Philadelphia fashion designer Kristin Haskins-Simms was nice enough to take a few minutes from her morning to speak to StyleSkinny about her line Strangefruit, showing at Philadelphia Fashion Week, and of course her experiences as a contestant on Project Runway Season 8. This talented woman had me inspired by her life history, and laughing at the present! She has a beautiful creative soul. Enjoy! xoxo-SBG
photo via source
SBG: Are you from Philadelphia? Is this your hometown?
Kristin: Yes, Im from Philly originally, but I’ve lived in New York…Connecticut…Rhode Island…Paris, I’ve lived kind of all over the place, but I am from Philly originally.
SBG: Were you living in Philly when you applied for the Project Runway show? You know you’re one of our claims to fame!
Kristin: (laughter) Well that’s lovely! Yes, I was living in Philly, I moved back to Philly in 2001/2002, around that time...and then I had a Graphic Design business, and I was teaching as well. I’m a graphic designer by trade, but then fashion just happened by accident. I think I could only have really done this is Phillly… its such a great [place] you know, low cost of living and of course the freedom to explore other avenues.
SBG: I totally agree, I too have a background in graphic design. When you were studying to be a graphic designer, did you ever think you would come this far in fashion?
Kristin: No, I never wanted to be a fashion designer. I appreciated fashion. I loved it. I loved to shop…but no, I never wanted to be a fashion designer, EVER! (laughter)
SBG: Wow, that’s crazy!
Kristin: Yeah, I always thought it was a catty business, you know? It just wasn’t a business that I wanted to pursue, and then all of a sudden…look at me now! You just never know.
SBG: So true, you really never know where you'll end up… Do you still have your graphic design business?
Kristin: No, I don’t. I kind of shut that down. There was just no way I could do both. I was already burning the candle at both ends. I felt I was living a double life, especially with my students. I was teaching Graphic Design [at the time] and I didn’t want my students to think I wasn’t dedicated…or that I didn’t know what I was talking about, or be discredited. So I never told them I was a fashion designer, but of course with facebook, the internet, and everything, one of them discovered me and they were like “omg, we love your clothes!” ...and they went through everything…went through all my sites. They discovered my other life! So it really was funny, but they’ve been really supportive. I love all my students!
SBG: Did you teach locally?
Kristin: I actually taught at Philadelphia University. Last semester I taught at Rowan University. I’ve taught at Tyler and University of Pennsylvania…I’m an adjunct [professor], so I’ve kinda bounced around.
SBG: Lets talk about the inspiration for your brand, Strangefruit. I know you’ve said in the past that your grandmother Mimi was a big influence for you.
Kristin: Yes, she definitely was, because my grandmother was a seamstress and a dress maker. She made amazing clothes...I still have some of the things she has made from when I was a child…things that she has made for my mother, in the 70s. She was accepted to Pratt in the 20s on a scholarship, but because of the fear of racial intolerance she couldn’t go. Her father didn’t want her to go and travel up north by herself, because we didn’t have family up there. [It was] definitely tragic, but at the same time, she got married, had my mom, who had me…
SBG: Well of course that’s a positive outcome...
Kristin: Yes! At the same time, I still sew on her machine, and it still is very special to me. I sew on it, Im sewing on it now ...and my first collection, and the pieces that got me to Project Runway in the first place. So it definitely has sentimental value, even if it is a little home machine.
SBG: Its like you have a piece of her in everything that you’re designing...
Kristin: Yes. I definitely felt like its spoken to me…although stuff I make, I know is nothing like the things she would make at all. Im more organic, I kind of figure things out. She was a seamstress…more technical. So there is a difference, and I’m ok with that. I know she'd be proud of me if she were here.
SBG: Was that an issue you had in Project Runway? ...Being around designers that maybe were extra technically based?
Kristin: Yes. Im so glad you brought that up! I just feel like people really don’t understand that design is one thing, and if you can execute and you have technical skills, GREAT. But if you’re just technical… that doesn’t mean you’re a designer. And I felt there were quite a few there who called themselves designers, but really were just seamstresses. And there's nothing wrong with that. My grandmother was a semestress and we have to work with them and pattern makers all the time… just don’t think you’re better than everybody because you can sew better. I wont mention any names. (laughter)
Kristin: ...and you know people say, “she just throws things up on the mannequin…” but yes, this is my process and I’ve created great collections as a result of this…but you know, it really just didn’t work for the show. And I was ok when I was eliminated…I knew it was my time.
SBG: I can understand, it takes a special person to do both. For others, there's just no creativity. Even from looking at your work online, its clear that there is creativity in each piece.
Kristin: Thank you so much. Its funny, because after we filmed the show, during the reunion.. I think it was Mike C, yes it was Mike C [who said] he loved my work. -we hadn’t seen each other’s work or portfolio before the show because, we didn’t know each other- so when the show ended and we were all back home, I said, "let me see other’s past work"…and some of them, I was like, "wow they have some great things!" and others were just like, “ehhehh!"
SBG: I know like, “How did they get on the show?”
Kristin: (Laughter) but Mike C, said, “I love your work!” and so, I guess I didn’t do my best work on the show, but its ok, because I got a lot of exposure. People were like, well how did she get on the show in the first place? So, I'm ok with that.
Kristin: Well Project Runway was just a show, and now im back to reality. Im pretty much picking up where I left off. I always use historical references or themes in my work for each collection. Last collection was called the Regal Warrior and it was based on military and the Victorian era, like a Hybrid. ...and now Im doing (sigh)…its just so crazy…but its Prairie Chic. I know it sounds awful! (laughter) …its like how can you be chic on a Prairie? Little House on the Prairie…like Laura Engles Wilder meets Carrie Bradshaw...
SBG: No, it sounds awesome! I love those shows!
Kristin: Yeah! When little House on the Prairie meets Sex and the City.
SBG: I can only imagine, its going to be great! So when is the show? What's the date?
Kristin: Its next Friday...the 8th, Friday Evening. Last time I showed on a Saturday, but this time im showing on a Friday. It’ll be exciting, I’m a little stressed because I have to finish all this stuff, and we had a photo shoot a couple days ago. But, the clothes looked wonderful on the model, 'cause, you know I hadn’t really seen them on, but they looked fantastic! Even the model emailed me to thank me! I mean, who does that?!
SBG: Wow! I know! What a gesture.
SBG: Well, I am definitely excited about the line… and thank you for taking the time to speak with me!
Kristin: Oh sure, no problem, im definitely an open book!
SBG: I guess one last question is, are you thinking about opening your own boutique?
Kristin: I'm actually working on that now, revamping my website, its going to be more E-commerce [based]. I mean you can buy on the website now, but I have a marketing team based out of NY, who’s helping me market my website. I don’t mind having an online store, I wouldn’t mind being in [physical] stores, and Im actually looking to talk to a few boutiques in Philly right now to do some trunk shows or probably consignment for my Fall...and then doing a Spring preview to get orders for that [season]. So doing Philly Fashion week is good for gaging a response to see which pieces really work, or maybe the entire collection will. Im just really a practical person. I think realistically and PR was fine for what it was... but its TV. Its fantasy. It isn’t reality…now its back to reality. But, I feel so blessed to have had that opportunity and to be in this elite alumni group that I get to share things with.
SBG: Well Im very happy for you, for your line…you’re a woman after my own heart, being a graphic designer and all…and I know you’ll continue to do great things.
Kristin: Thank you and yes, I still have to pinch myself…because this was all an accident. I just fell into Fashion.
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