Mondo Guerra was last year’s impeccably dressed runner up on Project Runway. A master at mixing prints in an effortless way, the pompadour and bow-tied cutie won hearts over with his brave unveiling of his HIV positive status. Guerra breezed through town for a few brief hours, but managed to find some time to chit chat with me before his Macy’s event over a glass of champagne. That chat turned into a novel of transcribed pages, so I give to you the Guerra interview in two parts over two weeks.
(After introductions and getting comfy)
Eden Dawn: I want to talk about multiple things.
Mondo Guerra: Ok!
E.D: In doing research, I saw the video of your fall collection.
M.G: Oh yeah!
E.D: I hadn’t seen it before…It was fantastic.
M.G: Cool thanks.
E.D: Are you selling that?
M.G: Um…No, well because I still live in Denver and production is really hard to come by, me and my two really good friends run the site so that’s why I am just making things that’s are accessible to people that want like a piece, but I get emails all day every time, I mean like “OK were ready for some like…
E.D: Full Mondo
M.G: …some full Mondo. And I am always like, well you have to understand not only if I was even producing it, it takes so much time now a days to design like being on the rack or for sale is like six months out, so its just insane its like ok you guys….And its frustrating for me because I do want to provide other options but, um realistically being in Denver, its just not possible…
E.D: And you want to stay in Denver?
M.G: Um no I don’t…I mean I love Denver, it’s a total different dynamic for me just because of my reveal of my status on the show (Mondo Shares that he is HIV positive on Project Runway), so my whole family situation is completely different. Its much more comfortable and I can be myself and not only that being on the show my family understands who I am. They knew what I did and that I liked to make clothes and stuff like that. But now they know my passion for it and know what I am capable of accomplishing. So it’s a new relationship with my family. That’s why I decided to stay in Denver as long as I have. It’s only been a year realistically…
E.D: Yeah I know, so fast!
M.G: Today is officially one year from when we filmed the Project Runway finale.
E.D:I can’t believe it’s just been a year. They just turn that show out over and over…So lets talk a little bit about last season, not too much. By the way I have to tell you this, so unprofessional but my mom was like “Tell Mondo he’s my favorite designer” (Laughing). And we are definitely big fans in our house too.
M.G: (laughing) Thank you!
E.D: Everybody claims it was the most controversial season of all time. How do you feel about that?
E.D: Good, bad? Or do you not think about it?
M.G: I mean um, the funny thing is like on the plane today I wrote a memoir of a year ago today and from the point where I was finishing my collection in the work room to the point I was voted off, or judged off ya know. But I never felt like I left to tell you the truth, you know. I don’t feel like I ever left . And it was a lot of pressure cause even going into it, you know, just like this season we were like 5 challenges in, but I already had an idea of who I was even though I hadn’t started winning any challenges yet. I felt like I was going back already as the favorite. Because all the contestants already knew what was happening and what was coming up in the finale. SO when we were doing interviews when we came back, you know different people interviewing us they would be like “who do you think is going to win this?” They would say Mondo Mondo Mondo Mondo so it was a lot of pressure. The problem was going into it I didn’t want to let anybody down.
E.D: Of course that’s what everyone says! We’ve had so many people here from here on the show. Half of the seasons have been won by people here. Everyone’s biggest thing they are always saying, well two, I don’t want to let anyone down. And I don’t want to get voted off first.
M.G: Right, well I didn’t want to be voted off first for sure.
E.D: No one would want to go first. (laughs)
M.G: But I didn’t want to let anyone down especially going into the finale but you know when I was there it was such a uh in some way a graduation for my self in a way. It was like I could see everything I had worked so hard on. It was really a dream com true you know and just getting to that point two before that I was really really really sick and had given up on any goals. So being there reminded me that I was able to accomplished a lot even under the circumstances.
M.G: So when I got there it was actually more about me than anybody else. And that was self-rewarding.
E.D: And so many things came out of it, even the fact that you and your family are as close.
M.G: Yes that was amazing. I never knew them the way I know them now. I don’t think they ever knew me the way we do now. It’s just beautiful. I kind of say, its weird and cliché in some ways that Project Runway really saved my life. I had to get there to know that I was able to do things still. Like continue to =grow and accomplish. It was a really good life lesson.
E.D: That’s so nice to hear. I feel like everyone I talk to like designers always talk about how hard it was and the struggles with it, but you don’t always here the good.
M.G: well it was kind of like boot camp it was really hard but know every time I wanted to stop I would think, its just Go go go go. At that point it wasn’t just really about myself it was about my parents, my family my sister my friends, my art teacher, you know everybody that had supported me and really told me to be an individual and celebrate life. As awkward as that comes across sometimes….but yeah it was , it definitely had to happen.
E.D: So now, transitioning, you have many things going on. Lets talk about your campaign your doing, your living positive by design.
M.G: Yeah I’m doing this campaign with fellow (Project Runway) alumni. It’s called living positive by design, and it’s basically a campaign that encourages people living with the disease to have a positive outlook on life. It’s a really simple message.
E.D: An important message.
M.G: Yes, a very important message, and we talk about mostly about how to accomplish that is to have a really good relationship with your doctor. And it’s so true because for a while a lot of people, especially in my old position, were…. I wouldn’t tell anyone really except my doctor. He was the only one I could really trust. The doctors they are there to help you know. And sometimes it takes you a long time to get to that point because I know for a long time I wasn’t taking responsibility for the disease. For myself I was just letting the disease define me and who I was, even though she tried so hard. But there is only so much that they can do, you really have to take on responsibility.
E.D: What do you think the changing point really was? Was it being able to announce to everyone and feeling free?
M.G: Ummm, no the changing point for that was being in the hospital with pneumonia and having my T cells down to 14. I was on my deathbed over Christmas and I knew it at a certain point. And on Christmas day when my mom came and went, and I still wasn’t being honest with her, I was like what are you doing? What are you doing here? You can’t do this any more like. You are going to die from this if you continue to act like this. You have to take responsibility. Start setting goals and everything that I wanted in life before I was diagnosed HIV pos. That was really the turning point and then um….and then since the show and with the campaign being in college lectures I feel like its my responsibility to continue that message since it was so visible to people being on the show and I have gotten so much mail from so many different people. And its not …I realize my story isn’t just about people living with HIV but its about people living with a secret something that they are ashamed off and something they cannot talk about.
M.G: And something that they have to talk about to continue to move on
E.D: and be healthy.
M.G: And be healthy and be happy and be proactive.
(Next week we’ll share what Mondo has to say about his upcoming role on Project Runway Allstars!)