Since 2004, Project Runway has been inspiring even the least creative among us as we’ve watched fashion designers “make it work” when all seems lost. From the unconventional challenges to runway looks that positively wowed us, the designers that have been featured on Project Runway over the years are truly top notch.
The winners over the years have received prize money, mentorship, and the opportunity to feature their own fashion line at New York Fashion Week and beyond. But even though winning the show can be the career opportunity of a lifetime, some winners have made a bigger name for themselves in fashion design than others, with some even saying auf wiedersehen to the fashion industry altogether. You know their names, you followed their fashion ups and downs, you cheered (or booed) when they won, and maybe you’ve even shelled out for one of their designs! Here’s where some of our favorite winners of Project Runway are today.
Jay McCarroll turned down his Project Runway winnings and then won Celebrity Fit Club
Though he didn’t win a single challenge before the finale, Jay McCarroll took it all home on the very first season of Project Runway. Well, sort of. Even though he won, McCarroll turned down both the prize money and associated mentorship, though as the Washington Post noted, “he did appear in Elle.” Of not taking the money, he told the Washington Post in 2005, “Use your imagination there for I am not allowed to talk about it.” But a 2007 New York magazine feature revealed that McCarroll walked away from the prize money when he learned that the Weinstein Company (which produced Project Runway at the time), “would forever own a 10 percent stake in his brand.”
The clause has since been dropped from the winners’ contracts, but too late for McCarroll. In 2010, he appeared on VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club, losing 40 pounds for the win (via People). Though he’s since designed an eco-friendly dress for Gabby Wild and did wardrobe and costumes for a couple of short films, McCarroll doesn’t recommend the fashion designer life for others. He told the Delco Times in 2009, “Go be an accountant…don’t be in fashion.”
Leanne Marshall has been dressing celebs, brides, and celeb brides since winning Project Runway
Designer Leanne Marshall won Project Runway‘s fifth season, and even if you’re not a Project Runway superfan, you may know her name if you’ve shopped for designer wedding gowns in the past several years. After winning Project Runway, Marshall debuted a collection for Bluefly in mid-2009, after she “designed her first maternity dress, for Heidi Klum,” according to The Cut.
After her win, Marshall’s signature line and custom wedding gown business both took off. As she notes on her website, she’s dressed stars like Kelsea Ballerini, Ariana Grande, Solange, and Carrie Underwood, and she designed actress Abby Elliott’s wedding gown in 2016 (via Martha Stewart Weddings) and the dress Julianne Hough wore for her rehearsal dinner in 2017 (via People). Want a Leanne Marshall look of your own? The designer’s ready-to-wear pieces range from $500 to around $4,000 while pieces from her bridal collection will cost you at least $2,000 without additions. We’d say Marshall is doing pretty well for herself post-Runway.
Chloe Dao turned to fashion philanthropy after winning Project Runway
On the second season of Project Runway, Chloe Dao wowed the judges, taking home the win in 2006. After her victory, Dao debuted her line Simply Chloe Dao on QVC, telling WWD at the time, “This is an opportunity to sell mass market without producing it all myself.” As Houstonia magazine noted, she then went on to judge and executive produce Project Runway: Vietnam, but her home and fashion focus is Houston.
In April 2020, KHOU in Houston reported that Dao was putting her design efforts toward helping battle the coronavirus pandemic by sewing and donating masks. “We’re not making any clothing. We’ve been making masks since March 18,” she told the news station. From March to April, Dao, her staff, and volunteers handed out 3,000 masks. Then, in June 2020, the Houston Chronicle reported (via MSN) that Dao was part of a Houston-based Zoom series “about fashion, life and finding joy during a pandemic.” But helping during the coronavirus pandemic isn’t Dao’s first foray into philanthropy. Dao’s website notes that she has partnered with non-profits around Houston and beyond, including Community Cloth, Crime Stoppers, and the Houston Area Women’s Center, to name just a few.
Jhoan Sebastian Grey has made big moves since his Project Runway win
A much more recent Project Runway winner, Jhoan Sebastian Grey took home the Season 17 crown in 2019. And wow, Grey has hit the ground running. Just before the coronavirus pandemic shut down much of the United States, Elle reported Grey “presented his Fall/Winter 2020 ‘Lineage’ collection” at what just so happened to be his first New York Fashion Week show.
