"I worked as a sugar cookie decorator," Joseph Aaron Segal says. "Then I worked in a publishing company called Harry N. Abrams." He ticks off a few more jobs he held between graduating from UMass Amherst and enrolling in the MFA Textiles program at the Rhode Island School of Design in 2007: art handler, barista, mail sorter at an insurance office. "I had a lot of weird jobs," he says.
MEOW! Segal's cat sweater.
We're sitting in a Harris Avenue studio crammed full of mannequins, ironing boards, silkscreen frames, scissors, knitting machines, tape measures, and shelves spilling over with yarns and fabrics of kaleidoscopic colors.
This is where Segal works up to seven days a week knitting and printing garments for his Pretty Snake and World of JAS clothing brands, sold in boutiques as far off as Paris and Tel Aviv. He's come a long way from sorting mail and frosting cookies and on January 24 he will take a giant step further. When the 11th season of the clothing-design competition Project Runway premieres on Lifetime, the 31-year-old Segal will be one of its 16 contestants.
The Lifetime PR team zealously guards any information about the results of the show, so we're not allowed to talk about filming. But we can talk about cats. And cats — more than any other symbol on Segal's designs (clouds, witches, snakes, King Tut) — are the designer's signature.
It's cats that appear on the stack of bright green, pink, and yellow sweaters on the table in the center of the room. It's kittens that peer off the Technicolor roll of polyester/Lycra fabric that Segal uses to make his "Kitty Garden Party" leggings. And it was a cat sweater that was worn by a character in an episode of the Providence-filmed TV drama Body of Proof.
It was this cameo, Segal says, that inspired the "AS SEEN ON TV" stickers that adorn his studio door — and replicas of that sweater ordered by customers. Currently, a single box of those stickers sits on his desk. In the coming weeks, he may need to order many, many more.
Season 11 of Project Runway premieres January 24 at 9 pm. The Dark Lady (17 Snow Street, Providence) will be hosting a premier party for Segal from 7 to 10 pm.