‘Project Runway’ Designer Kovid Kapoor; On Being an Out Indian American Designer, Sharing His Designs With The World & Finding Inspiration from His Model Muse, Mimi


Born in the Indian Himalayan valley town of Dehradun, (where being gay was still a criminal act under Section 377) Project Runway designer Kovid Kapoor was designed for much more than his humble beginnings. While growing up, he moved around to various Indian states with equally varied cultural identities and traditional art forms that influenced his individual style sensibilities. Unfortunately, he and his boyfriend of eight years were forced to leave their home after being harassed by cops due to their sexual orientation, and Kovid made his way to the United States to continue the pursuit of his dreams. Following his Project Runway elimination, I caught up with Kovid to talk about how his experience on Project Runway has changed his design aesthetic, breaking barriers as an Indian member of the LGBT community, and the various ways this experience is going to inspire him as a designer (and as a person) in the future.

Michael Cook: Your aesthetic definitely merges your own Indian culture with what you have learned here in the United States. What is the hardest thing about merging your two aesthetics into one when creating fashion?
Kovid Kapoor: When I came to America, I was taking in the culture and I was also learning American culture in terms of what the fashion is actually all about. I never wanted to let go of my cultural identity though, because that is what makes my work so unique. When merging those two aesthetics together, I was developing a completely evolved ideology for myself. That kind of took a little push and a little pull for me to really do. I always believe that when I encounter a situation that is difficult to understand, it can lead to a real turning of my mind. That is where my creative designs really come from.

MC: It is definitely much easier for members of the LGBT community to be open here as opposed to living as an openly LGBT person in India. How does now being able to express yourself fully as a fully realized person affect your design perspective?

KK: This is going to be an extremely auspicious Pride month, as I finally got to tell the world about my story. I am really excited and just want to go out there and be me and have so much fun. Especially where I come from, we are trying to go toward a more liberal society. However, there is a certain backlash that does come from the culture. I think that what we need to do at this point and time is to just keep expressing ourselves and just keep telling our stories so we can start having more and more conversations about members of the LGBT community throughout the world and how difficult it might get for us sometimes. At the end of the day, these are the narratives that bring us together and I just wanted to do that.

MC: You are very emotional, passionate and outspoken on Project Runway. What was it like letting everyone see the real Kovid during your time on the show?

KK: Whenever I am designing, I always say that my designs are a tactile expression of abstract emotions. If you take the emotions out of me as a human being, I don’t think people would be able to understand who I am as a designer. Every time I am watching the show, it is very essential for people to understand who I am as a human being. At the end of the day, we make clothes; but clothes are something that really make a human connection. Every human cries, everyone is happy and everyone is under pressure; we just have to embrace it and love ourselves.

MC: What was the entire Project Runway experience like? It must have been surreal and overwhelming to walk into the workroom of a show the was so influential to you growing up.

KK: I think that when I walked in, I was totally starry eyed and totally amazed by the entire thing. The production was so grand, and everything was so fresh and new. You could just feel the fresh energy when we first got onto the set. It was something new, something really fresh. You see that throughout the show I think also; you see a creative and pumped up energy. That was something really wonderful for me also.

MC: You got to work extensively with Mimi, the first transgender model every to grace the Project Runway stage, What was that like?

KK: I really loved my first runway! Mimi and I, I was just so blessed. I believe in the feminine energy. I am actually celebrating the Indian festival and we celebrate the feminine energy and today, we are all in the feminine waters! Mimi came in and it’s like the cosmos and the stars aligned and they wanted us to come together to create something, which was so much more than my design. Something that is more special when it has a strong narrative to it. I was so blessed that Mimi told her story and then I was able to share my story. I think design wise, it also came together because I designed a goddess gown. I was thinking “this girl is a goddess”! Then when she told me about the fact that she is the first transgender model on Project Runway, it made complete sense. That was what was happening, the stars were aligned! I am really glad that I had a platform to share this with everybody.

MC: You and Mimi definitely had a strong chemistry together and it was evident that there was such a strong affection between you.

KK: Yes! I really think about Mimi and I think about the advice that she gave me. We are always talking on Instagram, sending DM’s and pictures. I have found a support system in Mimi also; she is a big inspiration to me.

MC: The new cast of Project Runway had a bit of a learning curve, as this was a reboot as the show returned to Bravo, and while Nina Garcia returned to the judging panel, two new judges joined (Brandon Maxwell and Elaine Welteroth), a new host (Karlie Kloss) and a new mentor (Project Runway alumni Christian Siriano). What did you find that you were able to learn from these heavy hitters in the industry?

KK: During the entire process, the judges were incredibly amazing. You could literally take the critique and then go onto the next episode and kind of run with it, I love the fact that Mr. Siriano helped me with challenges, and his advice is so crucial. He tells us to get more fabrics throughout the competition, and you definitely do realize sometimes that you don’t have enough fabric, so that advice is great at just the right time. I got to learn so much from Mr. Siriano every single time he walked through. Imagine, me growing up in India and watching Project Runway and watching Chrisitan Siriano win his season, and now having him right in front of me. I am the biggest Christian Siriano fan. For a kid in India who would have thought I would be working with and mentoring one of my personal fashion heroes. Every piece of advice that he gave me was so crucial for me, I have such a huge amount of respect for him, I cannot stop talking about it.

MC: The Project Runway experience has ended for you, but what do you want to do in a post Project Runway world?

KK: I am going to continue on my journey of doing fashion and doing art. I am going to drop my collection by the end of this month on my website at
https://www.kovid-kapoor.com/. I am talking to a lot of retailers and boutiques around the country and we are trying to get my product more accessible and at more visible spaces. At the same time, I am just having fun with my friends on Instagram! I also have a top secret installation project that is going to come somewhere in the middle of the year, so I definitely wanted to have everyone keep an eye out for that. I really feel like Project Runway has opened so many new arenas for me, I have become this boundless human being who can just express himself in so many ways. I just feel so thankful every single day that for the experience and the opportunity that this has given me.

MC: What gives you the most pride in your career and what you create?

KK: I think what gives me pride every day is knowing that I have the strength to speak my truth and to express it to my art and to my culture. I have the to power usher in a new era of self love and liberation. I think that is what gives me a lot of pride.

Follow Kovid Kapoor at https://www.instagram.com/kovidkapoor

Project Runway airs Thursday nights on Bravo (check local listings)

All Photos Courtesy of Bravo

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