Mondo Guerra project runway contestant

"Project Runway " contestant Mondo Guerra. Photo courtesy of Lifetime

The cheers were deafening at Beauty Bar Denver on Sept. 30 as guests watched "Project Runway" contestant Mondo Guerra make show history by winning his third consecutive season 8 challenge.

Not even mega-talented season 4 winner Christian Siriano can boast that many tandem wins, but StyleList is certain that's not the only reason the crowd of 400 was celebrating the diminutive 32-year-old Guerra.

"It's a new day," a jubilant Guerra told us the morning after viewing the episode in which he revealed his HIV-positive status to "PR" judge Nina Garcia in an emotional runway confessional that had fans everywhere reaching for the tissues.

His "cathartic" moment was inspired by a bold, patterned "plus sign" fabric he created during the HP computers make-your-own textile challenge.

The deceivingly vibrant fabric symbolized the decade-long secret he had been keeping from his deeply religious Colorado family, who learned his truth only a "few days" before the emotional episode aired.

Because of his reality-show revelation, Guerra tells StyleList, "I've learned I'm a tough guy. It's out there now. I can deal."

StyleList: There wasn't a dry eye at my house last night. How about yours?
Mondo Guerra: There were a lot of tears! I had a viewing party and silent auction to benefit the Colorado AIDS Project and Rainbow Alley, which does work with gay teens. We raised over $8,000. Michael Costello flew in [from California] to host and support me. It was good to have close friends and family with me because I was very nervous. I was overwhelmed by how much money we raised. Every single item went.

SL: What was the response from the crowd like after the episode was over?
MG: There were cheers, but people wanted to talk too. One man said, "I have a 14-year-old son who is gay and after this episode, I feel like I can talk to him about anything." Another woman gave me $500. She was her brother's caretaker and he had just passed away from AIDS and she was the only person he could talk to. I related to the isolation she talked about.

SL: And your family. Were they supportive?
MG: There was a lot of crying. They were sad and they were very, very proud. It was the most support I've gotten from my family in the last couple of years. It was hard for me to see that they do love me unconditionally. And more than anything they are frightened about how other people will react and treat me out in the world because of what I've shared.

SL: How did you prepare them for what was coming?
MG: I told them only about five days ago. I was still that scared. But I've come to realize that I have to respect myself and the people who love and care for me, I really feel like for the past five or six years I was stuck in my life because of this secret. I've shared it and look what's happened: It's going to be OK.

SL: The challenge you won involved making textiles on an HP TouchSmart computer. How did it inspire your design?
MG: The creative process was so different. We came into the workroom and there were these touch screens. They had our baby pictures on them and it just pulled at my heartstrings. I missed my family. I really wanted to create something that spoke to who I am in a symbolic way, a literal way, and a joyous way. It was a hard, hard challenge and it became even harder when my mom walked in the door. I wanted to tell her I had this secret, but I was afraid to ruin the joy of our visit.

SL: What was it about Nina Garcia's questioning that made you open up?
MG: I was dancing around it the entire time. When I was on stage I felt someone just say, "Go ahead." It was a very cathartic moment. I was so happy. I felt there was so much weight off my shoulders, but I had to stay focused on what was ahead. The competition wasn't over.

SL: With three wins, you've become the man to beat. If you don't win, who deserves it?
MG: Michael Costello is my biggest competition. The judges really love his work, but people on the show gave him a bad rap. They didn't work with him and witness his commitment to growing. It's had an amazing impact on his work.

SL: Your own clothes are sometimes quite unusual. How do you decide what you're wearing?
MG: [Laughs] My philosophy is that every day is a new day, and that it's only clothes. I believe it should be OK to create a character and that getting dressed in the morning should be fun. Life can be way too serious if you don't.

In more "Project Runway" news, read what mentor Tim Gunn had to say about the season 8 judges.