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Everything You’ve Wanted to Know About the Project Runway Star’s Designs

Written By: Quintan Valles
Photographed By: Bradley Blackburn
Styled By: Neil Cohen Michael Costello

Michael Costello has come a long way since his boyhood days of getting in trouble for taking his sister’s clothes apart to see how they were made. Yes, long before he received a star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars, this ultra-talented fashion fiend was just a local Palm Springs prodigy, dissecting clothes bought from vintage stores and composing symphonies of design at his shop on 286 N Palm Canyon Drive. Today, we know Costello as the successful “Project Runway” alum whose much talked about creations, like Beyoncé’s elegant white lace Grammy dress, are sought after by celebrities and fashionistas alike. If only Costello’s sister knew what the destruction of her wardrobe by her pesky brother would lead to.

Costello’s affinity for shapes, colors, and fabrics have been an interwoven part of his identity for as long as he can remember. “Fashion has always been something that I loved,” says Costello. “I’ve been sewing since a very young age. I’ve really been cutting pieces apart since I was a baby. I loved designing dresses, sketching, and playing with colors.” This Mozart of materials could not imagine a life outside of fashion designing. “I didn’t choose to get into the fashion industry,” says Costello. “It’s just something I was very keen to; I loved it. And eventually what started out with just paper, pencil, and passion turned into more.”

With a powerful case of fashion fever and an eye for design, Costello spent the early days of his career in Palm Springs honing his skills at his father’s dress shop. “Growing up in Palm Springs was fun,” remembers Costello. “It had its ups and downs. I opened my store when I was 16 years old and became a businessman. My dad found the spot on 286 N Palm Canyon Drive, and we decided to put a dress shop there and see how it worked out. That store gained so much attention and kind of made me the person I am today.” Costello recalls notable faces like Brooke Shields, Faye Dunaway, Florence Henderson, Rod Stewart, and Barry Manilow stopping by to admire his creations.

Costello’s endeavors in making cutting-edge couture took place before the advent of social media. This means Costello spent the early years of his career doing things the old-fashioned way (no pun intended). He networked with celebrities at red carpet events and worked through countless middlemen like agents and PR companies to try and get his pieces worn by famous faces. “That took time and it was very difficult,” recalls Costello. “It was always a struggle, it was never easy. Now, people can open up an Instagram page and reach out to celebrities to try and dress them. But back then, everything was very hard and I got sick of that,” says Costello. “I realized I needed to do something else with my life; I needed to take everything that I have been through in the last 15 years and try to make it on this ‘Project Runway’ show so I can get national recognition and catapult my career to a new level.”

Not only was “Project Runway” a phenomenal success for Costello’s career, but he also returned for the show’s all-star season and even as a judge. Costello remembers the intense preparation he took for the show and how it shaped him as an artist. “I stayed up for about four or five days making a portfolio with no sleep and just living off of passion and the hope that it would work out,” says Costello. “‘Project Runway’ is a fantastic show; it is an intense pressure cooker. It’s an experience that forces you to push your own creativity and work outside your normal methods of how you do things. It pushes you to challenge yourself and to become competitive. Doing the show made me realize that I am a competitor and I like it.”

We like it too, and Costello’s style continues to unfold in ways that are keeping red carpet celebrities and the fashion police wanting more. But even after his fabulous success on “Project Runway,” Costello doesn’t kick up his feet, no doubt fitted in a spiffy pair of shoes, to relax. He is constantly looking forward to the next project and fearlessly taking on the challenges of being a powerful fashion mogul. “I never stopped working after ‘Project Runway.’ Many things have progressed and improved along the way,” says Costello. “Every day you’re faced with new challenges. In our workroom, sometimes we have people who want dresses that are almost impossible to do. Sometimes I feel like I’m still living the ‘Project Runway’ days when we get a call from a PR company that asks, ‘Can you make Maren Morris’ Grammy Dress and her performance piece? But we need everything by Thursday.’” Despite the stresses of demand, Costello manages to keep a sense of humor. “A funny thing I always say is, ‘If God [had] hired me, he would have had the world done by Thursday,’” laughs Costello.

Today, Costello describes his style as “sexy, sophisticated and effortless.” While the finished product may have a carefree effortless look, we know that Costello and his team put an immense amount of care and effort into each garment. Costello explains the process of creating his unique style in terms that shape him as a true style engineer. “It becomes almost like a science,” explains Costello. “It becomes like a language that only you can speak with the fabric. Only a designer can see it sometimes.” This science of swag is forward thinking as Costello and his team stay on their toes. “We still live those ‘Project Runway’ days in the workroom and it pushes us to the boundaries of fashion and manipulate the fabrics to do things that they shouldn’t do, but still look effortless.”

Costello showcased some exciting get-ups at this year’s Fashion Week El Paseo. This weeklong glamour showdown in the desert features some of the hottest looks from the top designers in the nation. Costello decided to use this opportunity to let his creative flag fly. “This time I just wanted to deliver a show. I didn’t really care if any of the pieces were too see-through or not wearable. I just wanted to make pieces for fun and for the audience to enjoy, just to have fun with fashion,” he says. Moving away from practicality, Costello used fashion week to remind the world that he is not just a businessman, or just a fashion designer, he is truly an artist, an architect of aesthetics. “I believe that fashion has come to a place where sometimes you forget how to design and how to be creative because you’re in a business where you have to make clothes that are sellable and sustainable in order to make money. So, I just wanted to show a collection that was full of creativity, whimsy, fun, and excitement, I didn’t really care if they were wearable.”

