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Mila Hermanovski on Project Runway’s impact, her exit, and her favorite mentor

Mila Hermanovski on Project Runway’s impact, her exit, and her favorite mentor
Mila Hermanovski on Project Runway season 20, episode 1 (Photo by Zach Dilgard/Bravo)

Mila Hermanovski has now been on every iteration of Project Runway: the original series with Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum, though after it moved to Lifetime; Lifetime’s Project Runway All-Stars; and now Bravo’s rebooted version of the original.

Before and after her time on the reality competition, she’s worked on the other side of the camera as a costume designer for TV, from shows such as Alias and Nip/Tuck to films including Top Gun: Maverick and the L.A. unit of the forthcoming Barbie movie.

Her work was nominated for an Emmy in 2020, nine years after she was on Project Runway All-Stars. So why did she want to return to the workroom? How does this version compare to the others? And how did her short time on this season affect her life and career? I asked her about that and other things in an interview this afternoon.

Why return to Project Runway?

A person looking forward, with another person in the background
Mila on Project Runway 20 episode 3, with her model wearing her unconventional materials outfit in the background (Photo by Zach Dilgard/Bravo)

In one word, the answer has to do with the pandemic.

“I’ve had a long and successful career,” Mila told me. “I’ve been in the entertainment industry for over 25 years and had a [fashion] line. I have no complaints. But I found myself at this juncture where I’m just like, What am I doing? This started during COVID.”

“I just found myself asking the question: Where am I going? What am I doing? What’s gonna be most fulfilling for me? I was in a little bit of a rut, and the universe give me a sign: Project Runway came knocking at my door again, which I never ever could have expected. I thought I closed that chapter of my life.”

Mila said that when producers asked, it was “an easy yes,” and she had “no expectations” but thought “maybe something will come of it.” She added that “it might reframe how I look at what’s next for me, or maybe there would be an opportunity that would arise from it. Certainly if I won, that might have changed things a little bit!”

Project Runway’s challenges themselves offer an opportunity, she said. While those are “not always exemplary of everyday challenges in life,” she said it “sharpens one’s skills of problem-solving on the fly.”

What happened in the unconventional materials challenge?

Two people standing on a runway; one is wearing an outfit with a white fuzzy top and a skirt made of linked puzzle pieces
Mila Hermanovski and her model during judging of the Project Runway 20 unconventional materials challenge, which used toys from FAO Schwarz (Photo by: Zach Dilgard/Bravo) (Photo by: Zach Dilgard/Bravo)

Mila told me she was worried at the start of the episode that sent her home: “whimsical is not usually how I described my work.”

That caused her to think back to the circus challenge, which was the dress she remade in episode one. In other words, these kinds of challenges haven’t gone well for her.

“Given my own personal growth, it’s like, Okay, Mila, let’s like try to embrace whimsy, and let’s see what that means to me,” she said. “I really did want to push myself outside my comfort zone and use color, not just black and white.”

At the toy store, Mila said she had the idea to “bring the inner child out to play. What does whimsy mean to her?” That meant “imagining myself as a little girl skipping through the through the grass or through the garden. And movement was really important to me.”

During the episode, on the runway, judge Nina Garcia criticized the point of view, saying, “I don’t know why you did it.”

Mila told me that Nina’s comment that her inspiration was “vague … was kind of diminishing my personal inspiration, which I really don’t agree with. One can make their inspiration as specific or as vague as they want. That’s what creativity is about.”

As to her competition, Mila said, “call it old school, but I just—I’m gonna say it again, and I’m gonna stick to my convictions: I don’t agree with hot glue guns.”

When the other designers were being critiqued, Mila said, “I really did think: Okay, maybe I have a chance here being safe. I was actually pretty shocked because I thought that the judges would see and give a nod to the innovation that I had. At least I made an attempt to make my own textile.”

Mila did acknowledge the problems with her outfit: “I didn’t have a lot of materials; I ran out of puzzle pieces to make it fuller, and I probably ran out of time, too.”

Which Project Runway mentor was her favorite?

Project Runway 14 premiere Tim Gunn is not amused
Tim Gunn is not amused during the Project Runway 14 premiere. (Photo by Barbara Nitke/Lifetime)

Since Mila had a chance to work with three of the four Project Runway mentors—Tim Gunn, Joanna Coles, and Christian Siriano—asked whose mentorship she preferred, or who helped her the most.

“I would say that the mentor overall who I most connected with was Joanna Coles,” she said.

“Certainly, I absolutely appreciate everything all my interactions with Tim Gunn. Comparatively, you’re talking about two very, very seasoned individuals in Tim Gunn and Joanna Coles,” she added.

“Let’s just say I think they have a broader perspective on fashion in general than Christian does. Part of it is just life experience. Do you know what I mean? Joanna Coles is a very revered editor of a fashion magazine. And Tim was a teacher, he’s an intellectual, and I think that mentoring comes very easily for him.”

I told her that, as a viewer, I appreciate Christian Siriano as a mentor because it seems like he brings a perspective of someone who once was a contestant on the show, and was curious if it felt like that for her.

“I could see where that would be possible,” Mila said, “but I personally didn’t witness any of that and experience any of that. I think that maybe he did that with some of the other designers, but I didn’t experience that.”

How do the Bravo and Lifetime versions of Project Runway compare?

Christian Siriano, Nina Garcia, Project Runway season 11 episode 1
Christian Siriano will mentor and Nina Garcia will judge Project Runway season 17. Here, they’re judging the first challenge in season 11. (Photo by Barbara Nitke/Lifetime)

Besides the different mentors, I was curious if Mila preferred one of the versions of Project Runway to the others.

“As someone who works in production [of TV and film], I certainly appreciated a lot of the aspects of the Bravo production,” she said. “But just from a personal standpoint, it’s hard to say. There’s nothing that can ever replicate the first time. You’re just bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but then also, you know, scared AF.”

“I went into that experience being pretty naive, but with a very open attitude and saying: whatever happens happens. Then as I progressed, and I made it through each challenge, I started really pushing myself and I started seeing what I could do. Getting farther along, I was like okay, wait a second: now I want to win this thing!”

“Getting to the point where I could actually make my own collection in a in a civilized amount of time, in my own personal space, and then showing it in New York Fashion Week—there’s just nothing like that. That goes down in the books as one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had.”

Mila told me that “walking away from that collection was heart-wrenching,” and she said “I still look back on pictures of it.” I asked what if she meant leaving the physical objects of the outfits behind, and she said yes: Those were auctioned off.

The designers do not get other outfits made on Project Runway, which are all kept by the production. “We’re guns for hire,” Mila said.

Would Mila do Project Runway again?

The short version: nope. “After having months to process what happened, and why did I do it again, my takeaway was: Okay, this is not the platform for me anymore,” she told me.

“I can finally like close that chapter of my life. I took some time to really recover from it, because it was a little PTSD-inducing,” Mila said, asking herself, “Why did you do this again? This sucks right now, being eliminated and going back to that point of being so stressed out.”

“Then, in the fall [of 2022], I got another job in costumes, and I’m still in that job as we speak,” she said. That job is costume designing for a Netflix show about the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre.

“It’s just given me my mojo back in costume design and made me realize that this is this is the path I want to take,” Mila said. “I asked for something to shake up the energy in my life, so I could figure it out, and that’s what I got.”

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