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Fashion Star Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

Ross Bennett

This is an interview with Ross Bennett on May 2, 2012 about the show Fashion Star.

Question:
Is there anything you would have done differently from the beginning of the show up to the point where you had to leave?

Ross Bennett:
I've had a couple months now to think about everything that I did on the show and reflect. And to be honest no, I always stay true to who I am as a designer. I try to design more of my classic modern looks to bring it back to the more back into fashion. That kind of style is kind of going away and I thought for the last month here it would have been something that everyone would have liked.

Based on my Twitter responses and the responses I've gotten from the show and the viewers they have liked my designs. Unfortunately at the end of the day not every designer's in every store. So maybe my collections just aren't fit for these stores.

Question:
Did you feel that during the designer portion of the episodes you get enough feedback from the mentors and court in order to create a really good runway?

Ross Bennett:
Yes. I think that the mentors along with the buyers and everybody a part of the team really did help us, guide us. I did save some comments on the show about for example last week with John Varvatos and how I said I'm not working for John. That kind of came out of context incorrectly. You know, it was more the fact that I really wanted to present three different looks. And sometimes designers and other people don't see eye to eye on creations.

My wife and I go back and forth all the time on stuff. And so kind of had to stick to my guns and stick true to who I was. And at the end of the day I was proud of everything I made on the show. But like I said not every buyer is going to like everything.

Question:
What's next for you?

Ross Bennett:
Right now I am in the process of building a fall 2012 collection that's more of an equestrian style jackets and trousers and things like that. And I'm also this weekend launching my men's customer bow tie and accessory line. It's called Dark and Dapper Series. And it'll be released this weekend on the Derby. I'll be wearing a couple pieces and a couple other, my clients will be wearing both ties and jackets with it as well. But that'll become available for the masses very shortly.

Question:
In yesterday's episode you had some very choice words for fellow designer Nikki Poulos and her credibility as a designer. You had said if you don't know how to sew it you can't really call yourself a designer. Was that the consensus amongst everyone remaining in the competition? And what was her reaction?

Ross Bennett:
A lot of the footage wasn't really shown in the studio. But every single week after week I was helping designers on their tailoring skills and their fit issues. And I just really feel that as a designer in any business if you're in a technological business or if you're in the media business or whatever business you're in you should know every aspect of that business, how to do everything.

In terms of fashion you should know how to pattern. You should know how to sew. You should know how to sketch. I mean it's a whole process. Because if you walk into a manufacturing factory and you don't know what's going on you could potentially have products still out that aren't correct. So it wasn't really a bash at a person per se. It was more as a discussion for just general business practice. I believe that you should know every aspect of the business from accounting and finance to design and implementation. So that's just kind of how I feel about fashion as a business.

Question:
In previous weeks you opted to go against the advice of the mentors. I know Nicole had given you advice on the jacket you made and on on some frilly gowns. The result was you didn't actually get any bids on those items. Not that there is a correlation but I'm just curious why you would still choose to ignore the advice given to you from an outside perspective this late in the competition?

Ross Bennett:
This week I did like I said, I did shoot like my olive jacket on the backdrop in Smashbox Studios. And just with the backdrop and the way the coloring was set it just didn't really make the jacket pop. So I made the decision as the designer to try the blue jacket against the backdrop which I thought popped a little bit better than the original one did.

And at the end of the day I feel as a designer I've got to stick to my guns and who I am as a person and as a designer and really just kind of follow through with my dream. And if like I said before if these stores don't like it then I try there's thousands of other departments stores in the country and in the world that I could always go at.

Question:
You need to know yourself as a designer and through the show you've stated that you repeatedly put text into your designs. And where you come from it's very important to you. Given the feedback from the show the buyers mentioned that they liked your designs the best when they looked a bit modern. And do you feel that your designs reflect the rest of the women in America or do they only tailor to southern women?

Ross Bennett:
I think anybody could wear a lot of the pieces that I've created. If you go on Pinterest and you go on Style Light, you go on different style blogs you see a lot of the similar silhouettes that I have created. o I thought that like let's go like with one with my wide leg trouser pants. That is all over the market wide leg trousers. And they even bought a couple other pairs or wide leg trousers throughout the weeks of the shows. And if you look at like my bolero jacket from week two with the high shoulders, that type of jacket is in right now.

I understand the fabric choice in week two is a little bit off using wools. I'm kind of a seasonless designer. A lot of my clients work indoors inside offices with air-conditioning. And they like to be able to wear a business suit or a jacket away from going to a happy hour. So for me it was a little bit difficult because I really wanted to stay true to who I was.

And like I did the shorts and the shorts were like the fun, flowy silks but it was still a very traditional cut. So I think that I'm going to take everything that I learn from these mentors and just really move forward and kind of open my own horizons and pay attention more to trending but still stay to my still same style.

Question:
We've spoken a little bit about how you ignored some of the advice from the mentors. But what was the best piece of advice you got from them?

Ross Bennett:
The best piece of advice that sticks to me every day is kind of what Nicole Ritchie said when I did the lingerie got to step outside of your comfort zone once in a while and kind of pay attention to try to have a little bit of a shock factor once in a while in your pieces, not only just with everything that I make but sacrifice yourself a little bit. That was really one of the biggest pieces of advice that I listened to.

But also John Varvatos used to always say this discussion about what we call a red thread in our industry. And that's consistency throughout a brand. And I feel like this competition if you would have walked into a room every time you would have known what pieces were mine. So I really feel like I stayed consistent to who I was as a designer, who I am as a brand. And I have no negativity towards the show. It was the greatest experience I could have ever been a part of.

