Many Baltimore residents already know of the local and ultra-talented fashion designer Bishme Cromartie, but now, millions of people nationwide are getting a glimpse of Cromartie’s talents as he competes in the current 17th season of Bravo’s Project Runway.
As the show heads into its seventh episode, Cromartie continues to shine. He won Week 5’s street-style challenge with a design that payed homage to his Baltimore roots: a hip bomber jacket with gold embroidered lettering on the back that said “Greenmount”— where he was born and raised.
The 28-year-old designer, who has styled celebrities like Andra Day and Mel B., credits growing up off of Greenmount and 33rd for inspiring him.
“I was growing up during a time when gang participation and violence was heavy, so it helped push my imagination,” Cromartie explains. “It kind of forced me to come up with an imaginary place in my head, and it was clothing that helped birth that place.”
While he first recalls loving fashion around age eight. “I remember it was one of those things that really made me feel something,” Cromartie says. It was a year later that his aunt taught him to hand-sew. He spent his younger years designing clothes for his G.I. Joes, cutting up his own clothing for materials. “I was like Edward Scissorhands with cutting stuff up — anything I could get my hands on.”
It wasn’t until age 13, when Cromartie received his own sewing machine for Christmas, that he began creating real-life designs. “That day, I saw fireworks,” Cromartie admires.
The designing process didn’t come without hesitations, however. Cromartie was initially weary of showing off his talents because he “didn’t see designers who looked like him.”
“I wasn’t sure if black designers actually existed with the kind of designs that I liked to create,” he adds.
But by high school, he overcame his doubts. His confidence had grown, and he promoted his abilities by selling custom hoodies, executing photo shoots and designing prom dresses for his peers. “I actually missed my senior prom because I was too busy making prom dresses,” Cromartie says.
And it worked out in his favor. Part of what makes Cromartie the designer he is today is because of his peers. He learned about the power of uniqueness and customizing styles to fit different needs, and it made him realize how much he “loves to make people feel confident.”
Presently, his go-to designs are cocktail dresses and on his website he describes that his overall work is “confident, sexy and architecturally captivating.”
While he feels inspired by some of his favorite designers like Alexander McQueen (he has a tattoo of McQueen’s logo on his arm), he is proud of developing his own unique style.
“I’ve graduated into a more conscious designer,” Cromartie expresses. “I try to make sure the garments women are wearing have a reasoning behind them and are conversation starters.”
Now, after years of building his aesthetic and with steady success, he’s arrived at his goal of competing on Project Runway. “I kind of knew one day it was going to happen,” Cromartie says, adding that the show has “always been a part of [his] life.”
His experience on the show has been nothing but positive. “It’s an amazing cast and I didn’t realize I was going to learn as much as I have,” Cromartie says. “I didn’t go to fashion school, so I kind of went into this like its fashion college and I’m with roommates.”
And for the viewers watching at home, Cromartie notes that what you see is what you get. With all of the running around and the crazy deadlines, “it showcases exactly how chaotic the fashion industry is,” he assures.
With the show’s new host, Karlie Kloss and new mentor, Annapolis-born designer Christian Siriano, Cromartie believes the show has shifted into more inclusive territory. It’s showcasing a change in the fashion world, with a focus on designs that “embrace every type of person” no matter size, shape or gender.
Yet as Cromartie continues to compete in Project Runway and rise in national fame, he keeps his heart and his inspiration still very much rooted in Baltimore.
“A lot of my inspiration comes from Baltimore,” Cromartie says. “I’m inspired by the art scene trends and the vibe and the attitude of the Baltimore girl. And I love that the girls here always add their own flair or special touch to current trends.”
Project Runway airs every Thursday at 9 p.m. on Bravo.