Designer Armando “Mondo” Guerra talks being on ‘Project Runway,’ coming out as HIV-positive and representing Dining Out For Life

By : Jeremy Williams
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Denver designer Armando “Mondo” Guerra first made a splash with TV audiences in the eighth season of Lifetime’s Project Runway. Guerra not only wowed with his stylish designs but  also with his openness and honesty as he revealed he was HIV-positive on the show.

Guerra gained recognition on Project Runway opening up opportunities to come back and win the first season of Project Runway All-Stars, have his collection sold at Neiman Marcus and to be a mentor to aspiring designers on Tim Gunn’s spinoff series, Project Runway: Under the Gunn; but no other title gives him more pride than that of spokesperson for the Dining Out For Life, the annual dining fundraiser event to raise money for HIV/AIDS service organizations.

Guerra joins Daisy Martinez, Pam Grier, and Ted Allen as the celebrity spokespeople to get you out to a participating restaurant in your area and to let you know all the good work the organization does.

Guerra spoke with Watermark ahead of this year’s Dining Out for Life on April 27 to tells us about fashion, food and why you need to get involved.

Watermark: How long have you been with Dining Out for Life?

Armando “Mondo” Guerra: This is my fifth year, although it might be my sixth year, I lost count, although it might be my fifth year.

How did you get involved with the event?

After my reveal on Project Runway, they had seen my story, and reached out with me and asked me if I’d like to become a national spokesperson and I said yes. The funny thing about it is I was already a participant of Dining Out for Life before I became a spokesperson. So, I would actually dine here in my hometown of Denver and help out the community.

Speaking of that reveal from Project Runway. You came out with your HIV status on the show seven years ago. How has your life changed, both personally and professionally, being that public about something that is so personal?

Personally, it was just a complete process of initially coming out, having to deal with telling my family and then my life after that. Professionally, I feel like I am always trying to do projects that are geared and focused on the cause. Whether it’s my fashion work and collections or doing advocacy I think that a part of this for me is to have my audience feel that they are involved and a part of what I’m doing and putting out there.

When you got your diagnoses, did you feel an obligation to be a visible HIV activist?

I didn’t feel like it was an obligation, I felt like it was a responsibility for me. Especially on such a visible platform, I feel like because of being on the show and being so visible, there were so many people that reached out to me, these were people that were affected by HIV. I will say that it was a harder transition for myself because personally these were conversations that I hadn’t really had with myself and people were asking me questions [about] how I felt coming out as HIV-positive. So, it really helped me to have that self-dialogue with myself.

I want to go back to Project Runway real quick, because you were not only on season eight of Project Runway but you came back and won the first season of Project Runway All-Stars. What kind of lessons did you learn from that first go around that you brought to All-Stars?

You know, the first season was kind of like summer camp. We didn’t know each other, we didn’t know what we were being thrown into, what our day-to-day was going to be, and it was all a new experience for all 16 of us. It was really fun and very challenging and it was an examination of what you were able to accomplish, given time restraints and all that other stuff. The second time was a little bit more difficult, because at this point you kind of know how the show is run, you know how to manage your time and you’re up against 11 other contestants that are really strong and really well versed in what they do. So it was a lot more difficult the second time around, a lot more competitive but a lot more rewarding.

After the All-Stars, you came back as a mentor on Project Runway: Under the Gunn, Tim Gunn’s spin-off series. What was more challenging, being a mentor or being a contestant?

I think being a mentor is more challenging. I feel like it’s more rewarding and the fact that I’m able to see these young designers grow and really dive into who they are, not only as a person but as a creative individual, was amazing to see. The hard thing about that is you have no control of what is going to happen with your team. So, it was just me being a cheerleader more than anything, rooting them on and getting them to do their best work, without ever knowing the outcome. I will say that when we were being judged on that show I did feel like a parent standing on the sidelines at a sports game or something, and just really wanting them to win and kind of cringing when the judges didn’t get what my players were putting out there.

You went a little Dance Moms on them?

Oh, definitely! you know that is my favorite show [laughs].

Where will you be spending Dining Out for Life this year?

So this year, I will be in Minneapolis in support of The Aliveness Project, and I will be dining out there on April 27. It’s really important for your readers to go out and find a restaurant to dine out this year, and for me, I feel, and I always encourage this, if you have the time and the means to dine out three times, do it. You can go for breakfast, you can go for lunch, you could go for dinner. And the wonderful thing about it is the money that is raised within your community stays in your community. So, for me that is very, very important because when I was newly diagnosed and not talking about my diagnosis and really allowing HIV to define who I was and being scared to share.  So, I encourage you to visit DiningOutForLife.com, find a participating restaurant and have a great meal.

For more information on Dining Out For Life and to find participating restaurants in your area, visit DiningOutForLife.com/CentralFlorida and DiningOutForLife.com/TampaBay.

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