Meet the excellent Dmitry Sholokhov, Belarus native and fashion icon who dominated Project Runway not once, but twice. After emerging victorious on Season 10, Dmitry returned to the sizzling drama earlier this year to compete in (and win) Project Runway All-Stars, a battle between the show’s best designers. Now, Dmitry is launching his own fashion empire, creating clothing that is characteristically elegant, inventive, and “impeccably made” (Michael Kors).

Winning the shows didn’t come without his fair share of sacrifice: after quitting his job to enter his first season of Project Runway, Dmitry was homeless for five months. He has succeeded not because he’s been lucky, but because he’s never considered failure an option. His journey is a testament to hard work and discipline in the face of insane pressure.

So, how many TV shows are you on, exactly?

I’ve been on three—the first was “24 Hour Cat Walk,” which I won; the second was Project Runway: Season 10, which I won. I was just on “Project Runway: All Stars,” which I also won.

Tell me about the drama. Was it all grossly exaggerated?

No, no—there was a lot of drama. Usually there’s way more drama than they actually show. We’d film episodes for a couple days, but they’d have to edit everything into one hour, so a lot of things stayed behind the scenes. Sometimes, it was surprising to me that they didn’t show a lot of the craziness that actually happened. You’d think that they’d think just show it, but often, there’s no time.

A lot of people, especially on the street, grab you and say, “Is it true? Is it really that hard?” But it actually looks so much easier on TV than it is in real life. When they say we all have “one day” to do a challenge, it’s really barely eight hours. The drama is very, very real.

It is weird having a camera in your face when you’re trying to work?

It’s very annoying. There are a lot of cameras around. Especially when you’re running out of time, you’re running around like crazy. Sometimes, contestants would smash the camera. Sometimes the show showed it, sometimes it didn’t. In the end, there’s really nothing you can do—you just try not to hit the cameraman.

What is fashion to you?

We’re experiencing a shift in fashion. People want to be comfortable and more flexible with fashion. In the past, fashion was couture; right now, high fashion is ready-to-wear. It’s about being able to transfer your outfit from day to night, and being practical. That’s what I’m doing. I’m always thinking about how to combine comfort and beauty. I make pieces for people who are almost collectors, and love finding special, beautiful pieces to build their wardrobe.

What’s your story?

I used to be a professional ballroom dancer, in my past life. That was my first professional experience in fashion. At age 11, I was already designing costumes for me and my friends. I already knew that’s what I wanted to do. It’s not like I suddenly wanted to be a designer. I felt that I was a designer already. At age eighteen, I moved to New York City, graduated from Parsons School of Design, and worked for multiple brands.

What was your most absurd experience on Project Runway?

Physically, it’s incredibly demanding. The first time around, in 2012, I lost eighteen pounds, and I am an extremely skinny person by nature. You go through so much stress.

Did the show do a good job representing you?

They did, at least in the way I came across as extremely serious and focused in a work room. I always put 100% in my work and I never really see anything going on around me.

How badly does the show twist people’s characters?

If you’re a psycho, they’re going to make you look a little more psycho than you are. But in the end, you are who you are.

What’s your biggest piece of life advice?

Stay true to yourself, that’s for sure. It’s great advice for artists, but also great advice for everyone. No matter what, believe in yourself, and use your own judgment. Otherwise at the end of the day, you can only blame yourself.

What is the best way to support you?

A great question! I’m working on a lot of things but my main goal is to take my high end line off the ground. I’m looking for business partners and investors, preferably in the industry, because it’s very competitive, even when you have a name that is well know and you’re a TV personality. It’s hard to be an artist and a businessman at the same time. That’s my main goal in 2015—connecting with the business people in the industry!

This article originally appeared on IVY

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