This past summer, Riverhead High School senior Chris Russo spent a warm July morning at Mood, the famous New York City fabric store often frequented by “Project Runway” contestants.
A Calverton native who has been a fan of the reality series since childhood, Chris had visited the shop before — but this time was different. Rather than stopping by with some friends, the 17-year-old was there as a contestant on a version of the hit show.
Chris, who was joined by Tim Gunn and the 11 other teenagers also competing on the second season of “Project Runway: Junior,” was given a budget of around $200 and just a few minutes to purchase some fabric, which would be used to create a garment he hoped would impress the show’s judges: host and model Hannah Davis, actress Kelly Osbourne, designer Christian Siriano and fashion consultant Aya Kanai.
Modeled after the popular Lifetime show — currently in its 15th season and hosted by supermodel Heidi Klum and Mr. Gunn, a fashion consultant — the junior edition showcases teenage aspiring fashion designers.
“I was watching ‘Project Runway’ one day [at age 12] and thought, ‘I can do that,’ ” Chris said.
He has already fulfilled that dream — all before graduating from high school.
The show’s application, which Chris found via social media, required a portfolio of his work, an audition tape and a completed online questionnaire about who he is as a designer.
“After doing the online part, they called me and said, ‘Hi, we see you’re interested in applying. We’re almost out; you need to send your stuff in today,’ ” Chris said.
Want to watch?
You can catch Chris Russo on “Project Runway: Junior” Thursday, Dec. 22, at 10 p.m. on Lifetime.
He frantically called some friends and asked them to model his clothing, which he took photos of with his iPhone and sent to the production company.
“And by the end of the day, I was a semifinalist because they liked what they saw,” he said.
Chris began taking sewing lessons from his grandmother Marilyn as a young boy and interned at Lynn Ritchie during the summer. His aunt is a fashion designer at the Manhattan store and Chris credits both women with helping to cultivate his passion. He considers himself a self-taught designer who prefers to spend his time creating pieces for friends rather than working on more commercial garments.
This made being “creative on demand” and completing garments under the show’s strict time limits the most challenging aspect of competing. Rather than work all night like the show’s adult competitors, Chris said, a typical workday was 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Receiving critiques from the judges was also difficult, Chris said, but it ended up “pushing him creatively.” So did working with people his own age.
“[The experience] taught me to trust in myself, because I’m doing it right,” he said.
Chris, who describes his work as abstract and graphic, focuses on prints and strictly limits himself to women’s clothing.
“Prints are my thing,” he said during a recent interview, dressed in a camouflage jacket and leopard print sneakers. “I say I invented prints as a joke.”
Chris is currently enrolled in fashion design at the BOCES campus in Brookhaven. He hopes to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City after he graduates in June.
“He’s wonderful, open, honest and hardworking,” said Riverhead High School guidance counselor Suzanne Maurino.
Chris said his friends, whom he told he was vacationing in Mexico this summer since he had to keep filming a secret, are excited for him. He added that they thought him appearing on “Project Runway: Junior” was more believable than him being in Mexico.
“I’m super excited to watch him. He deserves it,” Ms. Maurino said. “I’ve seen pieces he’s designed and he’s extremely talented.”
Photo caption: Chris Russo said he hopes to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology. (Credit: Nicole Smith)