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'Project Runway's' Santino Fashions His Own Fame

Santino Rice didn't walk away the winner of 'Project Runway' in season two, but he won something even better: TV immortality.

Santino is one of the more interesting characters to graduate from the school of reality TV. He is the most memorable personality from 'Project Runway' season two thanks to his devastating remarks, cutting edge designs and a larger than life personality. 'Project Runway: The Complete Second Season' DVD includes 13 extended episodes with never-before-seen footage, bloopers, outtakes and a "Wear Are They Now?" feature.

Santino recently chatted with AOL Television editor Sean Doorly about his newfound fame, being yourself and the wonders of the Cosby sweater.



What has 'Project Runway' done for your career?
It's definitely opened a lot more doors for me. It's incredible to have the response that I have now when I meet people in the industry -- whether it's fashion or photography or celebrities I come across living here in L.A. I run into a couple every day, and before I can even say anything to them, they're like, "Oh my God, can you make a dress for me? Or can we work on something together?" So it's as if the whole world knows me now, they know me as being a talented creative designer with a personality, and all the right people are calling me. It's just been great.

Was it surprising that all these celebrities watched the show?
I'm really in awe of the power of television. I knew what I was getting into with the competition, but in a lot of ways, I was taking risks myself because I was already a professional working fashion designer. I've been doing it since I was 17. And I've just been behind the scenes doing it for other people. After doing a show like 'Project Runway,' it’s a whole new hemisphere. Whatever salary caps that I had before and whatever glass ceiling was there is crushed. People know what they're going to get if they include me in something that they’re working on. I've got more on my plate than I can handle right now. So it's all about taking it one day at a time and not getting too overwhelmed by all of it. At this point in my career, I could die of encouragement.

Do you come across the same way in real life as you do on the show? Or were you more amped on the show?
I always say that any edit is a lie. Anytime you cut the film, anytime you don't let a complete thought flow the way that it was, you're essentially telling the viewer a white lie. So I'm excited about seeing the DVD and seeing the bonus footage. I think a lot of people will have any eye-opening experience once they've seen it and realize it's not that I'm an a**hole. It's that I'm honest. And it's not that I'm an egomaniac; it's that I'm passionate. And it's also a competition.

Will you be involved in season three?
Yes. I’ll be featured on the first episode of season three. They’ve done some "Where are they now?" pieces. I was also involved in the casting process, which was a change, being on the other side of the table. I feel like not only can I come up with concepts and technically execute them, I can recognize talent. I saw a lot of designers who were not ready to be on the show, but there were a handful I knew were going to do great. And I’m excited to see how they are going to do on the show.

Did you see any Santinos in the bunch?
No, there’s only one Santino! There are a handful of really talented people. I feel like a lot of other real designers, who are working in the industry, saw me on the show and saw what I cultivated for myself. And they were like, "Why didn’t I think of that? Why didn't I do that?" To be a designer in this era you not only need to be creative and have a point of view that’s unique, but you also need to be a personality. You need people to subscribe to everything. You need to eat, breathe and sh*t Santino. (Laughs) I don’t speak about myself in the third person by saying that. By Santino, I mean the name of my label.

What are you doing now?
My dance card is full of custom gowns and dresses.

Like you did for SuChin Pak at the 2006 MTV Movie Awards?
Right, I also went to the MTV movie awards. MTV was amazing to me. We did a small mini-documentary about making the dress for SuChin and then being at the movie awards and meeting all the actors and actresses there. Some of the most amazing people are there like Christina Aguilera and Jessica Simpson. And then there are people I idolize like Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, who were like, "Santino! Santino! We like how you made those clothes out of plants and sh*t!" And, you know, they are in their full uniforms for their movie 'Talladega Nights.' And they had watched every episode. It's amazing.

If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, how far would you go back, and what would that advice be?
That's a deep question, man. A lot of times, I say I don't regret anything and that I'd never want to go back. It would probably be along the lines of what I already subscribe to, which is that it doesn't matter what other people think of you. It's about being happy with yourself at the end of the day. If there was ever a point in my life where I was confused about things or confused about the way people saw me, that's probably the advice I would give to myself as well as anyone. It’s not about anyone else but yourself.

Along those lines is there anything on the show you wish you could take back? Anything you said or did?
I stick by everything, even the crassest remarks that I made. If you had heard what I was making those remarks to, I think most people who get it would definitely understand why I said it. A lot of times, you saw me making comments about something that the viewer didn’t get to see. And had you seen the whole scenario, I think most people who are intelligent, down to earth and well rounded would get it. There’s no doubt about it, I have the best fans from the show. Something within my character and talent resonated with all the right people. There’s something to be said for that. That makes me feel really good. There are still plenty of people who think I’m an evil person and think I’m a bad guy, and let them think that. The bottom line is that’s the farthest thing from the truth.

What are some of your current favorite TV shows?
I get a chance to watch TV very rarely, but my favorite TV to watch is either how-to kind of shows or shows like 'Inside the Actor’s Studio' or 'A&E Biography.' Things that are about real people. My life is better than fiction right now, and it has been even before the show. I do love the 'The Office' and 'My Name Is Earl.'

All-time favorite?
I grew up in the '80s. 'The Cosby Show' was huge, 'Family Ties' was huge with Justine Bateman being a fashion designer on that show and Lisa Bonet being a fashion icon of the '80s, as well as creating a Gordon Gartrell knock-off shirt for her brother.

Not the Cosby sweater though?
(Laughs) Well, yeah the Cosby sweater ... wow!

It was an icon.
Yes. That's incredible. You know, in another 10 or 12 years I might be designing a version of the Cosby sweater if I feel it's appropriate to bring back. Things are definitely circular.