Last year was extremely tough for Bishme Cromartie. His older sister, Chimere Faye Didley, died from cancer.

In fact, Cromartie hasn’t been back to Baltimore since her death.

“I am honestly still trying to figure it out. I’m experiencing the most beautiful time in my career. And the only person who understands how much this means to me is not physically here with me,” the fashion designer said.

Cromartie, born Bishme Rajiv Patrick Cromartie, said that coming back to Bravo’s “Project Runway All Stars” has helped him with the grieving process. He dedicated this season to her memory.

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“I hate to be selfish by wishing my sister was still here on Earth with me. But what helps me get through the day is knowing that she’s by my side and all around me through spirit and beautiful memories,” he said.

Bishme Cromartie, a contestant on Season 20 of Bravo's Project Runway, works on a design during the episode "Project Redemption!" (Courtesy of Bravo / Courtesy of Bravo)

Cromartie, 32, has always been resilient.

Despite earning high marks at Reginald F. Lewis High School in Hamilton, where he graduated in 2010, he was rejected by the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

It was at his late sister’s home where he sobbed about not getting into the famed design school. It was also there that he further focused on the craft of design — studying issues of Vogue Italia, where his designs were eventually featured.

He struck early success with Black celebrities — Jill Scott, K. Michelle, and Eva Marcille — who immediately flocked to his avant garde style and geometric silhouettes, bold colors and eye-popping patterns.

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When he joined Project Runway’s 17th season, that became a game changer for Cromartie. It also marked the return of Annapolis native and fashion designer Christian Siriano, who won the competition during its fourth season. Siriano came back to the show in the role of mentor, which was previously held by Tim Gunn.

Although Cromartie did not win his season — he finished fourth — he became an immediate crowd favorite and built upon his celebrity success with fans such as Lizzo, Saweetie and Jennifer Hudson. Now based in Los Angeles, he has excelled running a direct-to-consumer e-commerce platform. And his designs continueto catch the eyes of top fashion publications, such as Elle, Vogue and WWD.

The Baltimore Banner recently asked Cromartie about his return to the show and what he’s been doing since he last appeared on the series.

Do you have a dream client?

I’ve literally sent dresses to all of my dream clients. At the moment, I do not have a dream client. I have new dream goals that I aim to achieve.

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How has your aesthetic changed since you were last on “Project Runway”?

I think my aesthetic as a designer has slightly changed since I was last on “Project Runway.” I now like to keep the focus on the garment and add slight details that are dramatic in a small or big way. I’m thankful that I’ve found my voice as a designer. I’ve always been creative, but now I want to showcase how my garments can elevate the everyday person’s life. I care more about my consumer and how they want to feel and how I can creatively integrate that into a design.

Bishme Cromartie, left, a contestant on Season 20 of Bravo's Project Runway, works on a design with Rami Kashou during the episode "Coronation Day." (Courtesy of Bravo / Courtesy of Bravo)

Why did you come back to “Project Runway”?

I came back to “Project Runway” because I felt that the experience would be the best way to start my grieving process.

How did you do this season?

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You will have to watch to find out, but I definitely can say it was really difficult and a great experience.

What is it like being on set with Christian Siriano?

Being on set with Christian Siriano is awesome. He’s really funny and very smart.

What do you do in your free time?

Most of the time I like to travel or go to art museums when I’m free. I also love to go to the beach. I’m most calm and feel at peace by the water.

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When was the last time you were in Baltimore?

Last time I was in Baltimore was for my sister’s funeral service. July 24 will make a year.

Bishme Cromartie, a contestant on Season 20 of Bravo's Project Runway, works on a design during the episode "Seeing Red." (Courtesy of Bravo / Courtesy of Bravo)

What do you do when you’re back home?

When I’m back home, I visit family, fill up on crabmeat, and check up on friends.

Do you have a style icon from any point in history?

I’m not sure who I would say my favorite style icon would be. But my all-time favorite designer is Lee Alexander McQueen.

How has being from Baltimore prepared you for the fashion industry?

I think being from Baltimore prepared me for the fashion industry by showing me that nothing comes easy and nothing comes quick. Growing up, I’ve never had anything handed to me. I had to figure out my own way and not go against my intuition. I use this learned knowledge to help me navigate. I’ve been open to learn more and expand. I think street smarts and book smarts go hand and hand. Unlearning some things helps just as much as learning new skills.

Who are some of your celebrity clients?

I have a lot. I’ve recently made a list. [Laughing] I’ve dressed Chloe Bailey, Halle Bailey, Lizzo, Saweetie, Winnie Harlow, Justine Skye, Jazmine Sullivan, Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia, Coco Jones, Niecy Nash, Leslie Jones, Mel B, Andra Day, and Ashanti.

What’s next for you?

You will just have to wait and see. I think I’m done talking and at a point where I’d like to show more action. But just stay tuned, you will see.

New episodes of Project Runway All Stars Season 20 air at 8 p.m. Thursdays on Bravo.

johnj.williams@thebaltimorebanner.com

John-John Williams IV is a diversity, equity and inclusion reporter at The Baltimore Banner. A native of Syracuse, N.Y. and a graduate of Howard University, he has lived in Baltimore for the past 17 years. 

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