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Comeback Queen

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Nobody likes a sore loser. Just ask Korto Momolu, who recently came in second place this season on the popular Bravo reality show “Project Runway.” Sure the Liberian-born wife and mother was initially disappointed. But like a true champion, this comeback queen is ready to hit the catwalk with even bolder fashion moves. “There’s a reason I didn’t win. I think it’s because something bigger is coming and I’m ready for it,” says Momolu. Her boldly-hued, ethnic-inspired frocks had viewers proudly rooting for the 33-year-old every week. ESSENCE.com caught up with the feisty Arkansas resident to find out why she loves the “burbs,” how she’s adjusting to her newfound celebrity, and why she’d love to dress Oprah.

ESSENCE.COM: So what is a hot fashion designer like you doing in Arkansas?
(Laughs.) I never dreamed I would be living in Arkansas. I was actually living in Atlanta before I got married; I was in design school there and my husband and I were in a long-distance relationship for about three years. It was just one of those things where we knew one of us had to relocate. My husband was in school as well and in the military, so I decided to make the move. It was supposed to be a pit-stop move, and then the next thing you know we bought a house; had a baby-you know, just life. So I decided to go ahead with my design dreams and launch it here. It worked out for me because they’re really receptive here, and we kinda started a little fashion scene and it’s growing. Arkansas has a lot of potential. There are so many great boutiques opening up here now. We definitely know that we might have to move and my husband already accepted all that, so I have his support. I don’t know if I really want to live in New York City. Maybe someplace like Philly, where I can commute to New York. I want my daughter to grow up in a suburban environment. I want her to have a yard with grass and trees.

ESSENCE.COM: Now, be honest: Do you feel that you were robbed?
MOMOLU: Girl, yes! (Laughs.) My heart was beating so fast when those words came out of Heidi’s mouth [announcing the winner]. I just dropped my head and said “Are you kidding me?” When I listened to what the judges said about each of us, I felt like mine was the better critique. I was disappointed, and for a couple of weeks I was very down about losing. But once you look past that, I knew I was very blessed to get to No. 2 and winning the fan favorite, which let me know that the people loved my clothes. People voted for me because they related to my story. My Liberian people alone might have voted me their fan favorite. African-American women, women with curves-they all related to me and my story. I’ve moved past that. I’m willing to do whatever the next step is. Working hard is not something I’m afraid of. I’ve done it my whole life, since I was 16. Starting over is definitely something I’m not afraid of. Coming from Liberia and being an immigrant-this is what you do. You lose stuff and you gain it back. You keep growing.

ESSENCE.COM: Did you ever feel like the show misrepresented you in any way? A lot of reality television stars, particularly those of color, seem to say this.
MOMOLU: I think, honestly, what you do is what you do. I didn’t do anything on the show that embarrassed me or my family. That was one thing I made sure of. My parents were watching, my daughter was watching, and I wanted them to be proud of who I was. When you act a fool and just act crazy, the producers don’t make you do that, you do that on your own. They’re just recording it because it brings ratings. I didn’t do any of that stuff but I still got tons of air time. You don’t have to disrespect yourself as a woman to get television time. The editors were still very great to me. I don’t remember at anytime watching the show when someone’s mouth was moving and the words didn’t match up to what they were saying.

ESSENCE.COM: You infuse a lot of your West African background into your designs with your fabric selections, color choices and so forth. Do you think this will ever be a hindrance to you in the mainstream fashion industry?
MOMOLU: To a certain degree. I really just wanted to represent. (Laughs.) With the stuff I did for the show, I knew I wouldn’t be able to reproduce it for buyers because Bravo pretty much owns those designs. It was really just about showing my heritage in a way that wasn’t in your face. You had designers like Oscar de la Renta and Michael Kors do ethnic, African-inspired collections a couple of seasons ago. If it’s okay for them to do it, then it should be okay for me to do it. I think there is a double standard sometimes.

ESSENCE.COM: Name three female celebs you would love to dress and why.
MOMOLU: Oprah! I love Oprah. I would love to dress her just because of everything she stands for. She has her beliefs and she stands by them regardless of what anyone thinks. She’s paved the way for so many people. And I love the way she is embracing Africa right now. With so many people, it’s just a fad, but with her it is a passion. Tracee Ellis Ross- she’s so classy. Even though she’s really small, she has a shape. She has a booty! Her style is different; she looks like she would take a chance on me. Rihanna-I like that her style changes so much. She’ll start a trend, let everyone steal it, and then start a new one. She’s open to new ideas. She’s a trendsetter and I love her Caribbean flavor.
For more information about Korto and her designs, visit www.kortomomolu.com.