness?
AP: As a designer, my biggest strength is creating clothing that is fun and makes you feel feminine and sexy. I use bold color and prints so my girl always has fun putting them on and feels energetic. I try to never use the word weakness. That gives negative things too much power over you. My ‘area in need of improvement’ is my love of expensive and avant garde fabric. I am always drawn to the most expensive fabric in the store and constantly have to ask myself where my client is wearing that.
SL: You’ve been on the show before. What experiences are you taking from that first experience in this season?
AP: Last time that I was on the show I was very guarded. I carefully thought out what to say and what to do. This time I allowed my vulnerability to work for me–and to make interesting TV!
SL: How did that first time on the show affect your life? Your career?
AP: After season 9, for the first time in my life I was dealing with the public. As a designer in the industry, I worked on the 36th floor of a building and designed anonymously under another designer’s label. So having people know me, recognize me and comment on my work was a bit overwhelming at first. After I let my walls down, I met a ton of amazing new clients, and received a lot of attention from people who liked me on the show and wanted to see more of what I was capable of.
SL: You had internships at such incredible places so early in life. What have you taken from those experiences into your career?
AP: I truly am blessed, and have had a ton of incredible experiences. I learned early on that this is not a business for the faint of heart or people who like to work 9-5. The fashion calendar never sleeps, and therefore neither do you! I have learned so much from each and every unbelievably talented person I worked with early in my career and still do a lot of things the way I was trained on those jobs. I also learned the importance of building a brand, and giving your woman exactly what she is in need of rather than just making something that excites you.
SL: What advice would you have for young designers? Especially Southern ones, who aren’t in New York, LA, or Milan?
AP: The best advice I can give is to keep fighting for what you believe in and love to do. We are living in a global economy, all connected by the Internet. You no longer have to be in a fashion capital to sell your clothing. Look at the events that are happening in your community and in your state, and start growing there! And also prepare to work hard. Fashion is definitely not a business where you become rich quick and just get to do fashion shows and photoshoots. So learn as much as you can about the business side of things. It’s just as important as learning how to design and create clothes.
SL: Is it difficult to stay true to your Southern roots as you split your time between the Northeast and home? What’s the first thing you do when you get back to South Florida?
AP: It definitely isn’t hard to stay true to my roots. I am who I am, love me or hate me! I very much am a Southern girl with a New York work ethic and pace, so it is really nice getting to spend time in both places. Now that I spend the bulk of my time in South Florida, I just get back to my daily hustle at the studio. But when I spent more time in NY than Florida, I would always stock up on grits. It was nearly impossible to find grits at the supermarket in Manhattan, and that is one thing I will never live without.
Don’t forget to catch Amanda on Project Runway on Lifetime, Thursdays at 9/8c.