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Project Discovery

    Since a disappointing turn on last year's "Project Runway," things are looking up for Hawaii-born designer Ivy Higa, above during a show of her work in September. Her new collection debuted last night, and she's working for superstar designer Zac Posen.
    A model draped in flowing yellow was part of the lineup for the Ivy h. Fall/Winter 2011 fashion presentation in New York Tuesday night. See more photos at Nadine Kam's Fashion Tribe blog.
    Ivy Higa, right, walked the runway with a model wearing her design during the Oscars Designer Challenge 2010 fashion show at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, Calif., last year.

A 10 p.m. interview call time for Ivy Higa came and went last week.

"Ah, well," I thought, she’s partying later than expected.

It turns out the Hawaii-raised, New York-based designer hadn’t been partying at all, but was working late for designer Zac Posen, putting in 14-hour days while trying to finish her own Ivy h. Fall/Winter 2011 collection by night, working from midnight to 5 a.m.

Her collection debuted Tuesday night in the heart of New York’s Garment District, a couple of days ahead of New York Fashion Week, which opens today.

At the time of our interview, she said she’d been awake 24 hours, and had missed celebrating her birthday earlier in the month, but she’s grateful to be back doing what she loves, free from the 24/7 camera crews of "Project Runway," which featured Higa as a Season 8 contestant.

"Last year a friend asked me where I wanted to be on my birthday a year from then, and I said I wanted to be working on a collection to show for Fashion Week, hoping that my company was still alive," she said. "It’s one of those things — be careful what you wish for, because I truly believe you get what you wish for. I just didn’t think it would be so concentrated. I have blisters from scissors!"

It took a while for her to recover from having seen herself portrayed on national television as one of the villains of the design challenge program.

"It hurt that people said I was a bully, because I would never bully anyone. I just happen to wear my emotions on my sleeve. I think that’s a positive trait," she said.

"For me it was strange deciphering what reality was because you’re put into an unnatural environment where people don’t necessarily behave the way they would normally. It’s entertainment before anything else, and people watching at home didn’t see everything that was going on."

While the show tried to cast Higa and designer Michael Drummond as enemies after a pairs challenge that ended with Drummond going home, she said, "He’s one of my best friends. I talk to him all the time, and he’ll be introducing a couple of knitwear pieces for Ivy h. for this collection."

"My design aesthetic
is minimalist romantic;
if a triangle and a
flower mated, Ivy h.
would be the love child."
Ivy Higa
Hawaii-raised, New York-
based designer

LAST OCTOBER, while the rest of Hawaii was celebrating local designer Andy South’s move into the series finals, Higa slipped quietly back to the Big Island to rediscover her muse and her next steps.

"Living in New York is so exhausting. It sucks the soul out of you, and I felt I had to find myself again. I went into seclusion. I just stayed with my dad, hung out with the dogs and went running every day, and that was so therapeutic."

She found inspiration in the landscape, particularly in the white- and yellow-hot centers of magma and the smooth, ropey pahoehoe lava that provide the color story for her newest collection, as well as the idea of flow as the lava creeps toward and meets the sea.

"It was serendipitous how everything came together," she said. "I wasn’t sure if I was going to have a collection or have a show, but I’m blessed with good friends who have supported me, and one of the good things that came out of ‘Project Runway’ was that I got (clothing and accessory retailer) Piperlime as a sponsor."

Emerging from the show isn’t easy on designers. Higa said, "I’d read so many interviews with past contestants and alumni from the show, and a lot of them said they wished they had a mentorship after the show because they didn’t know want to do next."

Because of the scope of New York’s fashion industry, the "Project Runway" season was forgotten in a New York minute, and when it came time to interview for Zac Posen, all the company cared about was whether she could do the job.

"I’m happy to be working because I’m learning so much about the business. As much as an experience ‘Project Runway’ was, it’s entertainment. It doesn’t really teach you anything you need to be successful."

The only residual effect from the show was "I always worked fast but now I work even faster."

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