Project Runway Castoff Ping Wu Sounds Off
Last night's episode of Project Runway throttled every decent viewer's spirit to the core. Chinese-born designer Ping Wu was eliminated during a team challenge in which she was paired with the huffy, cuss-spewing Jesse LeNoir. While Wu's rather spacey approach to design may not have been very partner-compatible, the verbal beating she took from LeNoir seemed like overkill. Movieline spoke with Wu this morning about leadership, LeNoir's lies, and the model who sold her out to the judges.
Were you surprised to be eliminated during a team challenge?
Absolutely. There's no doubt in my mind. First of all, I was always a great leader. I mean, I was a physical therapist at the age of 21. I always had to work with several assistants at one time. I organized my own little business; I had contractors. I was always known to be a very good leader. I also did multiple, expensive psychological tests during my previous years also. [Laughs] Well, I was very curious about the subject! The results were always showing I had a natural leadership skill. I was so shocked when I lost on the team challenge!
Were you not as used to working with someone like Jesse?
It is true. You mention a very good point. It is true -- it was very shocking working with someone like Jesse. First of all, he is a professional actor. This factor I did not pay attention to until much later. I personally think he is so much -- craving for personal attention or screentime in front of the camera. You know, I think his behavior was -- I mean, what you saw on the screen was not even 1% of what's truly going on. His worst behavior was completely cut off from the screen. I think that played a huge role -- he really made a soap opera out of nothing. We could have worked together and really utilized my vision of design rather than arguing with me constantly. This is the first factor. The second is, he's a straight man -- very young, 24 -- and I am a woman. This macho mentality plays some kind of role, for sure. Also, third point is I think he's also very calculating of this game. Because he would've been safe regardless [during the challenge] because he's under me, by theory. So he can get out of notice by playing nasty. I don't know if he is truly that character, or if he just made a show. But in any case, he made me unable to function as Ping Wu. I have a very favorite quote from Napoleon. He said: "A leader is a dealer of hope." But the hope I can deliver to him, to my team member, is not the kind of hope that he wants. He wants attention. So, that's the reason why I was shocked. It was the first time I dealt with a person acting like that.
What about his model, Megan, who spoke up against you during the runway show? Was that precedented?
I can only say what my feeling was, or interpretation. I was surprised by her behavior myself. I think it's because of the attachment she had with Jesse. She had been working with him for the previous three challenges, so there's some kind of loyalty, I guess. Also, Jesse said a lot of things about me -- you know, I overheard those things he was saying to his model while I worked with Brandice, because we're not that far apart -- so maybe it's because of some kind of coaching or hinting, or whatever, I don't know. And to also build a hostile mentality in a model that is so young and immature, in a way. I guess that's the reason, and she was trying to save her favorite designer from being eliminated in such a hot mess. That's just my interpretation. And later, when I saw the models show (Models of the Runway) after Project Runway, then I was like: Oh my God, these two are a perfect match.
Jesse said he had to give you "sewing lessons," and that was part of the friction between you two. In your design experience, are you more used to designing and then hiring seamstresses?
I actually make everything myself. There's no doubt about that. I don't know why, but every time I design something, [buyers] are not really open-minded. They will tell me [my designs are] impossible to make. They always tell me that! Even with the knitting! I would design something, give it to someone else, and they always tell me it's impossible, that we never knit it like that. So I always have to be the person who realizes my own designs, always. It doesn't matter if it's a garment, or just knitting pieces. I always have to make it. The garments, not talking about knitwear, I, so far, have been making garments for myself only. That means that I have to make it, you know? I have to make it. I enjoy the process, in fact. I prefer so much more hands-on making and designing. For me, just doing design, it's like dreaming. Everybody can dream; it's not real. Only when you put your hands in needles, thread, machines, and fabric -- especially fabric -- then the dream comes true. And that's a much more intense satisfaction. I make my things for sure, but in my own way. It may not be by-the-book. But I make them. I will tell you the truth; I'm sure it's not shown on the air. I got after Jesse to explain [his "sewing lessons" quip on the runway] -- if you look at the part of the dress that I made, it's only fabric, there's no skills to it. The reason why is because that's Jesse's interpretation of my design style. I could not believe it. I did the other three brilliant designs, and he refused. He was arguing back and forth, and I said, forget it, it's too much effort to bring a nice design forward. So I just draped the fabric on the mannequin, and he loved it! That's how it was made, in fact. The only sewing [done] on this fabric was the armhole. And so because he wants to show that he's the authority and that he controls everything, I asked for his advice so he would think he had control. It was a psychological thing to make him calm down. It's not like I'm really looking for sewing lessons in this one-day challenge. It was really ridiculous.
You were born in China, but your bio says you live in Chicago. How is living there as a designer?
I had lived there since 2004. However, I have always wanted to move to New York because I realize that a lot of my international buyers only stop in New York. So, by living in Chicago, to further cevelop my business on the international stage, it's seriously a disadvantage to go really high-level. You're out of the radar. So I made my decision to move to New York a few months ago. And obviously, I'm very ambitious, you know? While I'm still young and have ambition and energy, I should do everything I can to make people realize these fresh designs.