If you missed Fashion Week this year, but still want to get a glimpse of some whimsical threads Costello-style, then just turn on Netflix and check out Lady Gaga’s killer looks on “American Horror Story: Hotel.” Not only did Costello’s work, along with costume designer Lou Eyrich, win the show an Emmy for outstanding costumes, Lady Gaga herself gave Costello some mic-drop worthy words of praise when meeting Costello at an Alexander Wang after-party. “[Gaga] gave me the biggest hug,” recalls Costello. “And said ‘I have to tell you, your clothes make me feel like the person I want to be,’ and I said, ‘Wow, you just gave me goose bumps.’” We would get goose bumps too if one of the most daring fashionistas of the entertainment industry said our clothes help shape her identity. We just hope the person Lady Gaga wants to be isn’t like her character on “American Horror Story”—yikes!

It seems right now, all eyes are on Costello in the fashion world, but we wanted to know where such an inspiring artist looks to find his inspiration. Costello filled us in on some of his top fashion faves. “The number one person who is my absolute favorite is definitely Diane von Furstenberg. I’ve always appreciated what she did with fashion in the early 70s,” Costello says. “I wasn’t born in the 70s, but I feel like I know them because of my passion for that era of fashion. She invented the wrap dress and she’s just the queen of effortless style. I don’t feel like I copy her looks or what she does, but I feel like we share the same aesthetic and we both design for the same girl and we have something very similar to offer her.”

Costello hopes to transform that girl with his designs. Although he has a scientific approach to his craft, he doesn’t deny that something inexplicable happens when women wear his dresses; there is a touch of magic involved in the science. “I love when I have a client come in and she has a whole idea of what she wants to look like. And then I look at her, grab a piece and make her try it on, and she’s instantly shocked because it’s something that she never thought would have worked out or something she never would have tried on. I want her to feel sexy, sophisticated, and effortless. Whenever a woman comes to us and she tries something on, whether it’s a jumpsuit or a mermaid gown, they all feel magical. That’s what I want women to take away when they wear our pieces. You almost open up a new person in them and it’s a magical experience, there’s magic in the dresses.”

There’s magic in the dresses and there is magic in the streets as Costello’s artistic genius has earned him a star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars, which was sponsored by Dr. Bruce Chisholm and his wife, Keturah Chisholm. But Costello, being the suave gentleman that he is, does not take this honor for granted as he dedicates the star to his father, George, and thinks of the star as a permanent shout-out to his parents and others who have helped make him the success he is today. “I was overwhelmed with joy because I grew up in Palm Springs and never thought that one day I would have my own [star],” says Costello. “It made me think about my mom and dad who loved Palm Springs and worked so hard for us to build a home and family in this city. For me, it’s an honor and privilege and a reminder of where it all started and the people that care the most about me.” It warms our hot desert hearts to know that behind each of those fresh Costello threads are strong ties to family and our beloved Palm Springs. We like knowing that Costello’s name is now a proud embellishment on our city streets and the world of high fashion.

So, whether he is making magic happen in the workroom or brushing shoulders with A-list celebrities wearing his designs, Michael Costello is not going to take a break anytime soon but is always looking for his next project and keeping busy. “I still don’t feel like I’ve made it,” says Costello. “There’s so many wonderful things that have happened to me in my life that I sometimes forget to be thankful for because I’m already working on the next project.” And so we eagerly wait for that next project. We wait to see what lucky face will be turning heads as she struts down the runway or red carpet in the newest Costello masterpiece; a tailored blend of science and magic.

Summer Must Haves

For Women: “I’m really into ruffles right now, really beautiful prints and chiffon. If you can get a flowy printed chiffon dress or if you can find a really cool lacey crochet very transparent dress, that is great. An oversized sun hat is also a great item, and every woman needs a fantastic pair of sunglasses. It’s up to you to style those together with your cool tote bag and your platforms, you’ll be set for the summer.”

For Men: “I think a really nice light colored denim shirt is cool for the summer time. I’m also trying to embrace color. I’m getting more creative with prints on button down shirts, like a nice buttoned down collared shirt with short sleeves and a fantastic print.”

Timeless Style: “I think glasses are never going to go out of style, especially aviators and vintage style glasses. Or a fantastic watch with a nice leather band and great pair of dark denim jeans with a few rips and tears. Jeans are a part of our life; a great pair of fitted jeans almost defines who we are. You can dress them up or down. A fantastic jacket, either vintage or brand new, will never go out of style; you can wear it with anything.”

Favorite Palm Springs Hangouts

Lulu California Bistro
VillageFest on Thursdays
The Shops on El Paseo
“And most importantly, 286 N Palm Canyon Drive—where I started from, every time I get into town and see my old location, it brings back so many memories.”

Photoshoot Location:
Mojave Rock Ranch
2015 Sunfair Rd
Joshua Tree, CA 92252

Home Provided By:
HÔM Sotheby’s International Realty
111 S Palm Canyon Dr
Palm Springs, CA 92262
760.537.2911

Listing Agent:
Marc Lange | BRE #01407481
Michael Costello
@michaelcostello
Project Runway Star Michael Costello Shares the Science Behind his Fabulous Designs