Interview: Darren Apolonio looks at fashion through a pop culture lens

PROJECT RUNWAY -- "Flower Power" Episode 1904 -- Pictured: Darren Apolonio -- (Photo by: Barbara Nitke/Bravo)
PROJECT RUNWAY -- "Flower Power" Episode 1904 -- Pictured: Darren Apolonio -- (Photo by: Barbara Nitke/Bravo) /

In the current season of Project Runway, Darren Apolonio made a lasting impression in those first challenges. While his time was short on the Bravo fashion show, the truth was that Darren has a vibrant future. During a recent conversation with the fashion designer, Culturess learned Darren’s creative process is vital to his final looks.

Although the Project Runway judges did not praise Darren’s floral print design, many people appreciated his nod to pop culture, specifically SpongeBob. While not exactly that pineapple under the sea, the bold color, and the pop culture inspiration made a statement.

In particular, Darren said, “I’ve always thought (that pop culture and fashion) come hand in hand, pop culture is fashion and fashion is pop culture, fashion has always been a tangible reflection of society. That’s how I’ve always consumed fashion, by looking at it through a pop culture lens.”

While those influences can be seen in his brand, sometimes the Project Runway challenges need to take a more narrow approach. From theme to color choice, the judges are often looking for particular items as part of their critique.

For Darren, he didn’t always hit the right mark when it came to earning the Project Runway judges praise. Sometimes that feedback was a little difficult to hear.

When asked about his looks on the show and the judges’ feedback, Darren spoke candidly. He said, that some of his looks might not be the best representation of his brand. But, “I completely understand the judges’ feedback, yes I do still stand by the looks I put on the runway but they were a small percentage of what I can really do and what I’m actually going for. My creative process has always been very spontaneous and playful, a process that does not really in favor of the limitations of the competition. Looking back at it now, I was an anxious wreck most of the time, and unfortunately, that hijacked my creative process completely.”

Even though he might not have earned top looks, Darren said, “I love my streetwear look, although looking back at it now, there’s some things I’d want to change here and there but that look was the perfect representation of my brand.”

At the same time, Project Runway has influenced some of his designs. Specifically, Darren shared that “I completely redesigned the first three challenge, did an editorial shoot plus a fashion film, which is all in my socials @darrenapolonio and my website”

That example of evolution is one of the reasons why Darren will go far in the fashion world. His desire to blend a fantasy world and artistic expression might not have been the right vehicle for Project Runway, but it can be celebrated in a broader sense.

When asked to explain his point of view in the fashion world, Darren shared “The creative industry is so saturated. Especially living in New York, one thing I love about the city is that there is no shortage of creative talent here but that also makes the community very saturated and I think it’s best to have a strong point of view so you won’t get lost in the crowd. Another thing I learned from the competition is you should really find your niche and perfect it whether it’d be your fashion aesthetic or your even just by how you present yourself.”

Still, he does not regret his time on Project Runway. For him, it was an opportunity that could not be turned down.

Describing his thought process, Darren shared, “Prior to auditioning, I was a slave intern fresh grad who just moved to New York. The main problems of new designers is to 1. How to put your foot in the door and 2. How do you get connected with people and resources that’ll help you out. I believe that getting in the competition would help me get both. Also, I was literally nobody, I really didn’t have that much to lose and there was no harm in putting myself out there. So I did.”

While he has formed bonds with the other fashion designers on Project Runway, he appreciates that the experience is more than learning from others in the industry. It is about finding his audience.

Specifically, Darren said, “I’ve been gauging a lot of what people want/expect of me and what pieces they’re willing to invest on. Although I had some questionable looks I sent out on the runway, there are people who gravitate towards some of my looks and I’ll branch it out from there. Specifically, I’m releasing a line of biker jackets that I’m hoping to expand in the future. I also have a list of people I want to dress and collaborate with so I’ll be very busy working on that. I’m very open to what’s to anything really so I’m jumping to any opportunity that comes my way.”

Next. Interview: Kenneth Barlis on his Project Runway experience. dark

Darren Apolonio was part of Project Runway Season 19 which airs on Bravo Thursday nights at 9 p.m. ET and can be streamed on Peacock.