Riverhead High School senior Chris Russo has designs on his future — or should we say in his future?
Chris is one of 12 young contestants who will compete starting December 22 on Project Runway, Junior for a chance to win a windfall of prizes.
The show’s website lists the rewards as including a full scholarship to the prestigious FIDM in California; a complete home sewing and crafting studio plus the ‘dream machine,’ all courtesy of Brother; a feature in Seventeen Magazine; and a $25,000 cash prize to help launch a design line. Also, butter LONDON will supply a year’s worth of products and the opportunity to consult with butter LONDON to create a limited edition nail color collection. The styles from the winner’s final collection will be manufactured by Los Angeles Development House, Lefty Production Company.
Chris is a fan of the show and when he saw the opportunity on social media to apply, he quickly sent in an application and an audition tape shot on his phone. He went in for a series of interviews and was chosen to be a one of five boys and seven girls between the ages of 13 and 17 who would face a series of design challenges set by the judges.
Chris said the experience “was crazy, hectic, exhausting and challenging, but totally worth it. It was a learning experience and taught me to trust in myself. The biggest challenge was to be creative on demand. That’s not usually how I work.” He explained that he “learned what not to do design-wise by watching what didn’t work for the other contestants.”
But it wasn’t all work, Chris said. “The fun part included getting money to shop at Mood Fabrics and getting to meet Tim Gunn and the other contestants.”
Chris, whose parents are Neil and Diane Russo, notes his grandmother, Marilyn Russo, taught him to sew, and his aunt, Suzanne Russo, who works in NYC as a designer for Lynn Ritchie Design, was part of his support system. “When I got on the show, my dad couldn’t believe it,” shared Chris.
“I love abstract or geometric designs of all kinds,” explains Chris, “but I totally can’t stand flowery designs. I just throw things together and my friends are willing to put them on and wear them. Sometimes my friends will say, ‘I just can’t see you as a designer,’ but it’s just who I am. I trust in myself and my own sense of design.” He says that some of my friends see him “as a hero.”
The summer filming schedule had to be kept secret from his friends, he said. And in addition to the filming, he interned at Lynn Ritchie over the summer. He continues the busy pace now as he is currently taking his first fashion design class at ESBOCES campus in Brookhaven and then returns to his classes at RHS by 10:30 a.m. each day.
“He’s wonderful, open, honest and hardworking,” said Chris’ guidance counselor, Suzanne Maurino. “He’s also very talented.”
The show will broadcast on December 22 at 10 p.m. on the Lifetime Channel.