Project Runway Winner Erin Robertson and Designer Nicole Fichera On Life After Reality TV and Why Instagram Isn’t Real
After the cameras turn off, some reality TV winners never find their footing. Not so for Erin Robertson, who wowed the judges and took home the grand prize on season 15 of “Project Runway.” Now, the designer has teamed up with her neighbor, interior and product designer Nicole Fichera, to open Hourglass, a pop-up boutique and content studio filled with new designs and vintage finds in Boston’s famed Fenway neighborhood.
Apartment Therapy sat down with Robertson and Fichera to discuss everything from the way Instagram affects mental health to Erin’s dream brand collaboration. (Hint: It involves tacos.)
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Apartment Therapy: Since Project Runway finished, you’ve worked with everyone from JC Penney to the MIT Media Lab. So why did you decide to open a pop-up boutique and content studio?
Erin Robertson: One of the biggest reasons is that we are seeing places like the Museum of Ice Cream and Sketch London on Instagram and we’re like… we want to go there! We wanted to create our own version with what resources we had. We wanted to have a space where people would be like, we want to go to the Fenway to see this cool area. It’s so interesting with the future of retail, the future of content—people go places to take a photo.
AT: And why open in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood?
ER: Fenway has changed a lot in the last few years. It has all this new vitality.
Nicole Fichera: Across the street used to be a Burger King! Fenway is historically known for one thing, but Boston has a wildly creative, unbelievable art and fashion community. Experiential retail is people understanding a new narrative about their space and their city. We had so much spontaneous art creation here.
AT: You’re both very active on social media; it can feel like everyone is an influencer trying to sell us stuff. What do you do to remain authentic?
ER: I won’t work with brands that don’t make sense. I won’t do something that ruins my reputation. For me, working with Starburst and Perrier was so much fun because they wanted me to be myself. Something cheesy I remember from Project Runway is that you’re good if you just be yourself.
NF: It’s the same in interiors and personal style. Authenticity in style is listening to what’s weird about yourself and just going with it. That’s what design is—you can see the nuance in things. Authenticity is indulging your obsessions.
AT: What’s your dream brand to work with?
ER: I have a guilty pleasure one I don’t even want to admit… okay. It’s Taco Bell. I worked at Taco Bell when I was in high school.
AT: I’ve read you don’t like to “limit” yourself to being a fashion designer. Why is it important for people to keep their professional title open?
ER: When I was in college, I didn’t just want to say I was a fashion designer, because I knew it wasn’t right then. It wasn’t enough. And I think it’s important for anyone in any field to not be one thing. I think it’s important to focus and say this is my concrete soul, but you can apply this to architecture, to whatever it is you want.
NF: There are no rules. I’m a jewelry designer by accident now. I was making a gift set of coasters for friends on a laser cutter and I was using extra material, and made some jewelry and posted it on Instagram, and people were like, “OMG can I buy those?” Sometimes life takes these turns. The idea that we have to have one job—that’s a construct. We can be whatever we want to be, there are no rules.
AT: What do you tell young people who have big dreams but don’t know how to reach them?
ER: Don’t be hard on yourself. Don’t beat yourself up and be like, “Ugh, I spent all this money on college and I’m working in a café.” It’s okay to have these moments where you’re not 100 percent, and it’s really easy to forget that. Nicole and I—you should have seen us this winter—crying every day, like, “What are we doing?”
NF: I think you have to give yourself space to grow and understand yourself. It’s okay to look for help and support while you’re figuring that all out. You have at that time all these patterns you don’t understand from your childhood, and expectations from your parents and teachers or whatever, and you’re trying to balance all of those with how you feel in your heart how the world works, and there’s a lot of pain that exists in the middle of that. Give yourself the space to work it out—to know there are gonna be chapters in your life. There was a chapter when I worked at a burger stand. I worked in a knife store. I was also an eBay business.
ER: I was a dental assistant for five years.
NF: I slept under my desk at an architecture firm. There was one summer money was so tight and I think I worked 50 days in a row because I was making shit money at my architecture job sleeping under my desk for two hours in the morning for an 8 a.m. presentation. On Fridays, I would get in the car and go work at my burger stand job all weekend. It’s hard. If you feel like crap right now, it’s fine. We all go through chapters!
ER: Everyone struggles. I think people see everyone on Instagram being so happy, like “Oh they’re slaying it and I’m over here and I SUCK.” And everyone doesn’t slay.
NF: This place is so full of joy and it’s a dream come true. But the week it was coming together, I had two panic attacks. On my Instagram, I’ve worked really hard to expose a lot of that—the more I get comfortable with my own mental health through therapy and all these methods, the more I want to show that, as well as the glamorous. We’re all dumpster fires. We just are. We all cry.
ER: We wanted to put a sign up on the door that said, “Closed for crying, BRB.”
Hourglass Boston is open at 1327 Boylston Street in Boston until late September.