Question:
We saw Jessica getting quite upset when you were eliminated last night. Can you just talk a little bit about your relationship with her?

Ross Bennett:
Yes Jessica and I, as mentioned in the first episode, went to the same high school, had a lot of the same professors and really came from the same neighborhood growing up. And so we kind of had off camera a lot of conversations of just past history, just got to kind of know each other a little bit better outside of Fashion Star.

And it was really a blessing to have her be a mentor because we come from the same roots. I'm a Texas boy, she's a Texas girl. And it was just a great experience to be able to have her around mentoring me. And a lot of people give Jessica Simpson flack for like not being very smart. But let me tell you something, that woman last December, her business is worth $1 billion. You can't be worth $1 billion in the fashion industry if you don't know what you're doing.

So it was such a blessing to have her mentor me. I know she was really upset that I went home because we had a connection together and it was just at the end of the day it's what the buyer's wanted to do. I'm pretty sure she wanted to save me and the other mentors maybe had second thoughts about it and that's why she got upset.

We haven't talked since the show last night. She just had her baby so I know she's very occupied with that. But but it was a lot of fun. And I still keep in touch with her. We still talk on Twitter and it's just it was great to have her as a mentor because we just - we're able to connect on a different level than any other designer was in the room.

Question:
When you left who were you hoping would win the show?

Ross Bennett:
I saw myself with a couple other designers in the end. I don't really need to name names right now just because I don't want to give anything away. But I really thought that I would be there in the end. I thought that a lot of my technical design work and the stuff that I do exceeded a lot of other pieces. A lot of people started showing the same pieces over and over and over just in different lengths or just a little bit different modifications.

I feel like I did jackets, dresses, pants, lingerie. You know, I did every single thing that you could wear besides a t-shirt or a blouse. So I really feel like I expanded my brand across the board where a lot of people just kept on making dresses or fashion dresses or the same dress over and over and over or a jacket with zippers or motorcycle vest, motorcycle dress. It was all very similar to the same stuff.

John Varvatos even made a comment last night about one of the designers saying the back of this dress looks very similar to the last two you've made already but it ended up getting bought anyway. So at the end of the day I don't really know what they were looking for per se. But I feel like I left the show being the most diverse designer by creating pieces all over the board from pants, to shorts, lingerie, dresses, suits. I feel like I gave it my all and I'm proud of what I did on the show.

Question:
You seemed to be really frustrated when you left. How do you look back on the buyer's decision now and their honesty even though it wasn't what you wanted to hear?

Ross Bennett:
Of course I'm going to be upset about something that I felt so passionate about. That piece, the hunting jacket I brought my conservative Texas tailoring into a piece that I haven't shown yet. And I really thought that this whole hunting and equestrian outdoor theme was really going to be something that kind of is in the marketplace but just a new look on it.

If you go on Pinterest and all the Web sites now there's hunting jackets all over the place. And last night the hunting jacket was trending pretty high on Twitter. I think I felt like I gave it my all and I did something correctly but like I've been saying, maybe this collection and my designs really aren't for these three stores. You know, John Varvatos doesn't have anything in Macy's or H&M and Nicole Ritchie doesn't have anything there either.

So it's like the designers you fit into what stores you're fit for. You know, this is a great experience for me. I tried to do things that I thought these stores would like. But I guess at the end of the day I was wrong. Hopefully I can take my collections to Neiman Marcus or Bergdorf Goodman or Hermes or some store like that or Nordstrom's and see if they like it and maybe they will.

Question:
How tough was it to be yourself as a designer while trying to appeal to three different stores? What was that creative process like for you from week to week?

Ross Bennett:
It was very stressful and very difficult. But it was just such a blessing to have the mentors there kind of helping us guide. I really never got too frustrated in the studio except for the last week. I can kind of go into a little detail about it. My dresses were actually originally sewn in backwards and then we had to take them apart and sew them back in the right way. And that happens all the time in manufacturing. Things don't go perfectly. And you have to figure out a way to fix it.

It's a stressful situation because you're constantly changing. But like I said just a minute ago I felt like I was probably one of the most diverse designers on the show. I did pants. I did shorts, lingerie, dresses, suits, hunting jackets where a lot of people just did a similar dress based off of every single week, week after week after week.

And not to put any other designers down but like I felt this show was all about diversity and how you could expand your brand. And the same dress or a similar matching dress over and over and over or a cocktail dress that looks almost the same over and over and over really doesn't diversify you as a designer. And so I was a little frustrated to see myself go because I thought that I really did outshine most of the other designers in terms of tailoring and skill but it's what the stores want to put in their stores on their floor. And I guess I wasn't really what they were looking for.

Question:
How do you feel the experience expanded upon who you are as a designer?

Ross Bennett:
I will never look back on this experience with any negativity. This experience for me was a dream come true. Not only did I get to be with John Varvatos, Jessica Simpson, Nicole Ritchie week after week discussing collections and building a bond and a friendship with them, but I also got to sit in front of the buyers of Macy's and Sax and H&M and get to talk with them and show thousands of designers from all over the world daily send these guys look books and try and get into their stores where we had one on one interactions with them every week.

So it was really a great experience. You know, if the show progresses and they do another season I encourage any person, any young garage designer to really take that and launch it to the next level. Now I got investors calling me who want to invest in my line and do bigger and better things. And I'm going to be launching a men's accessory line here pretty soon called the Dark and Dapper Edition. And it's just really fun. I know that my doors would not have opened to where they are now without this amazing experience that I had.

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