The first time Amanda Perna was on “Project Runway,” she and three other designers got sent home on the very first episode. So when the Delray Beach resident got the chance to return Lifetime’s fashion competition show for its current 14th season, she vowed to stay long enough to make an impression.
And when Perna, a 28-year-old sunny blonde with a bright smile and a penchant for equally bright, fun clothing, was sent packing during last week’s episode via the Heidi Klum-administered double-cheek kiss, she felt that her mission was accomplished.
“I did what I came to do, 100 percent,” she said, from New York, where she was showing her spring/summer 2016 collection at Fashion Week. “I wanted to compete and do fun things, to meet (“Project Runway” advisor and mensch) Tim Gunn. The whole point of the show was to go on, do my thing and have a once in a lifetime experience. I think I got that. I think it would have been a blast if it would have lasted longer.”
Perna’s booting came at the end of a three-week streak where she was in the bottom three contestants, a turn of events that “shocked (her) a couple of times. I was thinking, ‘This seemed to be a trend, and I hope the trend changes.’”
“I am an optimist.”
Perna thinks that her short time on the show can be partially attributed to the basic theme, which is to whip up some fabulous, professional-looking garment on no sleep, in mere hours, and by yourself. In real life, she runs The House of Perna, a “proper, functioning fashion house (with) a full team” that has a workspace and studio off Atlantic Avenue, and she started her first fashion line at age 19.
But on the show, she found that “making something in no time wasn’t really my thing. But I think I could have gone further. I was not the worst of the night.”
Which is not to say that the University of Alabama graduate and former designer at Calvin Klein didn’t enjoy herself, including meeting the ever-dapper Gunn (“He’s amazing!”) and competing in wacky challenges like creating a garment out of high-end Hallmark cards.
“The cards were so beautiful,” she says.
Not so much fun? Her conscious efforts to balance a natural tendency to be “sassy” with the professionalism of a business owner, which seemed to fail after being accused of being a “mean girl.”
The drama began with a challenge that required the designers to pick, round-robin, team members much like you would on the playground. That always leaves one person standing alone, picked last and feeling lousy, and when that person turned out to be Ashley, an iconoclast who’d won two previous challenges, both Ashley and Heidi Klum wondered if the picks weren’t more about cliquishness than creativity.
Perna says she was “upset” by the accusations, because “I am not a bully. I would never be a mean person…It was hard, but I’ve moved on. I’m so busy with my business. But I don’t want to look like that.”
This, of course, is one of the risks of reality TV - that one’s edited persona fits a storyline or a narrative rather than actual reality.
Perna says “Project Runway” got her “about 50/50. I’m very honest and opinionated, and if you ask me questions I’m gonna answer honestly. I’m in the studio, putting out a full collection every single season. I’m on the ball. I know who my girl is. People on the show didn’t get to see the strengths. I advise them to look at my real work, in the real world.”
So with this season under her well-coordinated belt, would Perna take another run at the “Runway,” or any other reality show? Depends on the day you ask her, she says.
“I’m OK in front of the camera. At this moment in my life I got an amazing opportunity and had a great time. But I need to be focusing on my business. Knowing I was going to be away so long I was constantly thinking ‘Are they finishing my collection? What are they doing?’,’” she says.
“I’m so glad I did this. But otherwise I think I’ve got my fill for a little while.”