Laura Bennett of "Project Runway" Cuts Her Own Hair (Yes, Really!)

8 years ago
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Laura Bennett is easily my favorite "Project Runway" contestant ever, both for her clean, classic designs and for her willingness to speak up when it mattered (Bennett issued an eleventh-hour challenge of Season 3 winner Jeffrey Sebelia's final collection, assserting that he hadn't done his finishing work himself). She managed all this while pregnant with her sixth child -- and she looked great the entire time.

These days, Bennett, 46, has stepped away from the fashion world and is directing her creative energies into a variety of written projects; she is a regular columnist at The Daily Beast, and has a book coming out in April, titled "Didn't I Feed You Yesterday? A Mother's Guide to Sanity in Stilettos" (Ballantine). She took time this week to talk with BlogHer about her personal style, her hair, and her pick to win Season 7.

What have you been up to since "Project Runway" wrapped?

I did sort of make a foray into the fashion industry -- you know, obviously, with all the opportunity that I had. I wasn't in the fashion industry before "Project Runway." I was just a fan of the show, I was actually in architecture, and I did a line of clothing for QVC, and I kind of discovered that the fashion industry ... I don't like it very much. It's a tough, tough business. It takes a lot of cash, and you never know what it is that you're going to get back. So I've sort of ... I don't know if I've squandered the opportunity, but I've sort of backed away from fashion design a little bit.

Another thing I discovered is that when you're in the fashion industry, you don't really get to sew. You design and things get sent to China and it's sort of like the part that I love best, sitting there and beading a dress or you know, making a dress for myself to wear to an event, I found that I was doing the least of that, and I was doing the most of having to haggle with factories over dyes being wrong. So I just didn't really enjoy it that much.

Project Runway Finalists Fashion Show - Front Row - Spring 09 MBFW

So are you designing at all now, or just sewing for your own pleasure?

I'm sewing for my own pleasure...I'm still a huge fan of fashion, and I still go to the shows in the tents and I follow everyone, and I still sew a lot for myself and for private clients, but at the moment I'm not doing a huge line available to the public.

Who's your favorite designer? If you're not wearing something you've made, who are you wearing?

Who I would wear, probably, if I could afford it, is a sort of a lesser-known -- to the masses, anyway -- designer by the name of Ralph Rucci, who is just ... to me it's just luxury is the only way I can describe it. It's sort of a private luxury -- you don't see it from across the street and go Oh my gosh, look at that dress! because it's not necessarily flashy, it's just the way his things are put together, it's all done by hand and I just appreciate the way every seam is finished and every detail is just so well thought-out. And so if I were spending, you know, $4,000 on a jacket or you know, six, eight thousand dollars on a dress, I would spend it on Ralph Rucci. And it's really just about the craftmanship, for me.

Chado Ralph Rucci - Runway - Spring 2010 MBFW

I do have a few of his things that I got off of eBay.

Oh, eBay is the best place.

I love eBay! Love eBay. This year I bought a bunch of old mink stoles off of eBay, and got them home and cut them apart the minute they arrved and made them into these little, much more modern, almost like mink t-shirts, I guess is the best way to describe it. So I've had a lot of fun with that.

Let's talk about your personal style; you always look fabulous. Do you really look that great every day, or do you ever have a day where you just think, eh, I'll throw on some sweatpants? Actually, do you own sweatpants?

I do not own sweatpants. I do go running, but I wear these tight black ones that work more like a girdle. I do sometimes on the weekends, when I'm in the country, wake up in the morning and I'll put on a pair of my husband's khaki pants and some boots because there's maybe like snow outside, and I will still be wearing that at like two o'clock in the afternoon.

But generally, especially on the weekdays, I really make an effort. I have like these little dresses that I slip on, and it's one dress and a pair of shoes and I'll wear the same dress many days in a row. So I tend to maybe look nice, but it's not that I spend a lot of time. It's just -- I'm Catholic, and we wore uniforms to school, and I like the idea of a uniform. So I have like a charcoal gray and a black and a navy blue sheath dress, and I slip one of those on and it can take you anywhere. And it makes me feel better.

But if you were to come to Sheffield, Massachusetts on a Saturday afternoon and knock on my door, you might find me in a pair of my husband's khaki pants.

What are your wardrobe basics?

Sheath dresses. Sometimes I make them out of heavier t-shirt material, so they're really comfortable. And that's kind of my thing, that's my uniform. I think you can dress them up or wear them with sandals. It just makes it easy for me -- I never have to make a decision. Sometimes at night I have sort of a sparkly version of the same exact dress. And nobody ever says, "Gee, the last time I saw you, you were wearing that dress."

That, and like a pair of comfortable heels.

Ok, let's talk about the heels. Do you really wear heels every day?

