Project Yard Sale

The lanky and mercurial Santino Rice, defeated in season two of Bravo’s highly addictive Project Runway by the bland but practical Chloe Dao, stands on his front lawn in a daze, having woken up 20 minutes earlier to a dozen people milling outside his apartment. It’s 9:30 a.m., the first day of a yard sale advertised on his Web site and MySpace page, and Santino can’t decide what to charge for an armful of dyed silk that a woman in stovepipe jeans has plucked from one of six Tupperware bins.

“Uhh,” he ponders in his croaky baritone. “Four dollars. Is that a good price?”

“Are you sure?” she blinks.

“Yeah,” he says. “It’s time to get rid of this stuff. I’ve got to let go and move on.”

Santino is dressed in Lucky jeans, a camo sweatshirt adorned with a hot-pink-and-black peace button, and a gray newsboy cap and bandanna. He sounds uncharacteristically melancholy for a guy who amused himself with spot-on imitations of Tim Gunn, the show’s fashion coach, whom he still talks to, and Michael Kors, the judge whose eyebrows were arched with impatient superiority whenever one of Santino’s shredded designs hit the runway. But he brightens when a new batch of shoppers approaches, offering the same greeting to everyone: “Hey, how’s it going?”

As far as yard sales go, Santino’s is a respectable score for fellow designers or amateur sewers hunting for scraps of denim, chiffon or silks, but woeful on all other counts. A banged-up white microwave sold to a husky Latino man who saw only a good bargain, not a castoff imbued with the magic of reality TV. Other items included a couple of mismatched chairs, two dirty mattresses, a set of Coleman camping lamps (“used for parties and stuff, I’m pretty sure they work”) and a mildewed animal cage with tufts of hair inside. A few books are on hand too, including Stephen Hawking’s Universe and Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Every few minutes, someone asks Santino if they can get a picture, or when he’ll be back on TV. (“It’s definitely in the future,” he says, but how is still not decided. As for designing, he adds, “I’m trying not to rush into anything . . . it’s all about the long term.”) He playfully agrees to every photographic scheme, even getting into horsy position when a young dead ringer for the Strokes’ Fabrizio Moretti jumps on his back. The hipster brags that this will be his best MySpace picture ever.

Most of Santino’s fans are in their 20s and dressed in the Silver Lake uniform of ironic T-shirts and ’70s sunglasses, but there are also older women who offer hugs and affirmations. “You’re such a kind man,” says a Miami grandmother type with coral lipstick, white pants and a silken zebra-striped blouse. Santino thanks her with his head down, a shy smile transforming him into an affection-starved schoolboy. When she walks away, he shakes his head and chuckles.

Soon enough, the fork-tongued and acid-humored Santino, who ruthlessly criticized his teammates on Project Runway for their lack of tailoring skills or vision, or merely for the sound of their voice, is out to play. When two women crowd around him for a picture, he says, “You can take more than one, in case you’re not friends in a year.” Awkward silence until Santino bursts into a guffaw.

“The first half of the finale made it look like I won,” Santino tells a guy who wants the full rundown.

“Right,” the guy says. “Considering the edit, who would’ve guessed that Chloe would win?”

“Well, considering the clothes, too,” Santino says, loud enough for the small crowd of 15 to laugh along.

One woman shouts out, “You were robbed, my friend.”

Santino shrugs, his eyes inscrutable behind aviator glasses. “Things happen for a reason. It’s all good.”


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