Two Chicago fashion accessory designers will be on Lifetime’s Project Accessory, which will debut tonight, Thursday, October 27th right after Project Runway at 9:30 CST. We at Second City Style are thrilled to see Diego Rocha, the fabulous handbag designer who we have loved since way back when (Lauren and I each own a few of his bags and have been big fans since forever)… and James Sommerfeldt, who we know we will love, because… did someone say “shoe designer?”
I had the opportunity to talk with both of our city’s new fashion stars last week, and now I could not be more excited, nor curious about the show! They did tell me that the show was already filmed. What they could not tell me was anything specific about the challenges, or how they were presented to the judges. Hmm… So we will all just have to watch, now won’t we?
Diego Rocha Interview
SCS: How did you get picked to be on Project Accessory?
Diego: Back in June I was in New York and someone suggested I try out. I know that people don’t think this but but I feel I’m shy. I kept going back and forth “Should I go? Should I not?” and finally I decided to go for it and I am glad I did because I can’t believe it — I was chosen among thousands of designers!
SCS: Have you watched Project Runway? Are you a fan?
Diego:: Yes! Since Season 1, it has been my favorite show on TV. I know a lot of people who watch it and it’s like a club now. You know I watched the show last night and my heart started pounding a little, thinking that I will be on this show.
SCS: Since you design handbags, did you have to do jewelry, hats and other accessories?
Diego: Yes, and I don’t know how we did that! But if you want to stay on the show you have to deliver, work with customers and deal directly with the public, and YES that is the most exciting part. There are lots of accessories that I never designed before. I have my favorite designers and every house has their own handbags, shoes, jewelry, clutches. I found out that I am capable to do more types of accessories. Now I want to do more shoes, more jewelry! I think the show is remarkable. I got to know who I am as a designer. But Carol, you know, I am so stubborn. But you have to stay true to yourself. I have to have people around me that I can trust with the same idea of quality.
SCS: Was there an advantage to being a handbag designer and self-taught?
Diego: Oh Absolutely! Learning how to figure out different materials and how to do construction. The trick about me is that I know how to develop.
SCS: How did the designers get along?
Diego: I have my favorites and I’m pretty laid back – but I like peace and quiet at night and to have to be around people who are up when I may want to go to sleep. But everyone is in the same competition. There is emotion and crying when we are running out of time. Time is our first enemy in this competition. On the very first challenge it was the hardest because you don’t know what everyone is capable of doing and you get so anxious and wondering what the others are doing and you don’t know if you are good enough or if they are good enough. I learned that I had to start the day with a smaller shirt because by the end of the day, my heart was pounding, and my shirt would get bigger…
SCS: (Laughing) Like you were loosing weight?
Diego: Yes it was like that and by the end of the day I need a belt!
SCS: What do you see in the future?
Diego: It will be very interesting to think of that. I think think of how already it is like “Can I get a picture of you?” The Facebook, the emails, it is so amazing. I am a little overwhelmed and not sure how people will respond. I am amazed that people will recognize me. Already, I heard someone referring to me as the “bag guy” but I thought they said the “bad guy” and I was thinking… “What did I do?”
SCS: Diego, I really hope they capture how funny you are on the show!
Diego: I think this will be so great for the city having 2 designers on the show because people don’t really take Chicago seriously!
SCS: Is there anything else that you would like people to know about you?
Diego: No matter what I like to have fun and enjoy myself. I know it sounds like a cliche, but I want to make each bag better and better. I don’t take myself too seriously. Live events are hard but we are hear to enjoy! I worry about the bags… but they are going to be OK. At the end of the day, the clients are going to be happy.
James Sommerfeldt Interview
SCS: How did you get picked for Project Accessory?
James: I was at a photoshoot with a friend and we were talking about Project Runway…and they told me that the fashion Department at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago was notified about auditions for Project Accessory. I didn’t know if I could do a show, because I am a shy person. I tried out here in Chicago.
SCS: Please tell me more about your background. It seems you just recently started designing shoes?
James: Yes, my background was in furniture and cabinet making and photography… When I started at the SAIC I wanted to take classes in Fashion Design, and I saw the class “Footwear Design” and it jumped right out at me! I thought, I couldn’t wait to take the class.
SCS: I am fascinated by how you actually make shoes! I can imagine how mush work it must take.
James: Well, all shoes are built on a last…
SCS: What is that? Like a wooden hat form?
James: Yes, like a hat block, and they have a metal shank. It is difficult to get machines in the US, but I acquired the machinery. I learned the art of shoe making from Erick Wilcox Geer and Joanna Fleming at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I know of an incredible bespoke bootmaker, D.W. Frommer, in Oregon. Most of my shoes have a component of found, recycled or repurposed leather, from a jacket or old mink coat. Many of my heels are hand carved form African Blackwood. None will be exactly alike.
SCS: These are like works of art. I personally like the Nightmare Boot! And the prices at $1200 for shoes like these is not out of line!
James: Yes the shoes are wearable art or sculpture…artwork that is one-of-a kind.
SCS: Being able to construct shoes, no doubt, must have helped you on Project Accessory…
James: Yes, I had to think if I can construct a shoe, what can I not construct? And I am in tune to fashion. As long as I put my mind to it, I can build anything. I thought what we did on the show was amazing!
SCS: Were you surprised by the challenges, when you had to make a totally different kind of accessory like jewelry?
James: I thought I will figure out a way to make it happen. I was forced to play with new materials.
SCS: Were you wondering about your competition?
James: Yes, I was wondering what the others were doing at the beginning. I think we looked to each other to figure out pace. I was pushed to move faster. I found it to be incredible, what can be accomplished. I meditated… I was quiet, and then I moved towards doing something that would blow their minds!
SCS: How did everyone get along?
James: I think we were all there to guide each other. I felt a connection with everyone…yes we all have our moments… but there was an uncanny sense of kinship, or willingness to help. And yet it is a competition.
SCS: What do you see in the future?
James: From the show? I’m so… “Who knows what will happen…” I am so excited about it!
For more information on the show go to Project Accessory
Until next week! Be sure to check out our other favorite site dedicated to all things Project Runway…Blogging Project Runway!
— Carol Calacci
Photos: Lifetime, Diego Rocha and James Sommerfeldt