Q&A: 'Project Runway' Designer Valerie Mayen Has High Hopes for 'Runway Redemption'

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Valerie Mayen competed on Season 8 of "Project Runway."

Designer Valerie Mayen made quite an impression on "Project Runway" devotees during Season 8. Her garments playfully utilized color, flattering silhouettes, and charming, unique details that set them apart from the fashion pack. She also set herself apart from her fellow contestants by being one of the most congenial, drama-free designers in the bunch.

Mayen didn't make it to the finale (she came in seventh overall), but she hasn't let the loss get her down. Since the show ended, she's done charitable work in Africa, weathered a bad breakup, and opened a retail store in Cleveland called Yellowcake. She's also been in the headlines recently, thanks to Lifetime's "Runway Redemption" contest. Mayen is one of three former "Runway" contestants who have a shot at being included in Season 12, airing later this summer.

We caught up with Valerie, who opened up about her charitable work, her dream celebrity clients, and why she deserves to be a part of Season 12 over fellow "Runway Redemption" contenders Ra'mon-Lawrence Coleman and Kate Pankoke. One more thing: She wants TV fans to stop confusing her with Season 8's notorious troublemaker Ivy Higa!

Valerie, you must be so excited to be part of the "Runway Redemption" group and have a chance to compete on Season 12. Since you were last on "Project Runway," social media has become even more influential. Is it gratifying to be able to go on Twitter and see your fans rooting for you to get a second shot at "Runway" glory?

It is! When I first went on "Runway," I didn't have a store, and my brand wasn't really that well-known yet in Cleveland. I didn't have a fraction of the social media presence that I do now, so it's really different.

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You were eliminated in your season during the "design your own textile" challenge. Is that a challenge you'd like another crack at, or does it still intimidate you?

No, I would say I'm not as scared of it now. I've done a lot of fiber dyeing and fiber painting since then. I think in that episode, I was so creatively, emotionally, and physically drained that I was just kind of out of ideas. If I had to face that challenge again on Season 12 (if I make the cut), I'd approach that challenge with a different perspective. I was an illustrator before I was a fashion designer, so I'd try to draw something that was more "me."

Check out Valerie's Season 8 casting session: 

In 2011, you set up a permanent storefront in Cleveland for your brand Yellowcake. One thing that sets your store apart is your commitment to donate 5 percent of your profits to charities that combat hunger, homelessness, and poverty. Why do you feel like it's so important that your fashion brand has a social component?

For a long time, I had been drawn to fashion, but I struggled to find a way that I could use fashion to help others. It always just seemed like a vain, flighty industry, and at times, it can be. But I think that there are so many ways to use fashion for good. Everybody needs fashion. Everyone loves fashion. Why not try to marry what I want to do with what I love to do? I want to use fashion to perpetuate things that are important to me: helping people and creating job opportunities.

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Do you have a dream client? Is there a celeb that you'd love to design for?

I'd love to design for Gwen Stefani or Tilda Swinton. They're so different: Tilda's more minimalist and macabre, and Gwen's more pop, but I love both of their styles. Tilda, I think, would freak me out, but I'd love her to wear one of my dresses. I think she has good taste -- really interesting, eclectic taste.

If I could dress a guy, it would definitely be David Bowie. Oh my God, if I could make a blazer for David Bowie, I would lose my mind. That would make my life.

Do you stay in touch with any other "Runway" alumni from your season?

It comes and goes. Any time we collect in New York for an event or for Fashion Week, Mondo and I usually get together. He's always got connections, and we hang out together. Mondo's been really supportive through this whole "Runway Redemption" process. He's been tweeting for me, and if I get back on the show, he has some clothes he wants me to wear. Mondo is a really great friend.

Every now and again, I'll hear from Michael Drummond or Christopher Collins. I went to visit Christopher Collins last year in California, actually. But it's hard: We're all so busy with our own ventures and our own brands.

Take a tour of Valerie's closet: 

How well do you know Ra'mon and Kate, the other two former designers who are vying for a spot in the Season 12 lineup?

I've met Ra'mon once at an event in New York, but I don't know Kate. Ra'mon is really cool, and I like his aesthetic. I don't know much about Kate, but I do know that she's really young and her cast mates thought she was immature. She was just on the show last season, so I think she's still really fresh in people's minds.

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Is there anything you wish "Runway" fans knew about you that they don't already know?

I've seen comments online where people are getting me confused with Ivy Higa and saying stuff like, "She already had her chance on 'All Stars.'" And I'm like, "Hey, I haven't been on 'All Stars'! I would know if that happened."

Fans sometimes write comments online that say I'm boring or not memorable. That's something I've struggled with, but I can't be loud, and I can't be a b----. I can't cause drama. What I can do is be the underdog that people want to root for. I invest my time in worthy stuff. I'm trying to use fashion for more than just fashion's sake. Hopefully people see value in that. I'm hoping that nice girls will finish first this time.

If you want to see Valerie Mayen (Season 8), Ra'mon-Lawrence Coleman (Season 6), or Kate Pankoke (Season 11) join the cast of "Project Runway" Season 12 this summer, visit MyLifetime.com to learn more about casting your vote. Heads up! Voting ends Monday, 6/3.

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