South prepares for ‘Project Runway’ return

Oct. 23, 2013 | 0 Comments

BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com

Ari South was in the middle of an interview with Andy Bumatai when her phone rang and the caller left a message. Among the questions Bumatai asked was whether the designer had any plans to return to “Project Runway,” the TV fashion design competition that put the local designer — then known as Andy — in the national spotlight with a third-place finish.

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‘Project Runway All Stars’

Premieres Oct. 24 on Lifetime

“I told him I was hoping to be invited back because it was the right time, and it was actually really weird because the call I got was from ‘Project Runway.'”

So South will return to television, this time for the third season of “Project Runway All Stars,” which, beginning Oct. 24, will pit past winners and top finalists against one another to determine who’s in and who’s out on a weekly basis.

This time around, it’ll be a new South on view, as the national viewing audience will learn what the Hawaii fashion community has known for two years: The former Andy Southiphong has been living as a woman, with a name change to Ariyaphon Southiphong, or Ari South for short.

“I started the (transgender) process but stopped before going to New York the first time,” South said. “It’s something I had been dealing with for years before, but the first time a lot of the changes (from hormone therapy) came too quickly and I was not sure I was ready for it. It’s something you really want to make sure you want. It’s a struggle I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”

The appearance comes at a time South feels prepared to deal with any controversy that might arise from her decision.

“I knew that I would be looked at and criticized, not only for my work, but because of my personal choices regarding gender identity,” she said. “I knew that was going to come at me, so I had to be ready. It’s one of the few venues people get to see someone like us able to communicate who we are, so I felt a responsibility to represent the transgender community in a way that would make me proud.”

Episodes were taped during the summer, and South is now back home. While she can’t share the outcome of the competition, the designer, who was buttoned up for much of her original Season 8 appearance, said she shows a lot more emotion at the beginning and the end of the competition.

“I think it was something the producers were trying to pull from me,” she said.

The season promises to be a strong one, marked by the return of three winning designers: Jeffrey Sebelia (Season 3), Seth Aaron Henderson (Season 7), and Irina Shabayeva (Season 6).

South said she had no idea whom she would be competing with until arriving on set. Calls to friends didn’t help because no one else from her season appears on “All Stars” this time around.

She said “All Stars” is a little easier than “Project Runway” in that they know more about what to expect, and with maturity the designers are less prone to tantrums and game playing.

“It was much more matter of fact,” she said. “It was just about getting the work done and doing our best work. It’s a whole different show with a different host (Alyssa Milano), different judges (Isaac Mizrahi and Georgina Chapman) and different mentor (Zanna Roberts Rassi filling Tim Gunn’s role).”

Other competitors are Daniel Esquivel (Season 11), Melissa Fleis (Season 10), Mychael Knight (Season 3), Viktor Luna (Season 9), Korto Momolu (Season 5), Christopher Palu (Season 10) and Elena Slivnyak (Season 10).

South said she felt the judges went easier on them, for which she was grateful.

“One of the side effects I’m dealing with is I don’t have as much energy as I did before,” she said. “I can’t only sleep three hours anymore, but it’s good. I feel very comfortable and I’m happy, and that enables me to do everything I have to do without fighting who I am.

“You never know what’s going on in a person’s heart, and if I hadn’t done this, it would always torment me, rather than being able to move and progress and accomplish everything I want to do in life.”

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In the Mix: South returns to ‘Runway’ cast

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