Project Runway's Jonathan Peters on Stubborn Judges and the Problem with 'Project Personality'


Jonathan Peters has taken a beating from the judges during this season of Project Runway, and it all came to a head in last night episode after tart harangues from Michael Kors, Nina Garcia, and Heidi Klum, who was supposed to wear the winning garment to a red-carpet event. Now that he's been eliminated, the 29-year-old Rhode Islander opens up to Movieline about the judges' misinformed ideas, Tim Gunn's role, and how he felt when Maya Luz auf'd herself.

A lot of designers this season -- from Emilio to Jesus to Anthony -- claimed not to listen to Tim Gunn, though Tim seemed to champion your work even when the judges did not. Can you describe your correspondence with him and whether it helped or hurt you?

Tim did not have a very cohesive kind of pairing with the judges' critiques, especially in my case. The one thing you have to understand about Tim Gunn is he's a very cerebral man. He's very scholastic, and he was a teacher first and foremost before he became "Tim Gunn," you know? So he wants to everybody succeed. If he approaches you and he sees that there's an amount of thought and smart work, and you can identify the problem areas of your design, he's the first to admit that an editing eye is just as important as having a good garment. I'm a very cerebral person, I put a lot of thought into everything I do. Sometimes I overthink what I do, but he would approach me, see that my designs came from a pure place, that there was definitely an inspiration behind it, so I think that's why he kind of respected my work. He actually liked my work more when I was on the show than in my audition.

You seemed to get along with most of the contestants. Is friendliness an asset in the game?

Well, I mean, let's face it: Project Runway is not "designer vs. designer," as much as anyone wants to paint it that way. Project Runway is "designer vs. judges." And so, me being nasty and catty, you know -- it's not Project Personality, or at least it shouldn't be. And honestly, I'm not going to play a game. I came to the show to be a designer. And if it really is Project Personality, and being catty and being mean and being quippy and being snarky is what keeps you there, that's not really a game I want to play. If I can go there and I can meet some great people, i can learn some things, I can play with the big boys and see how I compare, that's a game I want to play. Of course, Amy -- I mean, [we're] BFFs. Like, right up there. Maya's a great person, such a lady. So demure. It's like, these are great people -- why am I going to miss out on that? Being mean to the other designers doesn't get you any further in the competition.

Maya's self-elimination was confounding. How did you feel about it?

I was sad that she wasn't going to see it through. I really do believe that Maya would've probably gone to Bryant Park. There was a lot of merit to her work. I don't think it was fair that she was painted as a referential designer by the judges, I don't think that's true at all. Maya is a very thoughtful, very introverted designer. To kind of pigeonhole her -- and the judges have this tendency to pigeonhole everybody, by the way -- if you're a "referential designer," you're a referential designer forever. If I'm making [model] Cerri's legs look short and wide, I'm making Cerri's legs look short and wide forever. There's no convincing them otherwise. And so, I think for Maya, coupled with the stress and looking at the runaround -- we're working every single day with two, maybe three hours of sleep -- it starts to wear at you, you know?

Your aesthetic has a dark whimsicality to it, which strikes me as one of the more marketable styles of this season. Did it bother you when the judges couldn't connect with it?

Wow. Would you say you're my biggest fan? I'm putting that on my website. Like I said before, the judges tend to pigeonhole you and they rate all sorts of things. You come out on the runway, and before they even start judging, they're giving you a look you up and down, and the "jimmy eye." And maybe they didn't like the way I personally dressed. Maybe their underwear was too tight that day. I don't know! If something goes wrong, and if it goes wrong early on, then you're kind of stuck there. If you have a taste issue, you have a taste issue all the way through. I thought I had a very genuine aesthetic that was genuinely different than the other designers, so I thought it was going to be very eye-catching to the judges. I was doing techniques that have never been seen before on Project Runway. I was really, really thoughtfully working with my garments. Not necessarily in the silhouette; a lot of the time I represent the classic silhouette, but I had worked with appliqueing and cutwork and what-have-you, dyeing the fabric. I dyed a lot of my textiles. And so, I just think maybe they didn't subscribe to it, and honestly, I'm not sure it was clothes themselves. I think they thought I was cocky.

Lastly, tell us something about your Bryant Park experience that would shock us.

Something about Bryant Park that would shock you -- besides the fact that I wore shorts and knee-socks? I mean, I really did do that. Ooh, jeez. When you come out and give your speech, you can see nothing but people. It's packed to the walls -- there's 1,200 people there. It was just unbelievable. You don't see a chair or wall, anything. It's literally just a sea of people. It was the most nerve-wracking thing I've ever done. That's probably it -- I was shocked by the sheer amount of people.

Other eliminated Runway designers sound off to Movieline:

· Maya Luz

· Anthony Williams (who's back on the show)

· Amy Sarabi

· Ben Chmura

· Jesse Lenoir

· Janeane Marie Ceccanti

· Anna Lynett

· Jesus Estrada

· Ping Wu

· Pamela Ptak

· Christiane King