Earlier this month at New York Fashion Week, a rousing ovation from the audience (which included March's special guest Meryl Streep) filled the main tent in Bryant Park as the designer set foot on the gleaming white runway to present his 12-piece collection for the "Project Runway" finale show (Part 1 airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Bravo).
Having worked as the wig guru for San Francisco's long-running cabaret extravaganza "Beach Blanket Babylon," his self-taught design skills have garnered him a client list that includes Cirque du Soleil, Madonna and Thierry Mugler. Regardless of his accolades, March wasn't prepared for the reception he received.
"I have showed costumes in the tent before," March says during a recent phone interview. "But when I stepped out onto the runway, I never expected that much applause."
Although he had already presented his collection for the show's finale, "Runway" fans will still be in limbo until Wednesday night about whether or not March's glamorously Goth garments will be in contention for the final three. Ultimately, March says he has gained a great deal from the experience. "It was a zenith of such a long journey," March says. "(My collection) found a path of ready-to-wear and outrageous couture. All the designers worked and thought about their collections for seven months - and you kind of give birth to it."
The start of his journey could have very well started with his role as the go-to man for wigs in "Beach Blanket Babylon." March says that since he was a 14-year-old in Alameda, he was a worshipper of Steve Silver's show, with its outrageous (and funny) wigs and epic-sized hats. When he had the chance to work there as the wig master, he moved to San Francisco and jumped on the "Babylon" bandwagon without hesitation.
"His imagination is amazing," says "Beach Blanket Babylon" producer Jo Schuman Silver. "He has a sense of style and color."
March constructed humorous headpieces of grand proportions for America's longest running musical revue, including wigs inspired by pop culture icons Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey and an explosively domestic Martha Stewart headpiece - which is still in the show.
After 10 years at "Beach Blanket," March made the decision to move to New York City to pursue his fashion career.
"When he wanted to move, we didn't want to stand in his way," says Silver. "We knew that such wonderful things were going to happen to him."
While on "Project Runway" this season, March was "auf'd" early in the competition, but was asked to return for a second chance after fellow contestant Jack Mackenroth left for medical reasons.
March says when he was eliminated, he was full of shock and disappointment, but then the next day, the producers contacted him and said that they might need to fill the vacant spot.
"They told me what happened and I was like, 'Are you kidding me?' " March says. "I had already gone through the grieving process!"
Once he got back into the workroom, March wasted no time cranking out everything from a gorgeously tiered avant-garde masterpiece made with castmate Christian to a lauded leopard-print costume for a female wrestler. He never seemed to let the deadline pressures of the challenges take a toll on him.
"I spent a lot of my career working in live theater," says March. "I am totally used to working with really tight deadlines, twists and surprises." Even though March doesn't live in the Bay Area anymore, he still comes back to visit his extended family at "Beach Blanket Babylon."
"I always used to eat at the Slow Club in South of Market," he reminisces. "But when I go back to the Bay Area, I plan my trip around the time when the Alameda Flea Market is open. It is the best flea market! I can spend all day there."
March's fate on "Project Runway" may be up in the air, but the industry already has taken notice of his distinctly whimsical fashion sense. He has received an offer to do the costuming for a big-budget Hollywood movie (he won't mention any titles), and he is working on producing his own stage show.
No matter what the outcome of the show, it looks like March's one-of-a-kind talent will keep him busy for years to come.
Reach Dino-Ray Ramos at 925-945-4713 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can learn more about Chris March and his body of work at www.chrismarchdesign.com. To read more of this interview, visit www.ibabuzz.com/fashion.
"Project Runway" Season Finale, Part 1 9 p.m. Wednesday, Bravo