I do, but because I wear them every day, I can wear them every day. I mean, I completely understand that if you don't wear heels on a regular basis, they're uncomfortable, and then you can't do what you need to do that day. So the reason I can wear heels every day is because I wear heels every day. Now if it's snowing and icy outside, I do have boots that have a flatter heel. But I would never just wear sneakers -- I would never do that.

But I don't think women need to be in heels every day in order to be dressed well enough that they feel good about themselves and they don't get sucked under into the whole mommy thing. So I might wear a sheath dress and heels most days, [but] I certainly don't prescribe that for everybody. But I do think, you know, you can wear a nice pair of trousers and a pair of loafers and you're still not wearing sweatpants and sneakers, and still people are going to take you more seriously and you're going to feel better about yourself. Just some kind of upgrade -- I'm certainly not trying to tell every mother do to what I do. I totally get that that just doesn't work for everybody.

What's the biggest mistake you see women making? The don't-go-there outfit.

The don't-go-there item -- and thank god it seems to be sort of leaving -- are these like really low cut jeans. Now, I think a great pair of jeans is a miracle thing, and they can literally work like power panties, but I find ... I don't know if it's an effort for older women to look younger or what it is, but I find that the wrong cut of jeans is the worst thing you could possibly be out there in.

And then another fashion mistake I think women make is trying to look younger than they are. You know, there's a certain desperation that comes through if you're trying to use fashion to be someone who you're not. But I think that's also getting better. We see women who are 50, 60, 70 years old now who just look amazing. And they dress their age.

What do you to to pamper yourself?

The main thing that I do -- because I'm not like a spa person and I don't go get my nails done and I cut my own hair and all that -- I think the main thing that I do is take that time every day to get dressed.

Wait, go back. Do you really cut your own hair?

Yes! It's a terrible habit that I have. Right now I have a pixie haircut where I just woke up in the middle of the night and gave myself a pixie haircut.

It's another one of those things -- some people are totally freaked out about their hair; I've always been really casual about my hair. Like, oh it'll grow back, what the hell.

You color your own hair, right?

Yes, I color it myself, I cut it myself. Sometimes my husband has to cut the back for me. I try, and then I don't look, which is helpful, cause if you don't know...I try and I don't look and then sometimes my husband will volunteer to trim the back for me. 'Cause he's handy.

I love this -- I love that you wear your husband's pants on the weekend and that you cut your own hair.

It's funny -- you know, I look a certain way, because I dress the way I do, I think people think that I'm this ultra fancy person, but I'm really not. I'm really easygoing when it comes to these sorts of things. I don't spend a fortune on the way I look. I make most of my dresses -- I do buy expensive shoes and purses but that's 'cause I saved so much on sewing my own dresses. I don't so much act the way that I look; I think people misconceive me because of the way that I dress.

It's really encouraging to hear you say that you cut your own hair and wear this sort of uniform of really easy dresses, because women get this idea from reading fashion magazines that unless we have a stylist following us around, we can never look great. And you're giving the lie to that.

I know what works for me, and I think that's the key to making it sort of easy: know the kind of pants you like or the dress silhouette that works for you, have it in a couple different colors, don't worry that you wore it last time -- you know, who cares? If you look great every time you wear it, who cares when you wore it last?

I actually keep things really simple that way.

Speaking of simple, let's talk about lipstick. What's your go to?

Oh my god! I use several kinds, several brands, but they're all these long-wear, two-part lipsticks. Cover Girl makes one called Outlast, Maybelline now makes one called -- wait, let me look [digs around in her handbag]. They are these lipsticks that you put on and then you let it dry for a second, and then you put on a topcoat that comes with it. The Mabelline one is called SuperStay.

What color do you buy?

I buy -- oh my god, they have numbers. And they're worn off. But you know what? It doesn't matter what color I wear -- you need to get the color that you love. And it doesn't have to be red; red is actually a very difficult color to wear. Honestly, I don't wear a red-red, it's more of a berry color. But I love these two-part lipsticks. They really work. I mean you have to use like oil to get them off at night, and you can't touch them up during the day, you have to clean them off and start over, but they are amazing. Amazing.

Excellent. One last question: do you still watch "Project Runway?"

Yes. I don't watch as religiously as I used to, but I still watch it. I do have my favorite to win for this season ...

Can you share?

Well, I saw the shows -- I was invited to the final shows. So I've chosen my winner based on the final collections that I've seen. Yeah, I can tell you who I favored. Do you want me to?

Yes please! Absolutely!

Jay [Nicholas Sario]. His final collection was amazing. To me it was a standout among all the collections that were on the runway. And there were extra collections on the runway, not just the finalists. They have like decoy collections, so the audience doesn't know who the actual finalists are. So he could even be a decoy, he could get eliminated next week, and I wouldn't know. Because I have no inside information. I don't ask -- there are definitely people I could ask, but I don't ask because I'm a fan of the show, and I like to watch it and be excited just like anyone else.

Susan Wagner writes about pragmatic fashion at The Working Closet and chic suburban living at Friday Playdate.

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