Project Runway contestant Richard Hallmarq opens a new studio at WAL Marketplace

The designer went from high school sewing in Meadowview to the pinnacle of fashion, and he’s staying in Sac

Photo by devin armstrong

Check out Richard Hallmarq’s new studio at WAL Marketplace, 1104 R Street.

As a teen growing up in Meadowview in the ’80s, Richard Hallmarq would roll into John F. Kennedy High School wearing sparkly silver converse, ripped leopard pants and a Culture Club T-shirt. That sense of wild yet relaxed style would take him all the way to Project Runway, Season 11.

In 2012, he quit his job to move to New York for the summer.

“When I left, I was so scared because I had never been away from my family and friends,” he remembers. “It was kind of like the Olympics for fashion.”

Previous to making it on the show, the Sacramento native had gotten rejected from it—over and over. His Kennedy High School buddy-turned-assistant, Crystal Reyna, encouraged Hallmarq to apply even when he thought he shouldn’t anymore. With her at his side, he’s since dialed in on his sense of style: liquid drapey womenswear with ’80s twists and a modern aesthetic, but never at the expense of comfort.

This spring, he moved his studio from Elk Grove to the Warehouse Artist Lofts Marketplace on R Street, where passersby looking for handmade shoes at Benjamins or vintage duds at Old Gold can easily happen upon his work.

“People are like, ’Oh, you have a store!’—it’s not a store, it’s actually my design studio,” Hallmarq explains with a laugh. “It’s in a creative environment with so many other artists and business owners. Everyone’s really supportive of each other.”

To finally arrive at a place where he’s inspired by his surroundings, he’s had to work through two major health hurdles: First, his mother had open-heart surgery while he was filming Project Runway. Then, a year ago, he woke up in Los Angeles, where he was showing a collection at Fashion Week, unable to move. Doctors told him he may never sew again.

‘U Got the Look’

Hallmarq took his first sewing class in middle school, when he sewed up a pair of shorts. But it was really in high school home ec classes that his creativity began to crackle in the form of overalls covered with sunflowers, self-drafted dresses and a layered sheet cake that housed an aquarium of tropical fish.

“He just oozed creativity in every way,” says Julie Strong, his former high school sewing and cooking teacher who remains a mentor. “After the first semester, I turned him loose and let him do what he was doing so well.”

Back then, Hallmarq had already identified his style icons, and most of them came from music: Pete Burns from Dead or Alive, Boy George, George Michael. But above all, no question, was Prince. The Prince of Funk was also the Prince of Funky Fashion, with his ruffled tops and pink fur stoles.

Reyna met Hallmarq when mutual friends told each other they would bond over their mutual admiration of the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. “From then on it was nonstop. We would go to The Beat, a record store,” Reyna says.

Hallmarq started out his working life in music with a gig at Tower Records' headquarters—as a mail distributor.

“It wasn’t quite the job I thought I was going to have, but it was probably one of my favorite jobs I ever had because I got to be around music and fashion,” Hallmarq remembers. In the mailroom, he found stacks of fashion periodicals from around the world. “I would just go crazy. I was like, ’Oh my god! All these magazines, all this inspiration.’”

As a side hustle, Hallmarq made prom dresses, ultimately hundreds of them. His first fashion show was at the Brickhouse Gallery in the early 2000s, and as a result, boutiques in the Pavilions Shopping Center started carrying his designs.

To advance his career, Hallmarq attended fashion school at the International Academy of Design & Technology. After graduation, he worked at the Prada counter at Nordstrom’s and sewed at nightfall, working long hours to elevate his craft.

The dream of becoming a full-time fashion designer continued to burn: He’d been rejected a few times from Project Runway and had just about given up, but Reyna nudged him to keep at it. She had also been influential in a recent shift in his style.

“I remember he made this huge jacket, and when the girl came out she looked like a big ball,” she says. “I was like, ’This is all good, but who’s gonna buy this? Isn’t that your goal, that somebody would buy this?’ I think a lightbulb went up, and he started editing himself to put his design, his creativity, into making stuff that still may be a little crazy, but it’s still very wearable. That was a challenge that he mastered.”

Project Runway agreed. A blocked number called Hallmarq’s cellphone while he was working for a cosmetics distributor.

“I was crying, I was just so happy because I had worked so hard,” he says.

Hallmarq made it to the pinnacle of mainstream fashion only to discover a hitch: He still hadn’t zeroed in on his style.

Editing the excess

“You know what’s funny? I didn’t really know who I was as a designer before the show,” Hallmarq says. “I learned very quickly on the show that I was good at working with jersey and knitwear.”

When he sewed up an asymmetrical jersey dress in gray and black, celebrity judge Michael Kors gave him major kudos. “I love Richard’s look,” Kors said on the show. “A great balance between softness and architectural sharpness. It looked sleek, chic and very New York.”

And yet, other designers threw him shade, including designer Layana Aguilar. “If you ask me who is the weakest link, I would say Richard because throughout the competition he’s been very inconsistent,” Aguilar said in episode nine.

Though she did really say those critical things, Hallmarq says it’s reality TV, after all.

“The way the show was plotted, it looked like me and Layana hated each other on the show, but we’re actually really good friends,” he says. “You’re filming a show, and you’re going to say what you’re going to say.”

More dramatic than what appeared on screen was what was happening at home. Producers woke Hallmarq with a call from Reyna: His mother was going into open-heart surgery.

“For me to come home and give up everything—my mom wanted me to do this so bad,” he says.

Reyna encouraged him to stay and give it a few days to see if his mother’s health improved, and thankfully, she got better. His mother also had a premonition that something special would happen on her son’s 40th birthday. And it did: Hallmarq was eliminated from the show and came in fifth place.

“I wasn’t even upset, I was just so happy because I didn’t want to go home first, and I had made it so far, to the very end,” he says.

Hallmarq returned to Sacramento with a refined sense of his style and ran his studio in Elk Grove. He continued to do fashion shows in New York and around the country until waking up that morning last year in Los Angeles, where he was unable to get out of bed because of pain coursing through his arm.

He flew back home, where he was tested by multiple doctors. A neurologist told him it was an issue with his neck.Hallmarq was told he may never sew again—and certainly not for the next several months.

“It was horrible: It would be like someone telling you whatever you love doing the most in your life you can never do again,” he says.

Thankfully, Hallmarq responded well to the cryotherapy, and he’s back to sewing up a flurry of jersey in his brand new studio. In late March, he was serging together flowing, spray-paint splattered sweatpants and palm frond dresses in preparation for his resort-inspired show at Palm Springs Fashion Week.

He continues to craft womenswear through a slight lingering pain in his arm. “It is a hustle, but it’s a good one, especially when you enjoy what you do, it makes it all worth it in the end,” Hallmarq says.

Someday, he hopes to see his work in department stores like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. But for now, he’s simply thankful to have a studio outside of his home so that he’s no longer tempted to stay up till 3 a.m. seaming what he’s started.

“You don’t want to stop until it’s finished,” he says.