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Living the American Dream Through 'Project Runway'

During a phone interview, Dmitry Sholokhov explained how a trilingual former professional ballroom dancer wound up living the American dream.

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For a guy who had just won "Project Runway," Dmitry Sholokhov sounded remarkably calm Thursday night. Having caught the finale with a few close friends in his new Hell's Kitchen apartment, the 33-year-old Belarus native was ready to be on to the next, as they say. During a phone interview, he explained how a trilingual former professional ballroom dancer wound up living the American dream.

 

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WWD: What's next?
Dmitry Scholokhov: Today was the finale so tomorrow is the new life. After the runway show in September, I spent a week at the beach in Puerto Rico. Obviously, I definitely want to start my own brand but I would need business partners for sure. I'm getting so many emails from people who want my clothes but I need to set myself up with a company first. The winning prizes are not really enough to start a brand as I hope to. You get $100,000 and $50,000 for technology and office space. It is a good start but it is not really enough to start a company. It will help pay some bills. I have been struggling for some time. I have been unemployed for the past five months while doing the show.

WWD: Was there ever a point when you thought, "What on earth am I doing?"

D.S.: It was the most challenging thing I have ever done. First of all, you are completely exhausted and you have to be creative and design. I felt prepared because I had worked for designers for a few years — J. Mendel, Domenico Vacca and The Jones Apparel Group. I worked for Jones New York and Anne Klein. That was my dream job. I had my own office and a nice salary. I just got it five months before "Project Runway" came along. I decided to go for "Project Runway." My lease was up and I knew I wouldn't have a salary so I lost my apartment. I was kind of homeless for a while staying with friends, but it was all right.

WWD: When did you first come to the U.S.?

D.S.: I first came here about 13 years ago on a student exchange program. I was studying psychology in Belarus, but I always knew I wanted to study fashion. When I first moved to Maryland and studied English and computer science, I was working three jobs in a restaurant. I came to this country with $250 in my pocket and a big dream.

WWD: What brought you to New York 10 years ago?
D.S.: I studied at F.I.T. and then I went to Parsons. When I first went to school, I got a bunch of credit cards and friends co-signed some loans so that I could go to school. After the first year, I got some financial
assistance and I won some awards.

WWD: What would people be surprised to learn about Heidi Klum?

D.S.: She's so whimsical and she has an amazing sense of humor. She's very approachable. I always felt comfortable around her. I know some people didn't. She's the easiest of all the judges. She was always talking to us.

WWD: You sound pretty calm. What's your secret?
D.S.: I don't think I have a secret. "Project Runway" gave me a lot of time to reflect because I had a lot of interviews. I had to talk about my life and I had never really thought about it. I came to this country pretty
much alone with nothing. I left everything in Belarus. I learned to deal and to not let the emotions take over you. It affects you physically. You understand that your health is the most important thing. I studied
psychology. I learned not to let it in.

WWD: How did you get into design?
D.S.: I was a professional ballroom dancer and I was training a lot. That's how I started sketching costumes by myself. I started when I was seven and tuned professional at 13. My Dad is an artist so it's in my blood.
Other children knew they wanted to be a firefighter or a doctor. I always knew I wanted to be a fashion designer.

WWD: What's the best part about all of this?
D.S.: I think it's the American dream and I feel grateful I can live it. A lot of people say the American dream is not alive any more. I completely disagree. It totally exists. If you really want something and you work hard, it's going to happen.