With all of the changes and surprises that have happened on this new season of Project Runway, the heart of the show still remains the same—and that is, who’s going to be the last designer standing?!
Season 17 of Bravo TV’s hit show has seen the departure of famous designer Michael Kors and longstanding hostess Heidi Klum —now replaced by Karlie Kloss—and Christian Siriano stepping into the former role of Tim Gunn, along with the addition of guest hosts/judges Elaine Welteroth, designer Brandon Maxwell, and the re-appearance of show alum Nina Garcia. And of course, there’s the behind-the-scenes filming and weekly documentation of newly casted fashion recruits showcasing their projects, all vying for a chance at design stardom; it’s a reality television frenzy that fuels the show’s popular viewership.
ESSENCE caught up with one of those bright-eyed design hopefuls, Bishme Cromartie—from Baltimore, Maryland—in the midst of this season as he shared his backstory and opened up about what fuels his passion to win the competition.
ESSENCE: Is there any special meaning behind your name?
Bishme Cromartie: Everyone always asks if my name is real or is it my stage name, but no, it’s my real name–Bishme Rajiv Patrick Cromartie. I’ve looked it up and seen that my name is in the Quran as ‘Bismillah,’ which means, ‘In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.’ My mom said she had the name ready for when she had a boy.
Tell us about your background and how your upbringing affected your decision to become a designer?
I always knew that I would be a fashion designer before I knew what a designer was, I just wasn’t sure if people who looked like me could become the type of designer I wanted to be. Growing up on the east side of Baltimore City –around my circle of friends who liked playing sports– made me wonder if I could even pursue it. I would imagine what it would be like to design gowns, so I taught myself how to draw and after I somewhat mastered how to sketch, my passion for sewing developed.
I can’t wait until the day I dress Beyoncé, it will honestly make my life and I know it’s coming one day!
How long have you been involved with fashion and were you always a designer?
I’ve been involved with fashion since I was nine years old –hand sewing garments for my G.I. Joe [toys] because I loved it and it made me happy– and by 16, I was going to New York for photo shoots and participating in fashion shows. I had one summer job outside of fashion and that was it; I can’t imagine doing anything other than fashion.
Who’s on your top list of celebrities that you want to dress?
I’ve dressed Niecy Nash, Andra Day, Eva Marcille, Fantasia ,Mel B., H.E.R., Dascha Polanco and Jill Scott to name a few. I can’t wait until the day I dress Beyoncé, it will honestly make my life and I know it’s coming one day! I would also love to dress Rihanna; those two ladies would be my dream come true.
When did you find out that you had been selected to appear on the new season of Project Runway… and tell us about that process of applying and the buildup to the final stages of being casted?
I don’t remember exactly when, but I do remember how I felt when I found out. It was like I won the lottery– a dream coming true to create on TV and be on a show that I grew up watching. After applying and doing interviews, the biggest part was just waiting for the answer and after I received the call it all went by super-fast and became a beautiful rollercoaster ride. At first, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about having a camera around me all-day-every-day; you sort of get used to it and forget that it’s there, especially when you’re creating, the camera is the last thing on your mind.
Have the weekly challenges stretched you beyond your comfort zone yet?
I think the challenges helped mold me into understanding the business of fashion and the type of designer I am, they’ve pushed me past my comfort zone especially working outside and sleeping in tents—that’s something I’ll never forget or do again [lol].
Is there an intimate bond between you and your fellow castmates, or is it all-out-war and survival-of-the-fittest?
Before meeting my castmates I was wondering how we would all be or if it would be a constant competitive atmosphere amongst us, but to be honest, we are like a family in a weird, little, competition-world way. We like to encourage each other to do our best and to not get in our own head. We have our competitive ways but mostly we are just making sure we all do our best.
Where do you see yourself in the future and what can we expect in the next few episodes of Project Runway? Will you be in one of the final survivor seats?
Honestly, I just see myself continuing to grow as a person and a designer. I have plans for my brand and want to make it become more of a lifestyle. I think understanding and studying my customer is key and allows me to know what things make my brand stand out. So, I’ll be building and expanding to become a household name while focusing on strategies that will help my customer enjoy their shopping experience.
I’m recruiting members to my fan group to help cheer me on [for the show] so, you will have to tune in on Thursday’s at 9/8c on Bravo to see– let’s hope I do good!