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Behind The Design: East Bay Fashion All-Stars
These Three Savvy Designers And Boutique Owners Are Changing The Face Of Fashion.
By Caitlin McCulloch

Candid With Candice

The reality TV star brings a healthy dose of high fashion to Walnut Creek and beyond.

Photography By Marc Olivier Le Blanc

Sipping a hibiscus tea at Walnut Creek’s Coffee Shop, Candice Cuoco can’t help but stand out. While it could be her fire engine red lipstick and jet-black hair that are warranting a few double takes, it’s likely her run to the finale of the most recent season of Project Runway that’s drawing the second glances. Cuoco impressed the judges with her avant-garde take on design, mixing her use of unconventional materials with a wearable, edgy style.

Instead of using the show’s momentum to pack up and jet to a fashion mecca like New York or Paris, Cuoco chose to put down roots in Walnut Creek, where she has opened a new work studio. As she tried to decide between preparing for the London or Los Angeles fashion weeks, we caught up with Cuoco to talk about her stint on the reality competition show, the inspiration behind her nontraditional designs, and why the East Bay suburbs are primed for a big dose of high fashion.

Q: How did you get on Project Runway?

A: [The show] reached out to me. I don’t know how they found me. I told my daughter that I didn’t think I was going to do it since I would be away from my kids. I remember her standing up on her tippy toes and getting in my face. She said, “If you do not do this, I will be so disappointed in you.” I submitted at 11:59 p.m. the day [the application] was due.

Q: What was it like being on the show?

A: Project Runway felt like my version of heaven. They feed you, take you to a giant beautiful studio where you get to work, provide all of your materials, and give you inspiration for what you need to do. It was stressful, but I didn’t realize how worth it it was until I made it halfway through. Being that close and realizing you may not make it to the end was maybe the worst.

Q: What was the most memorable piece you created for the show?

A: The most memorable piece for me was surprisingly not the week that I won, but my three-dimensional avant-garde gown. [Visiting judge] Mel B. said she wanted to wear it to a red-carpet event. It just shocked me because some of the judges weren’t too crazy about the gown, but that’s OK because I loved it.

Q: On the show and off, you tend to use a lot of leather. Why?

A: I have a personal connection with it. A lot of qualities I love about women, I love about leather. I love how much you can put it through, and it still passes the test of time. There’s a strong message behind leather when women wear it. It makes you feel good, more confident; it gives you an edge.

Q: Is your style similar to your designs?

A: That was a lesson I learned on Project Runway. In the beginning, I would create things that I probably wouldn’t wear. I would do color and all these crazy pieces because it felt good to create them. One day, [Heidi Klum] was critiquing me and said, “You have a cool style; you’re put together really well. Why don’t you make pieces that you would wear?” That hit me, and it’s recently changed my aesthetic.

Q: Out of all the places in the world where a successful fashion designer could set up a studio, why Walnut Creek?

A: I’ve stuck out like a sore thumb since I’ve gotten here, but I like to watch the women. They have this very powerful elegance—they are a soft punch to your face. It’s hard to do, and it’s a hard thing to pull off. It’s also a great place for my two kids to be, and it’s close enough to the city that I can still work there when I need to.

Q: What’s up next for you?

A: I’m collaborating with This Is Ground. The owner [and leather designer] Mike Macadaan is probably one of the coolest guys you’ll meet. He is really down-to-earth, cares about his product, and creates functional pieces. I’m really excited about my design and his design coming together. It’s got a story to it, and that’s what I love.

Q: And after that? Is there a master plan?

A: I’d like to be in a number of different stores, but it has to be the right relationship. Some of my pieces would do well in Saks; others would do well in London. I would love to be a costume designer for a few films in the near future. Down the line, I don’t want to do brick and mortar for 10 years, but you never know in fashion. I’m the kind of woman that doesn’t turn down anything.


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We Wanna Be Friends With ‘Project Runway’ Contestant Candice Cuoco
By Anthony Rogers

San Francisco-based fashion designer Candice Cuoco is a force to be reckoned with. Her bold designs had already been featured on lavish runways from New York and London to Paris and Milan, before the burgeoning designer caught the eye of Project Runway’s esteemed producers.

