SPOILER ALERT! Don’t click through if the reveal of who won Lifetime’s Project Accessory will ruin your holiday season…. Brian Burkhardt, 40, struggled to keep his Project Accessory victory a secret for five months, as filming wrapped in July. “The show was hard, but what was harder for me was keeping quiet!” Brian told EW the morning after the season 1 finale — and a viewing party at his in-laws. “Everyone was experiencing it with me for the first time,” he said. “It was amazing.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you always watch yourself on TV?
BRIAN BURKHARDT: Oh, yeah! Of course, absolutely. There’s people that’ll be like, “Oh no, I’ll watch it later….” I watched every week, sometimes with friends, sometimes with [wife] Trisha alone.
Were you happy with how you were portrayed on the show?
Yeah, I was. I think they showed me as a professional who isn’t afraid to take risks and also stuck to his guns on things. I am also much more comical, I think — they didn’t expose so much of that. But overall I wasn’t disappointed.
It seemed like you spent half of your camera time covered in resin dust.
That is true. Even more than you saw. All day you have to keep doing interviews, you know — so they pulled me in for an interview and said to me, “You have to go clean yourself! We won’t put the microphone on you because there’s too much dust.” I was like, really? They’re expecting me to clean right now? They’re like, “No, go to the bathroom, clean yourself up, and come back.” I was filled with way more dust than you guys had seen. At one point, I was working and I turned around and the whole film crew had dust masks on. I wish I had been able to take a photo of all the camera and sound guys. That would have been hilarious.
Well, you certainly “weren’t there to make friends,” as you reminded us. Seemed like you ended up making some anyway.
I know they say that, but I definitely was there to make friends. It’s the wonderful world of TV and editing and everything else that’s expected of these shows, but you know, in the end I met people I’m very close with and talk to weekly. I met some amazing designers. We had such a great camaraderie among us.
How did you decide to try out for the show?
I got an e-mail that was passed on from two people, and then the casting email from L.A. — you know, whenever they do casting, they spread out a huge net to people. They were doing casting calls in L.A., Chicago, Miami, and New York, and I found out about the one in Miami. They were like, “Your stuff was very unique, why don’t you come to the casting?” I was like, “All right…” Patricia and I had just had a baby — Oliver was three months at the time. Trisha and I, we design together, you know. She was like, “First of all, there’s no way I can do it; second of all, I do not want to be on TV.” I was like “Oh my God, I would LOVE to be on TV!” Then it was like a one and a half month waiting process that kind of kept you excited and kept you nervous — actually good prep for the show, which is super intense.
It seemed like you developed more confidence after winning two challenges near the end of the season. During the first few weeks, were you as nervous as everyone else?
I think — one of two things. Coming from a fine-arts background, I’m used to people critiquing my work, being able to listen to people’s feedback and then apply it. When I went on the show, I didn’t go on the show to win. I went on to keep true to what I do, and if the judges felt that was deemed winnable, that was amazing. As a designer, I felt totally respected. I loved what I did, and they saw that — to grant me the prize as winner of Project Accessory was huge for me! But I tried to just shed all that stuff, the components that I couldn’t control. The ones that I could control, which were like mostly mental for me, I just put them aside and said do the best you can do under the time constraints and the circumstances and the money restraints of what you have, and go for it. I had a sense of peace with it the whole time. The challenges that were really demanding, I felt good about. I wasn’t worried about giving the judges what they wanted. I gave the judges what I wanted to do.
The judges often commended you for the element of surprise you consistently brought to the table and the fact that you always took risks. Did you ever wish maybe you’d taken a smaller risk to stay safe in a certain round?
Well, you know what, with the bug challenge, I had the piece that wasn’t done. And I didn’t love it, and it was really, really late and I was kind of like, “I gotta do something.” So I poured resin, which I kind of lost control of. But I was like, “Listen, if I don’t love it, then why am I doing it?” If you don’t take risks in your life, what’s the point? Life is about keeping fear in your front pocket and learning to be comfortable with that. Not everyone is gonna like what I do, but if I don’t like it, what’s the point? Once I did pour resin on it, I did think Oh man, I just made a $100,000 mistake! I was like, “I gotta pull this back.” Normally I would just drop it and start something fresh. But in this situation, we had to use a bug, I had to make it work, and I think the way I styled it, with the whole concept between the bug going extinct and doing like a flash freeze, I was able to pull it out.
You know, I think that was the only time when I thought, “Oh man, I hope I didn’t go too far.” But in hindsight, I knew this was a great opportunity for my family, and my wife Trisha would have told me to go for it. And I think because I have such a supportive group of people around me, they just said you’ve gotta do what you feel. After that challenge I thought, “No, I’m going to go big or I’m going to go home.”
Speaking of a good support system, you chose James Sommerfeldt as your helper for the final challenge — how key do you think that decision was compared to the other partnerships that ended up having communication problems?
That was absolutely a no-brainer for me. James is an excellent designer. I think we’re both eccentric in different ways. We collaborated well together — I made James part of the process with me, though each design was my design. He was very clear, like, “I want this to look how you want it to look. I will help you get that out.” He didn’t have an agenda of needing to “show James” at all. That to me was amazing. I knew that this was an accessories show and I wanted to make shoes — which would take me a very big amount of time to do. James was my first choice and I was happy with every single thing that he did.
When they panned over everything you’d both made for the finale collection, it really looked cohesive.
I appreciate that, and for us, it was the one cuff — the fringe cuff — I’d basically put a scrap of every material we had that we were using for our collection. That was kind of like our paint palette, so to speak, for the whole look. So as long as we kept back to that palette…. it was very important to tie all that energy in.
I loved that thing and I was alarmed during the runway show because the voice-overs didn’t mention it. I was like, “Um, what is up with that BRACELET?!”
Yeah, and Eva [Jeanbart-Lorenzotti, the contestants' mentor] was trying to tell me not to use it at all! But I just said once again, “Thank you for your feedback on my design, and I’ll take my position.” And I think that was part of it. They want to make sure you’re confident in what you want. You can’t please everybody all the time. That’s just reality.
My favorite design of yours was the long necklace with the purple evening gown in the last challenge. I love the leather in it and the length — agggghhh, it was so incredible!
Thank you so much!
What was your favorite piece that you made over the whole season?
I had never made shoes before, so the fact that I made those wedges with all the Swarovski crystals on them — to me, that was ultimate. The ultimate challenge, and I was super excited for them because I had this idea — there was no room for error: I had to make the molds for the wedges, I had to pour them. There was the time constraint of the curing of the molds, and I was super excited for the results because I’m not a shoe designer. So I think to be challenged on that level was amazing.
You’re a jewelry maker but also a sculptor by trade. I looked at photos of your past work — the bird cage, the furniture with stuff growing out of it — will you continue that kind of work?
I’m gonna do all of it. You can take “art” and “designer” and swap those words in and out. I think in any situation — for me and the way I design and the way I create — everything I do is handmade, it’s all one of a kind. I love that hand in the work. Of course, our price points may be a little higher than some that can have things manufactured elsewhere, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But as of this point, this is what I do. For me, having that sculptural background and doing well in the fine art world, I want to do both. I want to create Brian Burkhardt as, you know — Brian Burkhardt has a jewelry line, Brian Burkhardt will collaborate with his wife, Trisha Brookbank, and also with James Sommerfeldt for a runway show coming up, Brian Burkhardt is also a fine artist and sculptor and designer. To me, they’re one in the same, and I think that’s what’s really exciting about this, is that I can do it all, I can dabble in it. It keeps it very energized for me.
Well, you promised during the finale that if you won the money we’d see some “crazy s—”….
[Laughs] You’re gonna see some crazy s— whether I have money or no money! For me, I have a line coming out with Triian at the beginning of the year that’s gonna be all exotic leathers. I think people know us for resin now, so it’ll be a departure for us. And then I’m going to be working on a lot of custom orders, which is super exciting. I want to do couture editorially. My heart is in these unique, one-of-a-kind one-offs. I do a piece, I get it out, and I’m like “Wow!” What’s next? That’s where I think the crazy s— is gonna come in.