Chris March Talks Mad Fashion, Stevie Nicks, Lady Gaga, And Project Runway
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Chris March is best known for his larger-than-life designs first prominently showcased in "Beach Blanket Babylon," the world's longest running musical revue. But it was his fan-favorite turn on the fourth season of "Project Runway" that truly made him a star. Since then, March has been busy creating looks for Broadway shows and Cirque du Soleil and some of the most famous people in the world -- including Madonna, Beyonce, and Meryl Streep -- have worn his looks.
Now March is heading back in the spotlight with his new Bravo reality series, "Mad Fashion," which follows him and his team as they create one-of-a-kind looks for his celebrity friends and fans. The Huffington Post caught up with March to find out why he's returning to television, what he learned from his "Project Runway" stints, collaborating with Lady Gaga, and more.
This is your third time as the belle of the reality television ball. What made you want to do it all over again?
Wait a minute. My third time? How is this my third time?
Well, first there was "Project Runway" and then there was "Project Runway: All Stars"...
Oh, OK. I try to forget about that one [laughs].
So, why did you want to do "Mad Fashion"?
It seemed like people wanted me to come back. As long as the show was something I really wanted to do and that I thought would be fun, then I was into it. I didn't want to do anymore competitions. I do this for a living anyway but now they just point cameras at me [laughs].
A slideshow of Chris March's outrageous looks (interview continues below):
Is it difficult running a business while you're filming a reality show?
There are a lot of things involved in reality television. There are all sorts of people all over the place that people [in their homes] watching never see. Sometimes you have to do things over again like entrances and exits or if something particularly good happens and they miss it, they want you to do it over again or give them a better angle. There's also a tension over the fact that whatever you're doing with a client or whatever you're making is being documented for everybody to scrutinize. That's the nature of it now.
Did you lay down any ground rules or stipulations about what you would or wouldn't do while filming?
The only particular thing about the show -- and I think everyone agreed about this -- was that it would only be about my work life -- not my personal life. Meaning it wouldn't follow me waking up in the morning and doing my thing. It's about my work. Just like [the Food Network series] "Ace Of Cakes" -- it's about the workspace, that's all.
Right. And I think viewers love it because they watch you start with an inspiration and then move through all the different stages of creation until you debut the final product. It's very satisfying.
No matter what happens in between [laughs]. And believe me, the first episode goes well. There are some other things later that don't go so well [laughs].
Did you have any trouble convincing any of your clients to be filmed?
Of course some people were thrilled about the idea just for their own PR needs, like Ruthie Davis, who was launching a new shoe collection or somebody launching a book. Other people were a little more hesitant. Also, because it's a new show, they don't have a reference as to what it's all about and how they'll be portrayed. So, there was a little convincing that had to happen -- "Everything will be all right. We're not making fun of you. We're not going to make something terrible happen just for fun and then put it on TV." But a lot of the people were fans of mine, so it was really easy.
What about the team you work with? Did any of them balk at the idea of doing reality television?
My crew has never been on television -- at all. I've had my own experience, so, I knew what was coming but the first week or so was a big learning experience for everybody. They were like, "What?" They're not used to being on a microphone and having every single thing they say being documented. Things have to be done a certain way and somebody is going to be five inches away from you with a camera. You never see the camera until you're in the room. And there are a whole bunch of other people in the room -- field producers, other producers and sound guys and lighting guys. They were like, "Who are all these people?"
The other thing that I love about the show is how unabashedly gay it is. Bravo is pretty gay in general, but the show is so gay.
[Laughs] Yeah. That's one of the things I'm probably the happiest about. Somebody somewhere decided to put me on TV without really thinking twice about it. I think it says a lot.
When you were doing the show, did you think about larger issues of representation?
We're just being ourselves and not thinking about it. Maybe after it's over you can think back and reflect and think I guess if we're not thinking about it, maybe that's just the way it should be. You can see on the first episode we have a lot of fun together and we're just the way that we are and that's it. We didn't put on anything and we didn't take off anything.
So much of what you do seems to be rooted in drag culture. How has your history with drag informed your aesthetic?
I think that fashion in general is a world of super heightened glamour, and when you talk about super heightened glamour, the first thing that comes to mind is a drag queen. It's just a completely spoofed elaborated image of a woman. All of our clients on the show so far are women and they're the kind of women that want that kind of glamour. So, I guess my drag background helps with that.
In terms of your time on "Project Runway," was there one thing that you learned that you would say had the biggest impact on your career?
[Laughs] Yes. I learned how to break the rules without asking. I was sitting there thinking Everybody is breaking the rules and I'm the only one that's asking. So if they're going to do it, I'm going to do it.
Tell me about your Stevie Nicks obsession. When did it begin? Have you met her?
No, I've never met her. I just recently saw her up in Woodstock the night of the hurricane. She stopped the show right when the hurricane hit and the rain was pouring down. The whole show she kept saying, "I can feel Irene coming."
It started at least 20 years ago. My bosses at the time gave me a magazine for some other thing that I was working on and it had a picture of Stevie Nicks in it. And we ripped it out and put it on the ceiling of our workshop and we always said she was looking down on us.
So, I started writing her name inside of everything that I made -- somewhere, secretly -- as a kind of superstitious thing. And then when you do it every time, it just becomes a habit. The producers [of "Mad Fashion"] loved it so they wanted to film me doing it in every episode.
Do you watch reality television?
Of course. I watch a lot of shows on Bravo -- I'm not just saying that. I love "Top Chef." I love "Real Housewives of Atlanta." That's my favorite. I'd love to make something scary for NeNe [Leakes] [Laughs]. I just made something for Lady Gaga at the IHeartRadio show in Las Vegas. I didn't get to talk to her, just to her stylist.
She commissioned you to make something? What was it?
This giant cross between a black motorcycle jacket and a "Matrix" coat. A giant, long super studded motorcycle jacket that she wore at the beginning when she made her entrance.
But back to reality TV. Here's how I feel about it: I think it's going a little too far into the world of "trashy for trashy's sake." That's exactly what I wanted to avoid with my show. I wanted to show that people can be interesting just by being themselves and being fun. We do something that's pretty fun to watch, fortunately, so hopefully it makes for a good TV show without tons of backstabbing drama.
"Mad Fashion" airs Tuesdays nights at 10pm ET. For more info, visit the show's official website. For more on Chris March, visit his official website. To read March's interview with StyleList, click here.