As a lover of the television program “Project Runway,” I could not contain myself when I heard that Mondo Guerra was going to be coming to The University of Colorado Boulder.
I arrived at Old Main an hour early to guarantee a seat. I watched as other attendees trickled into the room, and I couldn’t help but notice that everyone was dressed up for the occasion. I admit, the thought of what to wear ran through my head as I was getting ready to see the fashion designer speak. It became apparent to me that I was not the only one to break out my Sunday best or at least my runway best.
Finally, Guerra came out on stage and the crowd went wild. He was wearing skinny jeans, rolled up at the bottom, with a dress shirt and blazer. But the best part of his outfit was his shoes, a bright aqua with leopard print on the top. The audience could not take their eyes off his stellar shoes the whole time.
Mondo Guerra visited CU Thursday night. (CU Independent Photo Illustration/Robert R. Denton)
The questions began appropriately with Guerra’s beginning. He was born in Arvada, Colo., in 1978. Guerra began talking right away about the confusions that plagued his childhood, beginning with his ethnicity.
He now considers himself Latino. When he was younger, however, he didn’t know if he was Hispanic, Mexican or Latino, especially because his family doesn’t speak Spanish. He also described the confusion surrounding a molestation he experienced when he was a young child and how that may have contributed to his sexuality later in life.
Guerra spoke of his family dynamics, noting that his mother and partner, Ben, were in the audience. His family never spoke about their problems and kept everything to themselves as to not embarrass the family. This became complicated when Guerra came out as homosexual to his mother one day in high school.
“I am not going to tell your father, and don’t tell anyone else in the family,” she said in response.
This turned Guerra into a secretive and introverted person who kept his problems to himself, which proved almost fatal later in life.
When asked how he initially got into fashion, he described the mid-’90s, when he was 19 years old and a raver. He made his own costumes for going to raves.
“Making those costumes is really what sparked my interest in fabric, and it ultimately became an addiction,” Guerra said.
The ’90s weren’t the first time Guerra showed artistic talent. He went to the Denver School of Performing Arts for high school, where he majored in piano and dreamed of composing film scores. But when he began sewing, he would go into his room and lock the door so his mom wouldn’t know. He didn’t want to embarrass his mom in any way, so he hid his budding passion.
At this time, he got very close to his friend’s mother, who was a hat maker and former fashion designer. Acting as her apprentice, he built his portfolio and began sending it out to designers. He finally got a call from a designer in New York and flew out to show them more of his designs, his first time to the Big Apple. They previewed his work at a trade show and ultimately hired him as a designer. He bounced around from there to different design shops until four months before he auditioned for “Project Runway,” when he was hospitalized for HIV.
One secret that Guerra has kept is that he lives with HIV/AIDS. He never told anyone in his family and almost died. He decided right then and there that he no longer wanted to suffer and, along with buying a puppy, re-found his passion for fashion. It was on the show that he finally revealed that he was HIV positive.
Guerra’s describes his experience on “Project Runway” as “very humbling.”
“I felt totally out of my element,” he said. “All the contestants knew how to play the game.”
He described the show as being “a sorority” and that it “felt like a popularity contest all over again,” referring to his high school days.
While filming an episode, the producers were hoping he would reveal that he was HIV positive and Guerra refused. At the last moment, Guerra got the confidence to reveal to the judges and his fellow contestants his status as HIV positive.
“It felt so good,” he said about revealing the secret. “Physically, I was reborn.”
Four days before the episode premiered on television, Mondo finally told his parents that he had been living with HIV for 10 years.
Guerra is now a strong advocate of HIV/AIDS awareness and even has a clothing line, “Positivity,” devoted to the cause. You can find out more about at mondoguerra.com.
The overall theme of his talk was inspiration. Mondo was kind enough to share his journey of self-discovery and very personal experiences with us to better explain who he is as a person, and ultimately as a designer.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ellie Patterson at Ellie.firstname.lastname@example.org
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