Lake Forest’s Peach Carr is still transitioning back to North Shore living from her surreal experience as a contestant on Project Runway. Sheridan Road caught up with her about her time on the show—and how it feels to be back.
Without her daughter Molly, Project Runway contestant Peach Carr might never have truly realized her talents: Her sewing and design skills were put to use developing little Molly’s wardrobe when she was only a toddler. Her daughter was also the inspiration for her children’s line of special-occasion ware, Mousecakes, which paid homage to its muse by using Molly’s mousey nickname. And while it took Peach 40 years to understand that her talents were unique, her daughter always sensed it and was the first to encourage her mom to audition for Project Runway.
The idea was spawned one night while they were watching a new challenge on a previous season. “We were watching one episode where someone had just made something ridiculous,” remembers Molly. “I was like, ‘Mom, you could do this. You’re so much better than these guys. Look at what they’re making.’” Her daughter kept encouraging her and, even though Peach says that she had no intention of ever trying out, Molly eventually just printed out the application for her to fill in. She agreed and applied—three years ago, submitting her portfolio, a 20-something page application, and a video of herself. But, due to spring break plans, she missed the audition s in Chicago. This might have been serendipitous, because that tryout was for the season that the networks fought over, and which sat in the can for a year after production. Still, she sent in her materials and the show’s producers displayed a bit of interest in her designs, encouraging her to continue submitting sketches.
She finally got her chance to audition in Chicago last year in front of Marie Claire’s Senior Fashion Editor Zanna Roberts and the much-loved Tim Gunn. About 14,000 designers applied for season eight, which meant the competition was steep. But the judges liked what they called Peach’s “Country Club Chic” aesthetic and moved her forward to the next stage. Finally, she received a call from the show telling her she’d been cast.
But she hasn’t always been so lucky. When Molly was 4, the two of them were walking through a store and a lady asked Peach where she had gotten her daughter’s coat. Of course she had made it herself—and soon the shop asked her to have a trunk show, and sent her samples to their headquarters. All was well for a while: The trunk show did get her name out there, but the day she was to sign the contracts for the store to carry her things, she received a call that the deal was “off”—and, later, she found her designs in their Christmas catalog under their label.
“That broke my spirit a little bit. Had I been more self-confident, like I am now, it would not have deterred me. But, boy, I was done,” she explains. “So I just kept my business small and wasn’t going to go toward the big manufacturing direction. If that happened today, I would have said, ‘[The clothes] must have been good, otherwise you wouldn’t have stolen them.’”
Her time on Project Runway certainly has made up for that experience—she tags it “an opportunity of a lifetime” and says, “It should be
illegal to have that much fun at my age.” At the time of this writing, she had made it through the competition relatively unscathed—she only appeared in the bottom three on the second episode, when the challenge called for creating a day-to-night look for the Marie Claire woman. Peach’s party dress, made out of stiff sofa fabric, disappointed the judges and she wasn’t surprised. “I totally expected it,” she remembers.
“There was no doubt in my mind as I was trying to sculpt that Barbie-[like] sofa fabric that this was going to put me in a bad spot. I was completely resigned and told my roommates that morning, ‘I had a good time. I know this could possibly be it.’” But luckily for her, the other two designers at the bottom were sent packing and she made it to the next round.
Though the show is certainly a competition, Peach built a lot of friendships while she was in New York. Her roommate, April, turned out to be her best friend on the show. It was an ironic match, as Peach was the oldest cast member at 50 years old and April was the youngest at only 21. “She’s really a phenomenal human being—very mature, very talented,” says Peach. (Peach did get a few ageist remarks at the beginning of the season, but once her playful personality emerged over the course of a few episodes, the designers began to treat her like one of the kids.) Not every member of the cast was somebody this North Shore mother wanted to get to know—about four of the 17 designers, she says (without naming names), were too difficult to even bother with: crazy personalities.
While she was competing on the East Coast, Peach did miss her personal design critic—her daughter. When she is totally stymied with something on a design form, she usually just calls Molly over to look at it and the 16 year old will instantly know the solution. “Where were you on that second challenge?” Peach teases now.
The separation from her family and friends was the other difficult facet to the show. With minimal contact allowed (only occasional phone calls), Peach was always worried about how things were going at home. She even missed her daughter’s first dance solo at a competition that took place only a few steps away from her in New York. Peach’s absence at the competition also made Molly’s friends slightly suspicious, knowing that her mom would never miss such a big milestone. But the Carr family maintained their running lie that Peach was in Arizona helping her brother who had just had back surgery. “I had to protect who I was. I didn’t want to tip anybody off,” says Peach, who was under the restrictions of a confidentiality agreement.
About four days before she returned to Lake Forest, the cast list was released. “I’m easy to spot: I’m short, I’m 50, I have the shocker blonde hair, and the giant monogram on my sweater. So when they panned the cast [on TV], everyone figured out where I was,” she says. Her husband sent out an e-mail announcing her whereabouts, and her daughter was finally able to gloat about her awesome mom. When she came back, at the end of July, the transition to domestic North Shore living wasn’t an easy one. “I don’t remember the first three days I was home because I was so sleep-deprived and used to having every moment accounted for. I found myself forgetting people I talked to and lunches I had,” she explains. “It was so hard to jump back into life. I was one of the few people who had children on the show. I came back to a 16-year-old and a husband and being responsible for other people, so that was odd.”
Her homecoming was met with a lot of questions about her success on the show from friends. For the first episode, she threw a viewing party at Skokie Country Club and, to keep her guests hanging, she told them, “No matter if I go home on the first episode or don’t, I hope everybody will understand this was such a leap of faith I took and such a crazy thing to do.” Of course, everyone was the thrilled to see her move on to the next challenge, but that second episode was even more of a nail-biter. She invited friends over to watch in her design studio—the loft of her 1890 converted barn home. While she was standing on the runway in the bottom three, she received dozens of texts and had to avoid making eye contact with her girlfriends so she wouldn’t spoil the ending for them. “It’s more fun to see everyone enjoy it the way it’s supposed to be rather than give away any secrets,” she says.
Unfortunately, since writing this story Peach has since been “auf wiedersehen-ed” by Heidi. She made it through almost half of the challenges, losing the sixth one that called for the designers to create a fashionable look for a bridesmaid dress. She is now working on a new line of fashion-forward tennis wear, a niche that Tim Gunn suggested for her when she showcased a few tennis looks on her first call back for the show.
When we spoke with her, she was preparing for her trip to New York Fashion Week—what she calls “the cherry on the surreal sundae.” In the meantime, the whole experience is still soaking in for Peach. “Sometimes I wake up and wonder if it really happened.”