Project runway designer Mondo GuerraMondo Guerra, runner-up of Project Runway Season 8 in 2010, is back for another stab at winning the popular fashion design contest – and he is feeling the weight of many viewers’ expectations.

Viewers were angered when the Season 8 title went to Gretchen Jones, who was seen as egotistical and a backstabber. Fans of the reality TV series had wanted Guerra, who came across as sweet and genuine, to win instead.

This is why he is all nerves now that he is in Project Runway: All Stars, a special edition of the contest that features memorable contestants from previous seasons. Speaking to Life! over the telephone from his home in Denver, Colorado, Guerra, 34, says: “For All Stars, there is definitely a lot of pressure, especially because of the outcome of Season 8 and me being the runner-up then and so many people voicing their opinion about the judges’ decision.

“When I first went to Season 8, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, so there wasn’t as much pressure. I think that was more fear than pressure.”

In Season 8, Guerra was a fan favourite not just because of his unique, eclectic designs, but also because of his moving story of being HIV-positive.

In an episode, the openly gay contestant emotionally confessed his condition to the judges. It was an impactful moment for the audience and also for Guerra, who had until then kept his status a secret to all but his older sister.

“It sounds so cliched but Project Runway really did save my life, and it really did improve my life,” he says. “I was always really afraid of rejection and even within the gay community, I found it was very difficult to open up about it. It’s really affected me and my livelihood.

“I think one of the biggest reasons why I talked about it on the show is because I knew that the disease was really defining who I was as a person and really affecting my ability to create and to produce.”

Ever since he came out with the issue, he has put his newfound celebrity status – or in his own words, “visibility” – to good use for HIV/Aids campaigns. Other than speaking at HIV/Aids summits, he has also designed clothes and eyewear for Aids- related charities.

Project Runway: All Stars premieres on TLC (StarHub Channel 427) on Nov 10 at 9pm. PHOTO: TLC.

This story was first published in The Straits Times newspaper on November 2, 2012. Read similar stories online in The Straits Times Life! section.