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UC grad makes ‘Project Runway’ debut

DAAP alumna Tessa Clark brings her fashion designs to national TV

Fans of the popular TV series “Project Runway” can soon tune in to see a University of Cincinnati grad sending her designs down the catwalk.

This marks the third time an alumna of UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning has competed on the national fashion design reality show.

Tessa Clark, a 2016 graduate of DAAP’s Myron E. Ullman, Jr. School of Design, makes her “Project Runway” debut on March 14 when the new season premieres. Her UC experience and unique perspective — her father is an Ohio miller and her mother a ceramicist — helped pave her way into a career in fashion.

As the latest UC grad to appear on the popular show, she joins the ranks of Althea Harper, DAAP ’08, and Asha Ama Daniels-Henderson, DAAP ’13.

And while it’s clear her talents and abilities are evident by being selected for the show, Clark didn’t always know she wanted to pursue fashion design. She started at DAAP studying fine arts, then graphic design, before finally settling on fashion design.

Tessa Clark adjusts a dress on a dress form

Tessa Clark shows off her designs in Idlewild, the Over-the-Rhine boutique she manages. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative Services

“My dream going into graphic design was to work for a fashion magazine,” she says, “and then I realized that there are actual jobs in the fashion industry that I never really knew about even though I loved fashion. I didn’t realize that it was that tangible of a career path. Meeting fashion students at DAAP really excited me and ultimately made me decide to switch to fashion.”

Clark says cooperative education played a huge role in her UC experience. The co-op model, in which students alternate traditional academic semesters with those spent working full time in their chosen field, was created at UC in 1906 and is a key component of UC’s strategic direction, Next Lives Here.

“I loved being able to test out different cities to see what works for me and what type of job was for me,” she says. Clark’s co-ops took her around the country and the world, including red-carpet evening wear design house Marchesa and activewear line VPL in New York City, bohemian retailer Free People’s corporate headquarters in Philadelphia and a shoe designer in Paris, France.

After learning about production and sourcing textiles in the New York garment district, Clark became passionate about sustainability in the fashion industry, which she cites as the second largest polluter in the world behind oil.

“When I learned that,” she says, “I vowed that I wanted to remain as sustainable as possible and to be an advocate for sustainability in fashion.” And that’s what she’s doing with her ethical clothing brand Grind and Glaze, produced right in Cincinnati.

Boutique storefront with window signs that say Grind and Glaze, Project Runway Season 15, #designertessa

Grind and Glaze and other brands are on display in the Idlewild storefront in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative Services

With the cost of living being so low compared to larger cities, Clark says staying in Cincinnati was the best fit. Here, she can afford to work full time — managing a boutique called Idlewild in the hip neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine where Grind and Glaze is sold  — and still have the means and flexibility to start her own business.

In terms of sustainability, Clark tries to use all her scrap fabric to make new garments so none goes to waste. She chooses natural textiles like cotton and wool that won’t harm the environment or the skin of the person handling them. She also works out of a collective studio and production space called Sew Valley, founded by another UC grad, Rosie Kovacs, DAAP ’09. Clark keeps her carbon footprint small by sharing a space and resources with other designers and entrepreneurs and producing all fabric and garments under one roof.

Grind and Glaze was born out of her senior thesis collection which she showcased at the annual DAAP Fashion Show in 2016. The brand is inspired by her upbringing in the agricultural community of Greenville, Ohio. “I like to go back to my roots and pull inspiration from there,” she says.

Model poses in Tessa Clark's designs, among slabs of clay and ceramic art

The name Grind and Glaze is a tribute to Clark's father, a miller, and mother, a ceramicist.

Clark was raised in a restored barn home next to a working grist mill, which grinds grain into flour. Her father is a miller and her mother is a self-taught ceramicist. “The grinding of grain and the glazing of pottery ultimately inspires all of my designs,” she explains.

Clark describes Grind and Glaze as “unrefined luxury.”

“I think of the grinding of grain as a raw, rustic, unrefined process, especially in an 1849 grist mill,” she says. “And the glazing of ceramics is more of the refined, glossy finish. I like the juxtaposition of those two types of things.” You can see this theme in her work, which features raw hems and exposed seams, with luxurious, high-quality textiles.

“My aesthetic is definitely minimal but wearable and timeless.”

The longtime director of the DAAP Fashion Show, adjunct instructor Laurie Wilson, saw Clark’s vision come to fruition when she first created Grind and Glaze for the UC runway. “Tessa has stood true to her design principles and her aesthetic is very much ‘her,’” she says. “She was always efficient and thorough. That hard-working practice has obviously carried over to her current success in being selected for this season’s ‘Project Runway.’ We can’t wait to cheer her on and have her as a special guest at our DAAP fashion events throughout the season.”

Models pose on a runway

Tessa Clark originally created Grind and Glaze for her senior thesis collection, which debuted at the 2016 DAAP Fashion Show. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services

Clark says her time at UC primed her for the “Project Runway” experience.

“Obviously all the late nights and all-nighters at DAAP prepared me for intense studio working conditions and all the craziness and intensity of the workroom at ‘Project Runway.’”

Now in its 17th season, the show challenges up-and-coming designers to create a variety of garments in mere hours or days, like a pressure cooker for fashion. They are often prescribed a theme, unique materials to incorporate or a specific buyer to design for before sending their ensembles down a runway before a panel of judges. This season features a new cast including a new host, model Karlie Kloss and new mentor, prominent fashion designer (and “Project Runway” season four winner) Christian Siriano.

And while Clark is bound to remain tight-lipped about her participation on the show, she says she loved the experience.

“I met some amazing designers,” she says. “The mentorship and feedback I received was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Would I do it again? Absolutely. I hope that I repped UC and Cincinnati in a positive, cool way.”

Tessa Clark poses in a design workroom

Tessa Clark in the "Project Runway" workroom. Photo/© Bravo Media/Miller Mobley

“It says something that even though Cincinnati is fairly small, DAAP is producing some pretty amazing designers that are capable of being on a nationwide show and competing against other designers from other top design schools. I think it says a lot for DAAP.”

Clark will host a viewing party for the premiere episode Thursday, March 14, at the 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati. The episode airs at 8 p.m. ET on Bravo.

Grind and Glaze fashions are available for purchase at Idlewild and on grindandglaze.com.

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