Amanda Valentine is “pretty proud of being a Midwesterner” and believes her personal style kept her above “that country bumpkin stereotype,” which often sticks to “Project Runway” contestants with similar regional backgrounds.
Valentine, a Lincoln native, is one of 16 contestants on the upcoming season of the Lifetime television design competition show, which premieres at 8 p.m. Thursday. She now lives in Nashville, where she is a designer and wardrobe stylist.
Describing her style as one that meshes contrasting ideas, Valentine, 31, said it is a little rebellious, punk and rocker mixed with her love of ancient cultures and clashing patterned fabrics.
“I like simple shapes but with embellishment,” she said in a phone interview. Her newest design project is titled, “Tibetan Punk,” she said.
After Valentine was selected for this season, she had a little over a month to clear her work calendar and head to New York City in July. Filming takes about two months.
“I was actually worried about being gone for that long,” she said, “because you don’t want to be off a producer or director’s radar,” referring to wardrobe stylist jobs. But, she said, the experience was well worth it. She had family and friends covering for her while she was gone.
Valentine points to her mom, Shauna, as an early design influence.
“Mom was always making quilts,” she said. “And I still love using patchwork in my designs.”
Shopping at thrift stores and garage sales in Lincoln was another fun family activity that Valentine believes influences her personal style, she said.
On "Project Runway," Valentine wanted to be comfortable in the workroom, but was very aware that what she wore was “a huge part of my message.” As a stylist, she knows she is good at dressing others, but wanted to “communicate a point of view” with what she wore when she was on the runway with her designs.
Knowing that much of the show revolves around what happens in the workroom as the designers plan and execute their garments, Valentine hoped to avoid the usual drama that pops up occasionally, she said.
“It is a very pressurized environment,” she said. “Things are magnified and you are fighting for your voice to be heard.”
In the end, “I tried to be honest and nice, but I was not safe from it,” she said.
She was surprised at how involved mentor Tim Gunn was with each of the designers and the details of the show as a whole.
“He was the liaison between the designers and production,” she said. “I did respond positively to his way of critiquing,” she said.
Valentine believes she was prepared for the challenges on the show. She began sewing as a young girl -- her mom taught her -- and continued making some of her own clothes through high school at Lincoln Southeast (She graduated in 1999). As a design student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she felt like she “got a snippet of everything -- textile research, construction, design.”
Barbara Trout, one of her UNL design professors, remembers Valentine as a student who was “able to stretch ideas and design out of the box.” As a student, she won “best of show” in a juried exhibition with her designs.
Valentine was not only talented, she had a dynamic personality and a “strong point of view” in design, Trout said.
“I will be watching to see what she will do,” her professor said.
There are a few new twists to this season. For starters, the contestants will work in teams the entire season, which was not Valentine's preference. And designer Zac Posen is in the judge’s seat usually occupied by Michael Kors, which was fine with Valentine. She loves Posen’s design aesthetic and “was a little terrified of Michael Kors.”
Valentine really enjoyed seeing several guest judges, including Bette Midler and Susan Sarandon, who she views as “legendary.”
Her favorite past "Project Runway" winner was Jeffrey Sebelia from Season 3. Valentine also liked Uli Herzner from the same season, who was recently selected as second runner-up on the recent "Project Runway" All-Stars show.
Valentine said being on the show got her very excited about designing again and she is ready for a serious step in that direction.
Could that be a hint about her success in "Project Runway"?
On Thursday night, Valentine plans on having a small “watch party” in Nashville and knows her family -- who she calls her cheerleaders -- will be watching, too. Her brother, James, is a member of the band Maroon 5.
After Valentine graduated from UNL, her parents moved to Utah, so she hasn’t really been back to Lincoln much since then, but hopes to get here soon.
“I can’t wait to bring my husband (Will Holland) here to show him where I grew up,” she said. “And I would kill for some Amigos. But first, maybe I would go to Yia Yia’s and get pizza.”