Our City Online


Project Runway Contestant in Columbus for HighBall

 Melanie McIntyre
Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page

To date, Althea Harper is probably best known as the tall, blonde “Project Runway” contestant with a fondness for Brigitte Bardot and ‘30s glamour. But with season six behind her, the 25-year-old Dayton native is steadily building her brand, and lending her talents and discerning eye to Columbus’s second annual HighBall Halloween.

Once “Project Runway” wrapped, Harper moved to Brooklyn, where she works out of a studio attached to her home.

“When my lease is up, I’ll look for a studio-showroom in Manhattan,” she says.

The designer began work on a Spring/Summer 2010 collection for her eponymous label in June. During the conception phase, Harper spends a lot of time pulling images and doing research for inspiration.

“And then I begin sketching and draping, and from there it evolves,” she says. “The final product often looks very different from the original sketches.”

For quality fabrics, Harper turns to Mood in New York City. “It’s like a one-stop-shop,” she says. “They have everything!”

For the aforementioned collection, Harper says she was inspired by “cowgirls− their strength and the way they used men’s clothing and made it their own. And then the general migration of pioneers moving out west and how they interacted with the Native Americans, and the culture that grew from the two being inspired by each other.” (Although the two groups’ coexistence wasn’t always handled in “the best way,” she says she chose to “focus on the positive.”)

Shown during New York Fashion Week in September, the collection consists of 24 looks, or about 40 garments, including shorts, pants, skirts, shirts, jackets, and dresses.

“I like to use a lot of separates and sportswear — I also always have to throw in a gown or two,” she says.

In fact, the priciest piece is a “tailored gown” that retails for $800. For the frugal fashionistas, she offers “great loose T’s for $60.”

The collection has garnered a lot of positive feedback, she says. “Next, I take it to market in January.”

Optimally, the clothing will hit stores in February for summer delivery.

A mogul in the making

In the near future, Harper says she’d like to get an online store up and running, and sell her wares in select boutiques and department stores. Down the road, she hopes to have stores of her own, as well as exclusive space at high-end department stores.

“I also want to branch out to bags, shoes, and fragrance,” she says.

Althea Harper’s core customer is “strong,” “confident,” and has a “demure sexiness,” according to the designer.

On pins and needles

“[Project Runway] was a good experience,” Harper says. “Looking back, though, I don’t know how I did it! I look so tired and stressed on camera!”

Among her favorite garments from season six are the suit she made for model Tanisha in Episode 4 (“What a Woman Wants”) and the film noir look she made in Episode 6 (“Lights, Camera, Sew!”).

“You really learn who you are as a designer in a short amount of time,” she says. “You are also exposed to some great feedback from important people in the industry. Doing this straight from school was great in those ways.” (Harper graduated from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning in May 2008.)

High jinks

On Saturday, Harper will be in town to serve as celebrity judge for the HighBall Halloween Costume Couture Fashion Showdown scheduled for 8 p.m.

During the event, 11 designers –including Harper, Larissa Boiwka, Jennifer Carlson, Esther Chung, Huevan Cox, Maddie Etter, Miki Gotoh, Kevin Kerr, Annika Simmons, Barb Wallace, and Terri Stevens− will show three to four garments from their labels, as well as a couture costume, on an 80-foot runway down the middle of High Street.

However, only one designer (chosen by Harper and three other judges) will be named Highball Couture Costume Designer of the Year and receive a $1,000 prize package.

“I am excited!,” Harper says. “I love any opportunity where people are allowed to showcase their creativity.”

So what will Harper be looking for during the contest?

“A costume that is creative, fun, unique, and the attitude of the person wearing it,” she says.

Print Friendly


  • is Columbus that pathetic that a reality tv personality becomes a celebrity by default and needs several threads to mention her presence at Highball.

    sorry if I seem like a hater, but it really doesn’t make that big of an impact on me. jerks from the real world come to bars all the time and don’t get a thread.

  • Project Runway and the Real World are not the same thing. The Real World is a reality show. Project Runway is a talent-based competition show. Althea is an fashion designer from Ohio who has made quite a name for herself through this competition in the national eye. I would think that someone like you would be proud of her, not only for being so talented, but also for sticking to her roots and coming back to Ohio to participate in this event.

  • Stacky

    I found the celebrity mag feeling to be off-putting too and would rather have more information on the event explaining who all the other judges are. I don’t really watch TV, and fashion is at the bottom of my list along with caring about celebrity status, BUT I am interested in viewing possible shinanigans along the runway down High and appreciate when a native brings postive attention to Ohio.

    Most importantly, this serves as a kudos to Cincinnati’s College of Design Art for graduating competitive designers. I know several other people who graduated with Althea who are working just as hard to prove their talent right now.

  • somertimeoh

    Yeah, wtf, dude.  She’s done really well and proven that you don’t have to be in NYC or LA to do good work in an industry that typically forgets a lot of people exist between the coasts.  I believe she’s now gone farther than any other Ohio native in the competition. 

    Project Runway is like designer bootcamp.  Doing what they do in the short amount of time they are given shows how intact their voice as a designer is as well as their ability to carry out a concept – how many fashion designers today that make it big don’t even know how to sew!!  It only makes sense to have someone in the national fashion spotlight right now (because Project Runway is a highly watched and respected show whether you personally like it or watch it or not) in on this event. 

  • JimSweeney

    wait, the fashion industry forgot about us?  we’re flying without a net here! is my faux leather Buckeye jacket still cool? 

  • mstimple

    Cool, reality tv show star or not – I plan on having a great time and getting really drunk for the Highball!

  • And…she’s safe for another week…Final Five….and she won this week!  Gezats!

  • Another way to look at is that an up & coming reasonably famous designer in New York has volunteered to come to Columbus for a fantastic runway show & cultural event.   Just a thought!  Hope to see you all tonight!

  • Mozzroxx

    Oh, so you don’t need to be from NYC or LA to make it in fashion? Is that why Ms. Harper IMMEDIATELY moved to NYC when the show wrapped? Not that I blame her…

  • FaireM

    After reading that I am wondering if she didnt end up winning. It takes a lot of bank to show a full 24 looks at Fashion Week. Very difficult, especially since no one in the industry knew who the final 4 were when Project Runway did the Fashion Week finale. The designers werent revealed due to the litigation between Bravo/NBC and Lifetime.

  • @ walker- I have a ton of respect for her and what she is/has done.  I just don’t think the way she was booked really made me feel like some a list celeb was set to show up. I swaw her on stage and she spoke for a few seconds. she seems slightly uncomfortable and didn’t really make the entertainment side of things much better. I hope her eye at least helped judge the fashion show portion. 

    Also as stated above she is doing business in NYC now so much for those Ohio roots. Now if she sets up shop in bustown and makes Columbus a fashion pin on the map then she gets my vote!

  • And Althea’s road on the Runway…………………..continues as she makes the final three.  Congrats!

features categories