On Oct. 28, boho-chic Oregonian Gretchen Jones, 28, was declared the show's winner, knocking heir-apparent Mondo Guerra -- the kooky talent with a tug-at-your-heartstrings backstory -- into second place.
"I deserved to win," Jones, who sparked a volatile debate among the judges before they awarded her the season's $100,000 prize, tells StyleList.
The workroom prima donna reminded us that she had her own emotional journey to New York Fashion Week: Her sustainable-materials clothing line was "catapulting into bankruptcy" when she got the call to compete, and during filming, she broke up with her boyfriend and lost her apartment.
Here's some of our chat:
StyleList: You definitely got the season's bitch edit. Was it fair?
Gretchen Jones: As a woman, if you have strong conviction, there's only one adjective people use: You are the bitch. That's an unfortunate label for strong women everywhere. But I thought it was great that the show aired so many of my interviews. It got me more exposure.
SL: You were almost eliminated more than once toward the end of the season. Were you shocked that you won?
GJ: I knew I was going to win. I feel very strongly about the power of believing in yourself. I visualized the win. I knew my strength was performing as Gretchen, not in the weekly challenges. I represent the direction fashion is going in, and I represented something "Project Runway" desperately needed in a winner.
SL: What did "Project Runway" need?
GJ: A new voice. There haven't been many bohemian-minded designers on the show. There are many women living an alternative lifestyle. I happen to be that woman -- a Marie Claire woman who goes from work to cocktails in a sustainable but beautiful way.
SL: If you had not won, who would you have chosen to win?
GJ: Mondo. He was my biggest competition and I understand why he has so many fans. Having the courage to say you have HIV takes on an enormous responsibility. What he did, on a personal level, is far different from me saying, "Hey, I broke up with my boyfriend." I am so proud of him and I love him.
SL: You also went through a lot, personally, this season.
GJ: Within all of that failure and loss, I was afforded the opportunity to focus on what I believed was my calling. Not many people get the opportunity to have phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes experiences. It allowed me to focus solely on my dream.
SL: Nina Garcia told us the season 8 winner had the stuff to be the next Christian Siriano. Do you have that kind of ambition?
GJ: I know I do! I read that and was very flattered. I was also very inspired by how Michael [Kors] and Nina fought for me in the end. It reminded me I do have what it takes.
SL: You had a nascent clothing line, Mothlove, when you joined the cast. What made you compete?
GJ: I had just launched national in 2010. I knew I needed to go national to reach the refined, educated women I design for, but I soon realized I needed millions and millions of dollars. Before the show, I had to cancel my fall orders and I was going bankrupt. Fashion is about celebrity. I needed to do the show to get my chance.
SL: You won the Marie Claire billboard challenge and worked with model Coco Rocha. What was that like?
GJ: What it did is solidify I have a place in fashion. Coco is amazing. She showed me what my clothes could look like in an editorial way.
SL Who dresses Gretchen Jones?
GJ: I wear a lot of my own clothing. As Michael Kors said to me, the luxury of being a female designer is that you get to dress yourself. If I can make myself happy, I am bound to make others happy.
SL: Does it bother you that Mondo's fans may be disappointed by your win?
GJ: I'm sure millions and millions of viewers think he should have won. You can't please everybody. I am OK with that. That's part of being an artist. In the end, though, I should have won. I feel very good about the collection I presented.
SL: What's next for you?
GJ: I'm moving to New York! My goal is to be there by the beginning of year. I would like to develop a mentorship with someone similar to Michael Kors -- if not Michael Kors himself. I want to make everyone who has given me this honor very proud. I am going to take my time and do it right!
For more season 8 news, read our interview with runner-up Guerra and his revelation that he's HIV-positive.
And see Mondo's take on the judges' decision here.
And check out our chat with season 7 "PR" winner Seth Aaron Henderson.
Wondering what previous Project Runway winners are up to? Click here to find out.