Return From Reality
Qristyl Frazier wants to know, “What’s your ‘Plus Sexy’?”
A rainy late-summer evening found the St. Louis native and Stephens College alumna meeting, greeting and “photo-opping” with adoring fans outside Windsor Auditorium on the Stephens campus. Frazier was one of 16 contestants on the current season of the Lifetime TV network’s reality series “Project Runway.” If you think she breezed into that slot simply because she’s a designer, think again. She had to beat out approximately 15,000 other hopefuls who auditioned for a chance at winning the show’s 2009 competition.
The Columbia crowd included some Stephens faculty and administrators, but they were outnumbered by the throngs of Stephens fashion students eager to spend time with the charismatic Frazier. And rightly so. Never short of verve, tenacity or something snappy to say, this ’91 Stephens grad could very well be the newest spokeswoman for living the American Dream. Her philosophy is rooted in “doing it, rather than thinking about it,” and “never, ever, ever giving up.”
The Columbia Foyer, immediately outside of Windsor Auditorium, began filling up with eager fans, summer humidity and anticipation about a half-hour before Frazier arrived. Amid the nonstop chatter, the excitement was palpable. A round of high-pitched cheers and squeals greeted Frazier when she finally made her entrance with boyfriend Todd G. to face a sea of flashing cameras and cell phones. More cheers erupted when she took a marker and wrote “What’s your Plus Sexy? Project Runway Season 6” on the backdrop behind her. She spent the better part of the next hour giving hugs and posing with admirers for photos.
The main event of the evening was a large-screen preview of the second episode of season six for “Project Runway.” A fashion show presented by seniors from the Stephens Fashion Department filled time during commercial breaks.
Kathy Adams, Stephens director of alumni relations, was visibly pleased with Frazier’s reception in Columbia.
“We’re very, very excited to have her here,” Adams said. “She’s a Stephens graduate, and has done very well – she’s always very thrilled to come back and visit.” Frazier’s most recent return is the third in as many years.
After graduating from Stephens, and even during her time in Columbia, Frazier was able to earn extra income sewing clothes for people who requested her talents and skills. She moved to New York City and made clothes for many women of all sizes while continuing to develop and expand her expertise and reach. Frazier topped off her technical skills by working with such organizations as Sean by Sean Coombs, DKNY International, Tommy Hilfiger, Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch. In 2006, the BET-TV network gave her a call to design some outfits for their “Rip the Runway” celebrity show.
“Every designer wants to find a niche, something that makes them unique and more of a standout,” says Frazier, who makes a point to wear only clothes she designs herself. “I decided I wanted to make clothes for fuller figured women, but it’s not with the idea of ‘you poor thing,’ it’s more of an empowering concept. I like the idea of women feeling good and attractive about accentuating their size, shape and curves.”
Frazier quickly developed an aversion for the term, “plus size,” and kicked it to the curb. “Plus Sexy” became her new mantra.
Immediately after her 2006 showing at “Rip the Runway,” her Web site had more than 150,000 hits on that night alone. Unfortunately, she didn’t have it quite ready to take orders. Another call came from BET in 2008 for more, and this time, Frazier was ready.
Frazier made four attempts before finally landing a spot on “Project Runway,” although she seems unfazed by the earlier rejections.
“I was just determined,” she says. “I didn’t get into Stephens the first time I applied – I had the help of a great guidance counselor, and I just kept at it.”
Season six of “Project” began airing episodes for the fall season on Aug. 20. Frazier, who lasted through episode four of the competition, describes the group of contestants as tight-knit and cohesive.
She says her favorite part of the experience was the challenge and the opportunity to be there with so many other talented designers. Her least favorite part? Having her work judged and scrutinized. But she exudes a confidence and wisdom about the competitive process.
“Project Runway” long ago wrapped up the season’s worth of episodes before the reality series began airing in August. So who won the fashion spread in Marie Claire magazine, the Paris vacation, and the $100,000? Frazier coyly shrugs, smiles and dismisses the notion that she knows who won. Since her 2006 showing on BET, she has grown her collection and added a sportier line as well. Although her appearance on “Project,” may be over, she is seeing a surge in Web site visits and orders. Celebrity customers have included Queen Latifah, Janet Jackson (no, Frazier didn’t design that outfit) and Angie Stone.
Angela LeVota, president of Stephens College’s Innovative Fashion Association, emceed the fashion show during commercial breaks at the campus event. It was an opportunity, she says, to showcase the Stephens fashion program to undergraduates.
“We want this to be educational, fun,” LeVota says, “and we want to show off what we can do.”
Stephens trustee Lyah Beth LeFlore, Frazier’s former roommate, spoke to the crowd before the episode’s showing and warmly expressed her pride in her best friend’s accomplishments. LeFlore noted the hundreds of hours Frazier spent in the fashion labs working hard to perfect her designs for the reality show. LeFlore, who works in television in New York City, shared Frazier’s positive outlook and advice with the crowd.
“This is your chance to shine in a smaller environment,” LeFlore advised the crowd. “Perfect your art here, then take it and do something special with it, wherever you want to be. Don’t ever be overwhelmed, no matter where you go or what you do.”
The auditorium erupted in cheers every time Frazier appeared in the “Project Runway” screening. About halfway through the episode, Frazier donned a pink Stephens shirt that had been presented to her as a gift: more applause.
What’s next for Frazier? The Essence.com Web site contacted her immediately after the first episode of “Project” about featuring her designs on their site. Essence is a fashion site that caters primarily to black and Latina women; it receives around 80 million hits monthly. Major chains such as Target and Wal-Mart could very well be next.
“I’m going to keep doing what I do best,” she says with her signature laugh. “I offer something that meets a need out there. I’m just going to keep at it and enjoy the ride.”
Watch Qristyl Frazier’s audition and her videos from the sixth season of “Project Runway” on the Lifetime network’s Web site at www.mylifetime.com. See more of her designs at www.qristylfrazierdesigns.com.