Remembering Mychael Knight: “Atlanta is the city that has always nurtured me”

The Atlanta fashion designer and Project Runway finalist died on October 17 at age 39
Mychael Knight death
Mychael Knight in 2016

Photograph by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Art Hearts Fashion

When word spread Tuesday afternoon across social media of Atlanta fashion designer Mychael Knight’s death at age 39, the city mourned the loss of a cherished creative soul. Former Dave-FM midday host and fashion aficionado Mara Davis booked Knight many times on her radio show to chat about clothes.

“I loved him so, so much,” Davis recalled. “He was on my show regularly to talk awards-show fashion. Mychael was always humble, kind, and passionate. A true talent and wonderful soul.”

The genial designer was also a favorite on B98.5 FM’s morning show with Steve McCoy and Vikki Locke. “When I think about Mychael I have to smile,” remembers Locke. “And laugh. It was a time when I actually watched reality TV. He was a regular on our show, and he had no problem giving me his cell!”

Locke recalled a favorite memory: “I remember going to a charity event at Big Poppa’s house (the ex-boyfriend of Real Housewives of Atlanta star Kim Zolciak-Biermann). Mychael had designed a dress for Jennifer Hudson, I believe, and it was part of the silent auction. The two of us went snooping around the house and when we got caught, both of us just laughed. And that led to a tour from Big Poppa himself! Mychael loved fashion. He loved to laugh. And he loved life. He will be missed.”

In February, the now-Los Angeles resident returned to his adoptive city of Atlanta (Knight was born in Germany and grew up in Alabama and New York before moving to Georgia to attend Georgia Southern University) for a quick business trip and to host a pop-up shop of his latest line at Jackson Charles Home. Back in L.A. the following week, Knight chatted with Atlanta contributor Richard L. Eldredge for our reality TV-themed May issue. He discussed his private five-year battle with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), a condition that had prompted weight loss and left his autoimmune system compromised. In what would turn out be one of his final interviews, Knight remained funny, kind, and forever grateful to the city that launched his fashion career.

It has been a minute, my friend. How is it possible that it’s been 12 years since you were first on Project Runway? So fill us in on everything!
Right?! It has been a minute! I just realized I’ve been here in Los Angeles for two years now. Things are going really well here. Atlanta is and was the city that has always nurtured me, raised me, inspired me, and all those amazing things that helped make my brand. Atlanta is a wonderful city. I had a lot of friends and made a lot of money there. But when it comes to fashion resources, I had hit a brick wall. There was only so far I could go creatively. To be honest, the last two years I was [in Atlanta], I was at a standstill. I needed to grow my business. Things that had always worked for me weren’t working anymore. It was just something in my spirit. To me, Los Angeles is the equivalent to Atlanta in many ways. The women here inspire me by how they dress. L.A. was my next stop, and as soon as I made that decision, everything else just fell into place. I needed to be inspired in a new way, and Los Angeles has done that for me.

How would you describe your new line, Myka@Mychael Knight?
It’s young and easy. It’s what you might find at H&M but the quality is better. Fashion moves so quickly right now. This gives me an opportunity to create a collection every three months. The pieces run between $70 and $170. It’s very reasonable and definitely not my high-end line. But it keeps my creativity moving, and that’s what sparked it for me. With the high-end line, every six months you’re producing a collection. But I end up modifying things so much because I’m re-inspired by something. Myka@Mychael Knight gives me the freedom to design on a whim and move and shake the way I want. It’s a way for me to get dozens and dozens of ideas out there.

Mychael Knight Project Runway
Knight at the final runway show of Project Runway Season Three in 2006.

Photograph by Mark Mainz/Getty Images For IMG

You did three stints on Project Runway. Project Runway Season Three in 2006, where you won the Fan Favorite award; Project Runway: All Star Challenge in 2009; and Project Runway: All Stars Season Three in 2013. What was it about that original experience that proved transformational for you?
What I cherished most was the pure unadulterated raw creativity. I was lucky enough to be on reality TV before its many metamorphoses. It was just about talent. What you saw on your TV is what really happened. It wasn’t about advertisers, it wasn’t about creating something that wasn’t there. It was just about the talent being the talent and making a good show. It wasn’t about all the extras that came about later. They allowed us to just create, and it was so much fun.

I remember covering season three for the AJC, and your fans here in Atlanta just fell in love with you and what you were doing each week creatively. Did that love translate to you when you were in the middle of it?
Absolutely. I felt like Atlanta was cheering me on. Because of that, I was able to connect with people. It allowed me to be a designer. Over the years, reality TV has lost that connection. While reality TV has been around since MTV’s The Real World in the 1990s, it was still kind of fresh and new [in 2006]. There was a connection. There was closeness between each of the designers and the people cheering them on. Now it’s just this corporate thing. It feels very robotic now. I haven’t watched Project Runway in years. I’m blessed to have been on when I was and to accomplish everything I set out to do.

Thanks for doing this.
I’m very appreciative. It’s Atlanta magazine. It’s Atlanta. It means a lot that people there care about me and my work.