Philadelphia Fashion Week kicks off runway shows Thursday with 'Project Runway' alum

Mah-Jing Wong working on his design for episode 11 in "Project Runway" season 15. Photo courtesy of Lifetime/AE Networks

Philly Fashion Week will kick off the runway portion of its week-long extravaganza of style events Thursday night with a show featuring the work of  Project Runway alum Mah-Jing Wong.

Wong, 28, grew up in Mantua and graduated in 2010 from The Art Institute with a degree in fashion design.  Before he joined the season 15 cast of Runway, Wong already had a stellar reputation dressing reality stars K. Michelle, Eva Marcille and Shay Johnson and singers Ashanti and Christina Milian.

Wong was known on Runway for his boombastic personality and series of women's wear designs that exploded with sexy details. He made it all the way to episode 11 before he was voted out. 

Philly Fashion Week,  produced by Kevin Parker and Kerry Scott, is in its 12th  year and is held at 2300 Arena in South Philadelphia. There will be runway shows Friday and Saturday nights. (For more information on how to purchase tickets, click here.)

And on Saturday, I will moderate a fashion panel co-hosted by the Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia  called "Fashion Through The Ages at Century 21." I will be chatting with Mickey Boardman, editorial director and advice columnist for Paper magazine; Fern Mallis, one of the founders of New York Fashion Week; Clare Sauro, Drexel University's fashion historian and keeper of the school's extensive costume exhibit; and Heather Crowell, senior VP of communications of PREIT. 

Camera icon  Philly Fashion week

Wednesday, I caught up with Wong to chat fashion, pop culture and his Runway experience. 

Elizabeth Wellington: Forgive me, but I had to ask: How did a black man who grew up in West Philadelphia end up with the name Mah-Jing Wong? 

Mah-Jing Wong:  My father is part Chinese. (His last name is Wong.)  I was named Mah-Jing after my great-grandfather. My mother says my name means, "my strong principles." 

EW: What are your earliest fashion memories? 

MW: I started off wanting to become a cartoonist. I didn't know it, but when I was sketching out my characters, I was designing costumes. Fast-forward to when I was at the Art Institute. I was majoring in marketing, but when my teacher, Miss Smith, saw my art, she told me that I should start designing clothing. The next day I switched my major. And since I already knew how to sew...

EW: Really, you knew how to sew? How did you learn? 

MW: When I was young, I really wanted a Jeff cap. So my grandmother sat me down and we took the brim off of an old one. Then she taught me how to make a pattern using newspaper. My thumbs were tore up, but I created my first piece. A few weeks later, she took me to the Sears on 69th Street and bought me my first sewing machine. It was a Kenmore. 

EW: Tell me about the collection you will be showing at Philly Fashion Week.

MW:  It's an all new collection, meaning that this wasn't anything that I showed on Runway. It is totally inspired by the 1990s, specifically the super models Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, Tyra Banks, and Kate Moss.  It's very Calvin Klein and Moschino, and there is a lot of denim. I'm branding myself as a denim designer so I've taken a full-fledged plunge into the denim world. There are lots of oversize coats, heavy top-stitching and  patchwork with a hint of sporty. You can throw it on with a pair of sneakers or heels, depending on the kind of girl you are. 

EW: I just came back from New York Fashion Week and the 1990s were all over the runways. Why do you think they are coming back so hard? 

MW: I think during the 1990s, there was a sense of somberness, but people also felt like they had to fight for freedom. That's why the grunge was so heavy. Fast-forward to 2017 and we are going into those times again. 

EW: What did your experience on Runway teach you? 

MW: It taught me to stick to my guns. I'm a very spiritual individual. When God tells you to do something, listen. I second guessed myself too many times on that show like the Black Light Challenge. I started that design two different times and didn't follow my original idea. I almost got eliminated that time. 

EW: How do you rate the Philly fashion scene? 

MW: It's definitely grown. The Philly Fashion week organizers  have taken their time and found  good seasoned designers. We have so much talent in this city, it's mind blowing. I love the richness and the art. I do wish, however, that we would come together more to celebrate our hometown heroes. Every time a person makes it beyond Philadelphia, they should be celebrated.