updated 03/23/2012 AT 1:05 PM ET
•originally published 03/23/2012 AT 1:40 PM ET
Thursday’s Project Runway All Stars finale was its own animal: designers had just four days to create a six-piece collection, shown to a fashionable crowd at New York’s Gotham Hall. No extra time, no New York Fashion Week – and no Tim Gunn.
But the finalists – Austin Scarlett, Michael Costello and Mondo Guerra – pulled it off, each presenting a polished mini-collection that showcased their personalities.
Judges Angela Lindvall, Georgina Chapman, Isaac Mizrahi and guest judges Tommy Hilfiger and Neiman Marcus fashion director Ken Downing loved all three, calling Austin’s the “most artistic,” Michael’s “commercial” and Mondo’s “cohesive” and even “witty.” So who won? Keep reading to find out.
Mondo was declared the winner, in a moment that felt like long-awaited closure on the tense finale of season eight. “It could be considered redemption, but more than that it just really contributes to the journey,” the designer tells PEOPLE.
Mondo celebrated his win with 600 friends, family members and fans at a bash in Denver Thursday evening, keeping his win a secret until the very last minute. “I was sitting next to my mom and my dad and my sister – they all had tears in their eyes – I was taking deep breaths and trying to stay calm, because I knew what was going to happen,” he explains. “And when they announced it, the entire room went insane – and it felt really good.”
The designer admits he faced tough competition from his co-finalists, whose collections he “loved. I’m very proud of all of us,” he says. But he thinks his ability to work under pressure really helped him earn that final win – even if his penchant for breaks did create a little tension with Austin at times.
“I was accused of being condescending and whiny and all that, but the fact is that I knew what I needed,” he explains. “So I took my time, I took my space. In no way was I trying to be disrespectful to the designers or ungrateful for the opportunity – I had to do what I had to do. And that time off really helped me.”
That “time off” led to his collection, called “Therapy,” which consisted of black-and-white patterned pants, dresses and jackets with red accents, plus a shimmering red, black and silver gown with a sexy front slit. Modified versions of his looks will appear in select Neiman Marcus stores and on neimanmarcus.com later this year.
Another part of Mondo’s prize includes a yearlong guest editor job at Marie Claire magazine, which he’s especially excited for. “I love [mentor Joanna Coles], and I’m so excited to talk with Nina Garcia, she’s so sweet,” he says. “I think they’re going to give me creative license, I might be able to write a column, share my point of view. I think fashion is taken so seriously, and it’s definitely a hindrance on being self-expressive. So it’ll be fun to allow the readers to accept the fact that they can enjoy it, too.”
But for now, Mondo is enjoying some quality time with his family in Denver, and plans to stay in the Mile-High City for as long as he can. But he’s definitely not taking any time off these days. “I was on my sewing machine yesterday,” he admits. “I don’t stop.”
Tell us: Do you think the right person won Project Runway All Stars?