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Get To Know Project Runway’s Laura Bennett

If you know me “in real life” or happen to follow me on Twitter, you know that I am a huge fan of “Project Runway“. HUGE. If it is at all possible, my entire world comes to a screeching halt when the show is broadcast on Thursday nights so I can watch and also take part in the Clever Girls Collective Project Runway Twitter party. When it’s not possible, I’m watching it at 5:45 a.m. on Friday morning.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll remember how Sue rocked my world by not only getting a headshot of Tim Gunn at last year’s BlogHer conference (okay, and signing it herself on his behalf, whatEVER.), but also making me believe for a split second that he sent me flowers for my birthday last year. Project Runway Nerd, right? That’s okay, I own it. When I went to Manhattan a few years ago with my sister, I had to get to Macy’s because the winning designs from Season 3 were in the window.

That’s Laura’s design on the far right side. And yes, I took this picture (and the one below the next sentence) with my trusty, dented, pink duct-taped Olympus. Coincidentally, the sponsor of Fashion Week in 2006 was…Olympus. *woot*

I also took a picture of Parsons The New School For Design, even though it wasn’t the same location used for the show.

Right school, wrong location.

My favorite contestant that season was Laura Bennett*.

Laura was known for many things on the show that season: her red hair, the way she was always impeccably dressed, revealing her pregnancy on the show, the detail work (for example, incredibly intricate beading) on her designs, and of course, her skill in designing smart and stylish clothing. Perhaps though, what she might be most remembered for was a little bit of controversy. She spoke out about her suspicions that the designer who ended up being the winner may have cheated, and footage of that was shown during the finale.

For me, there was another slice of video that was shown during the finale that has stuck with me in regards to Laura. Tim Gunn always goes to check on the finalists while they’re home working on their collections for the fashion show at Bryant Park, and an exchange he had with one of Laura’s children still makes me giggle today:

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. You can imagine my joy when I checked my inbox and found an e-mail from Laura. She has recently published a book called Didn’t I Feed You Yesterday? A Mother’s Guide to Sanity in Stilettos, a humorous book of essays she wrote about raising her SIX CHILDREN (one daughter and five sons!) with her husband Peter in a 2-bedroom loft apartment in the fashion district of Manhattan, and was wondering if I would be willing to accept a copy from her and review it.

I was totally geeking out.

Naturally I agreed, after asking her to sign my copy, and of course sending her my address AND phone number, “in case she wanted to chat.”**

I received the book a couple of days later and have a review (and giveaway!) up at my review blog, but I also interviewed Laura and decided to post it here, to give her double coverage and to give you double posts***. I have to say that, in the many e-mail exchanges she and I have had since the first one, I have learned that she is completely approachable, very “real”, and absolutely hilarious. She doesn’t seem scared of my Project Runway geekdom, either; I have tried not to be too creepy, in case you’re wondering.

So without further ado, here are the ten questions I asked Laura, with her responses.

Is there a place in that 2-bedroom loft where you can get any peace and quiet? If there is, what has to happen in order for that to occur?

I go into the bathroom and lock the door. I am thinking about installing a mini-bar in there.

I know that you do have lots of great help with your kids and the household; does that translate into regular date nights with Peter? How do you two enjoy spending your time when you can get away from the apartment?

We actually never have date nights. Neither of us are foodies, so we don’t enjoy fancy restaurants. We go out together if we have a specific event to attend, but that happens rather rarely. Our version of date night is watching “House” marathons on TV after the kids have all gone to sleep.

You call your style of parenting “old-fashioned”, because you believe (as I do!) that there is no such thing as a perfect parent. That said, and combined with the fact that you might be a little more lax when parenting in public than some of the more uptight parents out there, have you ever received negative comments or unsolicited advice? How do you handle (or how have you handled) that?

I can’t really recall anyone butting in. That is not to say it hasn’t happened many times. It’s just the kind of thing that wouldn’t register with me. In my book I say that I parent my children my way, not the way others expect me to.

You mention early on in your book that it seems clear that in this day and age when we have an overload of information and advice on parenting erupting from every piece of technology there is (as well as the mouths of others who don’t hesitate to ask questions about what is none of their business), parents are much more anxious about parenting and seem to cling to their kids more tightly. What’s your advice for those parents who listen to just about all of the voices out there and are trying their hardest to be perfect?

Use common sense. What works for other families may not work for you. Parenting is intuitive. Just trust yourself.

The chapter in which you introduce your kids and share how you came up with their names was one of my favorites. I never would have put any thought into why you gave them the names you did, but when you explained it, it made total sense and I found it all quite brilliant. Their names are not only unique but have real meaning. Any advice for soon-to-be parents who are trying to be unique but ALSO want to add meaning to their baby’s names?

