Let's get one thing straight: Gretchen Jones knows what you're thinking. "I'm the bitch!" she laughs. It's a perception she's ready to disprove—and have a little fun with. "I got an evil purple lipstick," she notes of a rare stray from her signature reddish-orange lipcolor (So Chaud by MAC). "And I've started wearing heels. I'm 5'11" and already considered a bitch—I may as well take it up a notch!"
The 28-year-old's ability to laugh at herself seems out of step with the serious, all-knowing competitor seen on Project Runway's eighth season. "All of my sarcasm got stripped away on the show," she says. Still, the striking designer from Portland, Oregon, takes responsibility for what did make it on air. "I have a strong voice, and I communicate my tastes in a manner that you either like or don't," she admits. "But there's a difference between critique and taste. My tastes aren't for everybody—that's what fashion is." Fair enough. Yet for many, such rationale does nothing to lessen the sting of Jones' triumph over crowd favorite Mondo Guerra. Both designers presented strong finale collections—strong enough to split the judges straight down the middle. While Nina Garcia and Michael Kors championed Jones, Heidi Klum and guest judge Jessica Simpson stood firmly for Team Mondo. "A lot of people were really upset that he didn't win," Jones says of her runner-up. "I'm OK with that. Mondo is a genius and very compelling, but I think my work spoke for itself." Indeed, "Running Through Thunder," Jones' winning collection, speaks to a new tribe of women—one whose casual-cool exterior belies all-powerful ambition. Who but Jones herself is better to model the Southwestern-inspired chevron prints and one-of-a-kind jewelry? "There's a difference between the Lady of the Canyon from the '70s and bohemian women now," she says. "I consider myself a modern bohemian woman, but I still wear 5-inch heels and tailored trousers. I have big goals." Among them, an entire lifestyle brand that bears her name. But first, she'll put the prize money toward paying off her debt. Next she hopes for an apprenticeship under one of the greats: Diane von Furstenberg, Donna Karan, or—fingers crossed—Michael Kors. "I'm the 'ask for what you want and you will get it' type of girl," Jones says. Based on her track record, she's got a lot coming her way.