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School of Fashion Alums Amy Bond & Brandon Kee Cast on ‘Project Runway’

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The cast of designers for Project Runway season 16.

Sixteen new contestants look to make their designs work as they grace the catwalk during the 16th season of Lifetime’s Emmy-nominated series Project Runway, which premiered on Thursday, Aug. 17. Not only is the show celebrating their “super, sweet 16,” it is also celebrating body diversity throughout the season, featuring size-inclusive models (size 0-22).

Returning to the runway are co-hosts Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, who are joined by Marie Claire Creative Director Nina Garcia and Designer and Brooks Brother Woman Creative Director Zac Posen. This season’s guest judges include Olivia Munn, Demi Lovato, Kate Upton, Katie Holmes and Yolanda Hadid, among others.

On this season of Project Runway, the cast features not one, but two Academy of Art University School of Fashion alumni: Amy Bond (M.F.A. fashion design, 2011) and Brandon Kee (B.F.A. menswear design, 2016). Both alums have had their graduate collections featured in the Academy’s runway shows at New York Fashion Week (NYFW); Bond in February 2012 and Kee in September 2016. Funny enough, the two didn’t realize they were fellow Academy alums until after they arrived to the competition.

“[Brandon] mentioned something about a previous fashion week and then we realized we both knew Simon [Ungless], then we figured out the rest,” shared Bond, who attended the Academy as an online student. “It was just sort of like, ‘Hey!’”

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Amy Bond stars in Project Runway season 16. Photo by Jenny Gorman. Copyright 2017.

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Brandon Kee stars in Project Runway season 16. Photo by Jenny Gorman. Copyright 2017.

Both alums had worked with the Academy’s School of Fashion Executive Director Simon Ungless on their respective NYFW collections. Additionally,  School of Fashion Director Gary Miller worked with Kee on his menswear collection that was inspired by aviation flight suits. He shared that Kee was “an easygoing student, who worked hard and was open to new ideas and techniques.”

“As his collection developed, so did he,” said Miller. “He grew and saw the potential of where this could take him; he put in the time needed and was receptive to feedback and was professional.”

Prior to attending the Academy, Kee said he was just a "kid with a dream" looking to gain experience through his education. "My time in school helped me curate a creative process, [so] I could take my inspirations, put them on paper and make clothes from just a thought or an idea," he explained. "[I learned] the importance of continuous development and refinement. I was fortunate to have some amazing instructors that I really looked up to." 

For the Academy’s 2016 NYFW show, Kee redeveloped his senior menswear collection that was originally presented earlier in the year at the Graduation Fashion Show. “[Brandon] quickly understood the flexibility and rapid response to direction needed to make the collection a success for NYFW,” said Ungless. “He has highly developed skills in textiles, pattern making, and garment construction. He should be a natural on the show with the quick turnaround the Project Runway challenges require. I am interested to see how his menswear aesthetic applies to womenswear.”

In Bond’s case, she flew to San Francisco to present her collection to the department directors in person, prior to being selected for the Academy’s NYFW show in 2012. She worked closely with Online Fashion Director Iliana Ricketts and Associate Director of 3-D Design, Construction, Draping & Flat Pattern Robert Curry, as well as Ungless on the final stages of her collection.

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Amy Bond working on a design on the premiere of Project Runway season 16. Photo by Barbara Nitke. Copyright 2017.

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Brandon Kee working on a design on the premiere of Project Runway season 16. Photo by Barbara Nitke. Copyright 2017.

“Her collection was driven by 3-D design which can be challenging to work on remotely,” said Ricketts. “Throughout the process, she showed a great ability to remain flexible in the face of edits, yet also stayed true to her vision refining it and growing as a designer in the process. She always had a high level of technical skill, which was a strength going into the production of her collection.”

Ungless added: “She took the process very seriously and was dedicated to achieving the highest possible presentation for her collection.”

When it came to getting the call to take part in this year’s competition, Bond said that she “was totally adrenalized” to be a part of this season, even though it came with a bittersweet price: “I knew joining the cast in New York meant I had to miss my daughter's 16th birthday.”

To prepare for the competition and their sometimes unconventional challenges, she decided to binge-watch what she could of previous seasons. “I tried to get a sense of what the criteria was for the challenges, [and] get a better understanding of how the show worked as a competition,” she explained.

Similarly, Kee watched previous seasons to learn more about the competition and decided to improve on a certain skill before it came time to get in front of the cameras. "Time was definitely a worry for me," he said, "so I really tried to work on my time management skills and work in a more speedy manner." 

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Kentaro Kameyama and Amy Bond working on a design on the premiere of Project Runway season 16. Photo by Barbara Nitke. Copyright 2017.

Upon arriving to set, Bond’s first impression of Project Runway was just how big of a production the show really is. “It is incredibly scaled,” she said. “There were cameras, and sound guys, and production people, and producers; it was just huge. We’d [be in] the room sewing and making our stuff and we’d step out into the room where the runway is and there’s all these people. It’s amazing.”

On the show, the contestants work through their design process in front of the cameras, and the audience sees it all: The inspiration, the self-doubt, the stress and perseverance. “It’s really insane,” Bond said of the high-stakes environment.

Bothered by the cameras at first, Kee shared that eventually he began to get used to them being around. "The pressure cooker that the workroom is and being there with so many personalities seemed daunting enough," he said. "Thinking about [the cameras] sure doesn't help make better clothes." 

Bond also shed some light on the common misbelief that the deadlines are not as tight as they appear to be on TV. “All those deadlines you see on TV are real,” she said. “Everyone says, ‘Oh, they can’t possibly give you 30 minutes to shop,’ but oh yeah, it’s literally 30 minutes to the second to shop and literally eight hours or whatever the time limit is for that particular challenge.”

Even though the competition was more arduous than she initially expected, Bond revealed that season 16 is packed with talented and ambitious designers. “Everybody that [the show] brought to the table was good,” she said. “It wasn’t a cakewalk for anybody—it was a roomful of talent like I’ve never seen in one place before.”

Project Runway season 16 airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime.