Mondo Guerra On His ’90s Rave Culture-Inspired Collection, HIV Activism And More

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Photo: Mondo Guerra Denver Fashion Week 2014
Fashion designer Mondo Guerra walks down the runway with his 2014 Denver Fashion Week collection.

It's a homecoming weekend for Colorado's most famous fashion designer, Mondo Guerra.

The Project Runway favorite will debut a new collection at Denver Fashion Week on Sunday, Nov. 4. Guerra was born and raised in Denver, and has based the collection on his teen years in the mid-90s rave scene.

The designer controversially finished second in season eight of Project Runway, but scored victory two years later in the first season of All Stars. Guerra publicly announced his HIV-positive status during his first run on the reality competition show. Since then, he's become an advocate for people living with the disease.

Guerra talked to Colorado Matters about his growing up in the rave scene, fighting HIV/AIDS stigma and the first item of clothing he made.

Interview Highlights

On drawing inspiration from his "going out, partying, self-expression days":

"I just turned 40. Being an older gentleman, it’s a different place for me now. I was definitely missing my going out, partying, self-expression days. So I really wanted to pull from my teen years when I was living the rave scene in Denver. It was my favorite part of my life.

I went to Denver School of the Arts. I was a piano major. And all through high school I was kind of very nerdy, normal guy in the background. It wasn’t until I was a senior and graduated that I really found a new way to express myself, a new creative outlet, and it was fashion. The rave scene in Colorado really encouraged me to express myself in different ways.

The thing that really encouraged me about the rave culture in Colorado especially, it really was a sense of family. It was very supportive. It was very encouraging. It made me want to do more."

On creating his first pieces of clothing:

"I played a lot with a glue gun when I was barely starting out. The first thing I ever made going to a party, a rave, was a pair of faux-fur pants. Lots of glitter. Just anything you could find. I was 18, 19 years old, so I was definitely on a budget. It’s really about just being resourceful and being innovative. That really pushed me forward going into Project Runway to really be able to handle challenges."

On the HIV/AIDS misconception he most wants to eliminate:

"From my experience and people approaching me, they believe this disease is still a death sentence. There are treatments out there that allow people like myself, living with HIV, to have very happy and very healthy lives. It’s a responsibility to stay on it and take care of yourself, but it’s a responsibility that I love. It allows me to push harder and move faster.

I take pride in it because I have support now. I was silent for 10 years of my life, not talking about my status and not talking to my family about it. Once I was able to talk to them about it, it really allowed me to be my best self. My family is fifth-generation in north Denver, and now that they've been able to to put a face to the disease, they’ve become advocates themselves. I’m their son, I’m their brother, I’m their cousin, I’m their nephew."

Responses edited for clarity.