Exit Interview

Q&A: Project Runway Contestant Alan Gonzalez Shares What the Show Taught Him

A Houston star is born—and moves to New York.

By Abby Ledoux April 1, 2020 Published in the April 2020 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Houstonian Alan Gonzalez competed on season 18 of Project Runway.

FIFTEEN YEARS AFTER Chloe Dao made it work on Project Runway, another Houstonian has stolen America’s heart on the hit show: 25-year-old Alan Gonzalez.

Gonzalez is unapologetically loud, often refers to himself in the third person ("You can follow @alantude on all social media to keep up with the day-to-day moves of Alan," Gonzalez says), and jokes that he has the drive of a four-wheel truck. In other words, it’s no wonder he got as much air time as he did. The camera loved him, and so did the viewers who have been writing to him from every corner of the country. (“That still shocks me,” he says of the fan mail.)

Born in Mexico, Gonzalez moved to Houston with his family at age 3. A DACA recipient, he and his little brother were raised in the predominantly Hispanic community of Northside by a single mother after his father was deported when Gonzalez was 15.

He got into fashion in high school at HSPVA—he designed costumes for the theater program there, and even his best friend’s prom dress—and went on to graduate from Houston Community College’s fashion design program (also like Dao) in 2016, launching his own line, Alantude, that same year. Soon he was regularly showing at Texas events like Fashion X Houston and Austin Fashion Week and running Alantude full-time out of his small downtown studio.

Then, last year, Bravo came calling for the eighteenth season of Project Runway, which premiered this past December. The show’s youngest designer, Gonzalez impressed the judges—supermodel Karlie Kloss, fellow Texas designer Brandon Maxwell, OG judge and Elle editor-in-chief Nina García, and former Teen Vogue editor-in- chief Elaine Welteroth—and host Christian Siriano, whose own design career skyrocketed after a Season 4 win.

Ultimately, though, the notorious unconventional-materials challenge was his undoing. This season designers had two days to create a holiday–party look from supplies like wrapping paper and garland, and Gonzalez’s skimpy ensemble, a bra-and-skirt set crafted from sheer ribbon and silvery leaves and styled with knee-high white platform boots, troubled the judges, who eliminated him in episode three.

It was an emotional ending to a short-lived journey, but just making it through three episodes has propelled Gonzalez to new heights. Specifically, Washington Heights—another majority Hispanic community on the north side of town, only this time in New York City, where he moved in February.

While he understands why Houstonians regularly bemoan the seemingly inevitable exit of homegrown talent, he maintains the move was essential at this stage in his career—and besides, he’ll never stop repping H-Town. “I’m not dying,” he says, “I’m just moving cities.”

How did Runway change you as a designer?

It just opened up so much more to me that I never would have even considered had I not done the show. Being forced to work with a partner that wants to bring in a metallic or having to work with unconventional materials really just opened up my eyes. Alan, I think you can do more than grays and blacks. How about you stay away from that in your next collection? Try to bring in some prints, go out of my comfort zone—and I think that’s what the show really does. It pushes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to innovate.

What was life like on the show?

It looks fast when you watch it on your television, and it moves 10 times faster when you’re living it. I went into it thinking, I’m here to win, I’m not here to make friends. I already have friends at home, and if I need one more, I’ll call my mom. Somehow I’ve come out on the other end with a whole new group of 15 friends I can call on the daily. Having somebody that you can actually talk to on that level is amazing—being a fashion designer can sometimes be lonely because you’re so caught up in your world and your art that you forget to share with other people. And Karlie is taller than she looks, you guys—you meet her in person and it’s nothing but legs for days.

Did you have a favorite challenge?

I actually liked the unconventional-materials challenge even though I went home and even though it wasn’t my best work on the runway. I had a lot of fun doing it, and honestly, I had a lot of fun throughout the whole experience. It was fun to meet the judges and hear them critique—and girl, they had a lot to say about my look. But that’s okay; that’s part of the thing. I had an absolute blast.

Did you feel a responsibility to represent Houston on the show?

I did, definitely, because people told me to my face: “You have a big job here.” I’m like, oh gosh, don’t do that to me. But I feel like I did them proud. I was the youngest one there; I still to this day think that I wasn’t ready, but I’m happy that I did it. I have a lot to learn. I think I will continuously make Houston proud, and we’re gonna keep going.

You were very candid on the show about your upbringing, including your dad’s deportation and its impact on your life. Why was that important to you?

You never really get to hear what these Dreamers and DACA recipients are doing—letting America know that we are here, that we do have something to bring to the table, to this country that has truly shaped us, and to know that we belong here was very important for me to voice. Getting that platform and getting to speak about that on such a big level was a huge opportunity that I could not pass up.

How has being from Houston shaped you as a designer?

I constantly design for that Houston weather—you’re already drenched in sweat, why would you want to be drenched in a heavy fabric? Plus, Houston is its own unique fashion city. It has some great opportunities—even though it isn’t seen as a fashion city at all—because it has a very clear market and it’s set what people will and won’t wear. This small niche was what made me want to go even more out of that box. Ever since I was little, I would always find ways to defy the norm, and Houston let me do that with my art.

So, what’s planned for New York?

A lot of people go to New York with this dream—“oh, I’m gonna be part of the New York scene”—and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. But I would like to stay true to my Houstonian self and just continue to show these theatrics, something that will get people talking and will really make a difference on the runway. I’m excited to take my Texas hospitality to New York.

And what’s the status of Alantude?

I’ve put Alantude on hold as I figure out my personal life in a new city. Thank God, I have found an apartment and am making my New York fantasy a reality—Carrie Bradshaw would be proud. But the goal is to hit hard in the fall with a new collection and show how I’ve grown as a designer and a person to both New York and Houston.

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