Q&A: Project Runway Designer Cornelius Ortiz

The Boston native talks about about growing up in Massachusetts and experience so far on the reality fashion competition.

Cornelius Ortiz Project Runway

Photo Courtesy of A&E Networks / Barbara Nitke

If you’ve been watching season 15 of Project Runway, you may have noticed a greater-than-usual trio of representatives from the Bay State. A few episodes in, all three up-and-coming designers from Massachusetts are still “in.”

Cornelius Ortiz, 24, is one of those designers. Boston-raised and a graduate of Framingham State University (where he met fellow contestant Nathalia JMag), Ortiz is known for his self-proclaimed “big personality” and uniquely mismatched aesthetic. As the competition progresses, we caught up with “Lady Cornelius from the Land of Shade” (as he was dubbed on an early episode) about what it was like growing up in Boston, his fashion inspirations, and of course his controversial reputation on the show.

How did studying in the Boston area influence your trajectory in fashion?

My fashion design experience started while I was in school. Because of the buildings and architecture in Boston, it’s easier for me to be inspired by clothing that is very structural.

How would you describe Boston’s style?

It’s simple and very laid back. I think we need to push the fashion envelope a bit more.

Who are your fashion icons?

My style inspiration as of right now is Janelle Monáe because she wears a lot of black and white. My second is Solange Knowles because she likes to mix her prints even if they don’t “go together.”

How would you describe your style and brand?

Combining textiles and prints in unconventional ways.

What has been your favorite challenge or look so far?

The black light challenge was the most successful I’ve been up to this point because my garment was very structural and had the unexpected element of emojis. It was definitely up my alley because I like to bring the surprise factor to the show.

What can you tease about upcoming episodes?

I can’t say!

What do you think of your competition, especially the other two contestants from Massachusetts?

Nathalia is my very close friend—we had classes together in college and have been in friendly competition ever since. It was a really great experience having her on the show because she’s very uplifting and was always there whenever I needed that extra shoulder to lean on. But Erin [Robertson, a current frontrunner] and I have also created a really nice friendship and I respect her a lot. She has an amazing design aesthetic and sticks true to herself. As long as she keeps doing that, obviously it’s going to be pretty tough to beat her. They are both amazing designers, and I’m proud we are all able to represent Massachusetts in such a way.

You have already built a reputation for throwing shade, rubbing many contestants the wrong way. How would you respond to that?

I don’t think I was throwing shade—I was just stating my opinion. Hey, it is what it is—it’s the fashion world. Me saying a couple of things is not going to kill you. But there are other people out there who are going to critique your work. You should just take it with a grain of salt and move on. At the end of the day, it is a competition, and one of us has to win.

What is your biggest takeaway from the show?

Staying true to my aesthetic and myself, but also doing it in a creative way that pushes me outside of my boundaries.

What’s next for you?

Probably creating a spring collection. I’m still trying to figure out the kinks, but I’m definitely trying to put out a line very soon.

This interview has been edited and condensed. Project Runway airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on Lifetime, mylifetime.com.