L.A. fans of this season’s Project Runway hoped hometown boy Rami Kashou would beat out the cocky and overly fierce Christian Siriano for the final win. Days before the final episode aired, we caught up with a calm Kashou via phone, so that Bravo reps could listen in on the other end to ensure Kashou didn’t leak the winner.
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A week later it was out anyway: Christian was in, Rami was out. But, making it clear that his appearance on the addictive Emmy-winning show was primarily for the exposure, Kashou was taking it in stride. Unlike some of the less experienced designers on the show, Kashou already had celeb cred: He’s dressed the likes of Jessica Alba and Lindsay Lohan, and is to Dita Von Teese what Marc Jacobs is to Sofia Coppola. He was also a seasoned veteran on the runway — showing at L.A.’s Gen Art and Smashbox during Fashion Week — way before he ever set foot inside the Bravo sewing room.
“I told myself that I’d be doing this purely as a TV press opportunity. People got to see my work, my passion; in the end I reached so many more people, and what I really wanted, ideally, was to show at Bryant Park [New York’s Fashion Week] and I did that,” says Kashou, a 6-foot-tall hunk with Middle Eastern good looks and a head reminiscent of a younger Telly Savalas.
Kashou grew up in Ramallah, in the West Bank. His mother passed away when he was just 5, but the former beauty queen, in her Pucci shifts and colorful cocktail dresses, left behind a glamorous, larger-than-life impression. “She was my first role model, the first person to open my eyes to fashion,” he says. Eventually his father remarried, and his new wife also had a passion for fashion. She would buy materials and have dresses custom-made by a local seamstress, always taking 7-year-old Kashou with her so he could pick fabrics. Even at that young age, he had a keen eye. At age 10 he was designing dresses for his stepmom and her friends and neighbors. “The ladies would come over for coffee, and I’d sketch for them. I’d skip homework and sketch until 3 or 4 in the morning,” he laughs. By the time he was 14 he arranged for his first fashion show. It was filled with the kinds of traditional embroidery and flourishes that would eventually become his signature. When Kashou turned 18, he moved to the U.S. and enrolled at Brooks College in Long Beach, but dropped out shy of graduation. “I couldn’t understand pattern-making,” he says, remembering the frustration. “I wanted to do things my way. So I said ‘fuck it — I’m going to learn on my own.’ ”
The learning curve involved a stint in retail. He worked for the now-defunct Melrose boutique Super Red Ball and eventually became the shop’s buyer. “It was a wild place,” he says, laughing. “It was popular with stylists for TV — Carmen Electra was a regular, and Tori Spelling. I started seeing stuff [in catalogs] and I knew I could do it better, so I bought a sewing machine and began selling my own designs in the store.”
It wasn’t long before his clothes sold faster than he could make them. He eventually quit the shop and decided to work full time on making and placing his own designs. Now 25 boutiques nationwide carry his clothes.
With the Bravo cameras behind him, he’s concentrating on completing his spring line of feminine separates in softened sorbet colors, like lavender and mint, filled with ruffles and flounces. He stays in contact with his co-contestants and occasionally cooks for the other L.A. locals, Kit and Sweet P. But the question everyone seems to ask him is if he feels he was portrayed accurately. And even as Bravo listens in he says, “I’ll tell you my true feelings: Certain things were exaggerated, I came off a bit serious. It was me, with the volume turned up or down at times. But drama makes TV more interesting, and I’m smart enough to know that that’s how it works.”
Photo by Kevin Scanlon