Now Cuoco will get the chance to show off her designs on the small screen as a contestant on season 14 of the hit fashion show. We sat down with the local powerhouse to get the inside scoop on the latest season.

7×7: What is your favorite thing about designing?
CC: My favorite aspect of designing is the freedom it gives me to explore every single avenue. My design process allows a sense of freedom not allowed by everyday mundane life.

7×7: Describe your signature style.
CC: My signature is always confidence and strength. When the women I dress walk into a room I want them to be felt more than seen. There is also no CCUOCO without the color black.

7×7: Why do you live in San Francisco?
CC: I love the Bay Area. It’s a diverse environment and everyone here is more open minded. I have to be surrounded by the movers and the shakers, those who aren’t afraid to explore the unexplored. That is why is live in SF.

7×7: What was a recent “find” in SF?
CC: The highest platform shoes I’ve ever seen creeped up on me in the Castro a few weeks back. They spoke to me on so many different levels.

7×7: Where do you go to seek inspiration for your work?
CC: London is where my heart and soul is but it doesn’t stop there. The constant change in fashion means always looking for more: more places, more destinations, just more. I’ve always been described as an insatiable soul but really I’m just a woman in search of more. I’m always wanting to learn and grow and change like a chameleon.

7×7: Fill in the blank: For pure aesthetic, there is nothing like…
CC: … raw open individuality.

7×7: What design are you most proud of?
CC: There is a black leather gown that was studded by hand in my kitchen in only one day. 1,800 hand-studded crystals with a leather-panelled fish tail.

7×7: What event were you most proud to have participated in?
CC: Ask me again when I’ve landed a spot in Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. Every season I get closer and closer.

7×7: If you could design a piece for anyone in the world, who would it be?
CC: I would love to design a piece for Anna Wintour. I would dress her in a beautiful bold red and yellow, floral, laser-cut leather cocktail dress. The dress would go just past her knees and be short sleeved with a high neck that hits just high enough for her jewels to sit on top of. Anna is a force to be reckoned with and I look forward to meeting her one day.

7×7: If you could have your designs featured at any event, what would it be?

During your next VOGUE UK festival I believe CCUOCO would rock the house.

7×7: What is an indulgence you would never give up?
CC: I am insanely addicted to coffee and it’s not anything I’m giving up any time soon. And leather, of course.

7×7: What is your favorite SF neighbourhood?
CC: Walking into the Castro you just feel alive in so many ways. You feel free, you feel empowered to be anyone or anything you want to be, and most of all, you feel accepted and celebrated no matter your race, color, or gender. That’s a rare feeling to come across in most areas around the world.

7×7: Where do you go in order to clear your head and relax?
CC: I run to my three-year-old son. He hits the reset button in my head and makes me stop thinking. We sit and play trains until we are blue in the face.

7×7: What are your favorite local getaways?
CC: West Coast Leather is a favorite local shop in SF. It’s like being in heaven surrounded by so many beautiful pieces of leather.

7×7: What does your average workday look like?
CC: Ready? I wake up at 6am, I get both kids ready for school and myself for the day. When I get to the studio it’s a madness mixture of sketching/draping/ sample sewing/ interns patterning/ samples coming in/ garments being sent out/ over 100 phone calls/ hundreds of messages/ emails and coffee to keep me going. Every day is a circus of controlled chaos.

7×7: Besides Project Runway, what is an upcoming project that you are most excited for?
CC: London Fashion Week runs my calendar twice a year. My whole life revolves around two collections right now. London is a city I feel most alive in and to be able to build a brand there has been just what the doctor has called for.


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San Francisco Designers Cast On ‘Project Runway’
By Tony Bravo

Season 14 of Lifetime’s reality fashion hit “Project Runway” will feature a San Francisco designer showdown with locals Candice Cuoco and Jake Wall among the 16 contestants vying to show at New York Fashion Week this September.

Cuoco, 27, is best known for her bold leather creations… while Wall, 35, has focused primarily on custom suiting with his company Jake…

Judges Heidi Klum, Nina Garcia and Zac Posen will be joined again by Tim Gunn in the role of designer mentor when the show returns August 6 at 9 p.m. Cuoco and Wall represent two very different sides of the San Francisco spectrum, and we’re looking forward to seeing how they each “make it work” on the small screen.