That’s a tough one. One thing I will say is if the name you chose has a short version people will use it. There is nothing you can do about it. So you better take that into consideration ahead of time. If you like the name William, but don’t like Will, move on.

On that note, though you say in the book that it’s not in your plan to have another child, let’s say for a moment that you did. Now that the name Finn (“for Finis, Finito, Finished.”) has already been used, what could you come up with, on the fly, for number seven?

Seven. Sev for short.

Photo credit: Laura Bennett

I thought the drawings in the book (by Robert Best) were SO completely appropriate for the tone of the book, and they are retro, which goes along with your parenting style. Robert was a fellow contestant on season 3 of Project Runway; is there any fascinating story about how your writer/illustrator partnership came about?

We worked together on a style comic strip for iVillage called Case Clothed. I always loved his illustrations, who doesn’t want to look like Barbie? So I asked him to do one for each chapter of the book. I was hoping they could be in color, but it turned out to be cost prohibitive. His illustrations in color are even more fabulous.

Drawing by Robert Best. Thanks to Laura for sending it!

Your designs can be quite intricate and there was a passage in the book about how Tim Gunn wasn’t sure when you auditioned that you actually did the work, and that he didn’t think you looked patient enough to string beads like you had used. (that made me laugh!) Being a parent of six children–five boys– you HAVE to have patience, obviously. Does the intricate work you do on your designs provide any type of therapy, escape, or relaxation for you?

When I make things with my hands, time just flies by. That’s when you know you really love something. I can bead a dress for hours and I look up at the clock and see that I have ten minutes to get across town to pick up the kids at school. They always laugh at me when I show up late.

I know you watch “Top Chef” now, but what about “Project Runway”? Still a fan, or did you have enough when you were on it? (and if you still watch: any predictions for this season’s winner?)

My pick for the win is out of the running. I was invited to the finale show taping in Bryant Park where they showed collections from ten of the contestant so the press and audience have no idea who the three finalists are. Of the ten collections, Jay’s was, for me, by far the best. He was my pick to win the whole thing.

You’re an architect, you have a clothing line on QVC, you wrote the Case Clothed series on iVillage, you write for The Daily Beast, and now the book. What’s next?

I really love writing and I have an entire list of stories I forgot to write about in the book, so I do think have another memoir in me. But for my next writing project I am working on a book of 10 sophisticated do-it-your-self fashion projects. Sort of the antitheses to the turn-your-jeans-into-a-skirt craft projects of the past.

I really appreciate Laura’s willingness to answer questions (Thanks so much, Laura!!). *TOTALLY honest statement. No joke.
**Oh yes, I did.
***I’m a cheeky monkey.

©2010 Suburban Scrawl

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Charlie on the PA Turnpike April 22, 2010, 11:34 am

    Who says you can't lern anything from bloggers?

    All this time, I thought Project Runway was about the local airport expansion.

    (Truth be told, I am one of those guys whose entire wardrobe consists of blues and blacks, so I never have to worry about matching)

  • WeaselMomma April 22, 2010, 1:44 pm

    I am looking forward to talking to Laura even more after reading this.

  • PJ Mullen April 22, 2010, 2:05 pm

    If I was still in the suit and tie world I would want Tim Gunn's wardrobe.

  • john cave osborne April 22, 2010, 6:03 pm

    "Project Runway Nerd, right?"

    you're nobody's nerd.

    and great stuff. what a clever woman. if not for her body of work, then certainly for the mini-bar-in-bathroom concept!

    ps lovie says hi.

  • nycgirl0501 April 22, 2010, 8:06 pm

    Great interview. I like her already & I never seen the show. I might watch it when the new season starts. The book sounds fantastic & I'm not even a mom and I'd still like to read it.

  • Classy Fab Sarah April 22, 2010, 11:07 pm

    Holy cow, I love love love Laura Bennett. I loved her season of PR the best of probably every single season and let's be real… her clothes are AMAZING. Simply stunning.

    Such an awesome interview! I can't wait to read her book!

  • Lucy April 22, 2010, 11:08 pm

    How cool are you getting to interview her?!?! Jealous! 🙂

  • Heather April 23, 2010, 2:46 am

    I actually watched that season of project runway and laura was one of my FAVORITES! how awesome! 🙂 i am SO excited for you! 🙂 🙂

  • Huckdoll April 23, 2010, 6:00 pm

    Holy smokes, GREAT read! I don't watch the show but learned lots and loved this.

  • Susan Helene Gottfried April 24, 2010, 8:17 pm

    Okay, you're going to bug me this week so I actually watch the show, right? I have never seen it.

    I know. And you still talk to me. You are cheeky, indeed.

  • Sue April 28, 2010, 1:48 am

    Yay, she sounds awesome! Maybe Tim will be your next victim? I mean reviewee.