Interview: Prajje Oscar Jean-Bapiste seeks to educate and entice with fashion

PROJECT RUNWAY -- "The Last Straw" Episode 1909 -- Pictured: Prajjé Oscar Jean-Baptiste -- (Photo by: Greg Endries/Bravo)
PROJECT RUNWAY -- "The Last Straw" Episode 1909 -- Pictured: Prajjé Oscar Jean-Baptiste -- (Photo by: Greg Endries/Bravo) /

Sometimes fashion designers on Project Runway open a door to a conversation that needs to be had. With Prajje Oscar Jean-Baptiste, his designs were more than just a fashion moment. It was an invitation to explore history and culture more fully.

Although Prajje might have stumbled on the avant-garde challenge, some people thought he could have walked away with the fashion crown. Prajje has a unique ability to weave history, culture, and modern looks that had people talking long after the runway show.

Recently, Prajje spoke with Culturess about his time on Project Runway, Haiti’s connection to fashion, and what is next for his brand. While there was a moment when he referred to fashion as a way to escape, that sentiment seems to have evolved a little.

Specifically, Prajje said, “for me, it was the dive into this almost fairy-tail space where I could escape my troubles. I think perhaps fashion for some creates a safe place.”

Even if there is a safe place, Prajje’s designs on Project Runway were far from playing it safe. From his exquisite painting to his ability to tell a story, many looks gave people the fashion moment that they crave.

When asked about fashion as art, Prajje’s candid response was quite telling. He said, “I think over the years for some, the artistry of fashion is dead, it is important to keep that reminder, that fashion is art. Once you take the art out of it, to me it’s almost like you are just making cloth with no soul.”

Prajje Oscar Jean-Bapiste explains Haiti’s influence on fashion.

As seen in many of Prajje’s looks as well as his commentary on Project Runway, his Haitian background is woven into all he does. In some ways, Prajje believes that there is a lot that people do in Haiti. Whether it is the country’s contribution to society or its influence on fashion.

Prajje said, “The chambray dresses for example featuring ruffled sleeves, detailed embroidery, is a design dear to Haiti it is called Carabella. as well as things such as head wrapping straw-bags. Headwraps were worn as a celebration of culture through the use of unique designs, fabrics, and colors. In slavery, women were forced to wear head-wraps so as not to tempt their slave masters with their ‘exotic hair.’”

In addition, Prajje shared that Haiti was “once the fashion destination in the Caribbean.” And explained that “Sir Harry Hamilton Johnston wrote after a trip to Haiti in the early 1900s, in his book The Negro in the New World (1910) about his observations of fashions in Haiti: (and shared this quote)

"“As to the dress of the two hundred thousand educated though less exotic than it was, it is still as in Liberia a worship of the hat and frock coat. In the streets of Port-au-Prince as of Monrovia in a 95 degrees in the shade and something under boiling point in the you may see Haitian statesmen cavorting about in black silk hats of portentous height and glossiness with frock coats down to their knees and wearing lemon kid gloves The peasantry show originality taste and a real sense of appropriateness in their costume The educated people in their passionate admiration of France do not even dress as do the very sensible French colonists of the French West Indies or of Africa but wear what they believe to be the last fashion of Paris.”"

That ability to appreciate the history of fashion gives Prajje the ability to educate yet entice. While others might draw inspiration from runways, the ability to weave historical context and appreciation into the conversation is vital to moving the conversation forward.

Prajje Oscar Jean-Bapiste sparks a conversation with his color choice.

While fashion trends evolve, Prajje found a way to bring his culture to the conversation. Often through his use of vibrant colors and curious combinations, that willingness to be bold set him apart.

Candidly, Prajje said, “I do believe that my ability to master color does set me apart, I am bold and very adventurous when it comes to mixing colors and prints that probably wouldn’t work. I do believe more people are converting to colors, we are living in such a depressing time, I don’t see why anyone would not surround themselves in colors… Colors bring joy, especially on gloomy days. I was having a horrible morning, the morning of the floral challenge, but once I got into the workroom and saw all the flowers there, my mood instantly changed.”

Those statements seem to be at the heart of what fashion can do for people. It is more than just a covering for necessity. It impacts not only the person wearing the clothes but also those people around them.

As people leave the couch behind, many people are looking to find fashion choices that make a statement. For Prajje, he seems to believe that there is a balance. From “people who want to wear everything in their closet that they couldn’t wear all year. We also have people who came from the pandemic who are now being more conscious about their spendings and being more subtle with their fashion choices.”

Looking back at his time on Project Runway, he said that he is very proud of “my 1804 look as well as my gloves, and avant-garde.” But, he does have one regret for the show.

Prajje said, “I would definitely like a do-over with my haunted house look. since we are talking about redemption… I would also like the opportunity to make Dariana, my last model, a proper dress with real fabric. Not having the opportunity to actually dress Dariana in real clothes is my biggest regret from the show… I know how to make clothes FOR ANYONE, and I failed to fit! This really bothered me.”

Having earned many fans from his appearance on Project Runway, the future seems bright for the talented designer. Before taking to the runway, he has a personal goal and shared “I am going back to being a father to my lil girl. I still need to master that.”

For 2022, Prajje said, “As for the brand I am going to use this 15 minutes of fame and build my brand. taking the Judges’ critics and applying them where I see fit. Dress as many celebrities as possible, new products, open my atelier (now open), work on a new collection for September. Really take control over my fashion career, I guess you can call it a Prince Prajje fashion industry takeover… that’s what’s next for Prajje Oscar.”

And, since it takes a village to reach the pinnacle of success, Prajje shared, “I would like to say thank you to my parents, mom, and dad for being the best parent they could be to me, also to the court you guys have been my strength before and especially during this pandemic.”

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For anyone who missed all of Prajje Oscar Jean-Baptiste’s designs from Project Runway Season 19, the episodes can be streamed on Peacock. New episodes air on Bravo Thursday nights at 9 p.m. EST.