Though the pandemic has been hard on the fashion industry, Grey has found ways to stay busy since the debut of his Lineage collection. In partnership with Disney+, Grey designed a dress to celebrate the release of Disney’s live action Mulan. While there’s no doubt that the Disney partnership kept him busy, he also spent lockdown working on his next line.
In December 2020, Grey announced his Spring/Summer 2021 womenswear collection. In a tweet about the collection, Grey said the line “is made predominantly out of renewed stock fabric.” In an Instagram post about the line, the Colombian-born designer also revealed that he’s using “respectful and more conscious” natural linen and leather. According to Grey’s post, the collection will be available for pre-order soon.
Project Runway winner Jeffrey Sebelia created four worldwide fashion brands (so far)
If you watched the third season of Project Runway, you probably remember that edgy designer Jeffrey Sebelia had quite the villain story, including being accused of cheating. Still, Sebelia took home the Season 3 win, including the $100,000 prize, but his attitude and edge were just too much for his first gig after Project Runway.
In an interview with New York magazine shortly after his win, Sebelia said, “I’m almost afraid to admit what I’m doing, but it’s costumes for a movie. It’s a live-action movie for the Bratz.” That wouldn’t have been so bad, but Sebelia doubled down, saying, “Yeah, those slutty dolls.” Let’s just say the comment didn’t go over well. According to LA Weekly, it “cost him the job.”
But Sebelia hasn’t been resting on his laurels since then. According to his website, the designer has created “4 different fashion brands distributed worldwide,” including a line for fashionable children. Let’s just hope they aren’t Bratz fans.
Gretchen Jones stepped back from designing after Project Runway
When Gretchen Jones won the eighth season of Project Runway over fan favorite Mondo Guerra, a lot of people weren’t happy, including Tim Gunn, who called Jones’s win “incomprehensible” in a 2010 interview with Budd Mishkin. While winning Project Runway doesn’t necessarily mean a successful career in fashion design, it may still be surprising to some that Jones has virtually disappeared from the design spotlight, though she’s still part of the industry on the business side.
As noted on the University of the Arts London website, Jones received an Executive MBA in Fashion from the London College of Fashion and has turned her education into a consulting career. According to its website, her company Weird Specialty focuses on “developing and supporting her clients and their organizations to evolve their missions to better align themselves with both ethical and values based benchmarks.”
So how does she feel about her time on Project Runway? In an Instagram Story (via SoapDirt), a fan asked if she regretted the show. She said, in part, “I don’t regret it, but I hated the experience,” and added that she has “major PTSD from the experience & [has] done a LOT of therapy to manage the trauma.”
Christian Siriano became one of the biggest names in fashion after his Project Runway win
It wouldn’t be a Project Runway discussion if we didn’t talk about Christian Siriano, who became the youngest Runway winner at just 21 when he won the fourth season. Since then, he’s truly become one of the biggest names in fashion, not just because his designs are amazing, but because he’s dedicated to inclusivity. As Glamour put it, Siriano has “smashed the mold” of what makes a red carpet look.
Indeed, Siriano designs for all types of clients; as Glamour noted, “No matter your age or body type, if Siriano likes your work, he’ll want to dress you.” When actress Leslie Jones had trouble finding a designer to dress her for the 2016 Ghostbusters premiere, Siriano stepped in. Then, in a true testament to his ability and style, Siriano dressed 17 women for the 2018 Oscars. That same year, the designer was named one of the TIME 100 Most Influential People and in 2019, Siriano returned to Project Runway to take over Tim Gunn’s mentor duties.
In 2020, Siriano shifted from making gowns to making masks to help during the coronavirus pandemic, making 2,000 masks per day according to TIME, all being donated not sold.
Project Runway winner Seth Aaron Henderson pivoted from sustainable fashion to beach wear
In the seventh season of Project Runway in 2010, designer Seth Aaron Henderson won the judges over with his ’80s New Wave design style and expert tailoring. After the win, Henderson partnered with Earthtec to debut a sustainable fashion line made from things like plastic bottles. Henderson said in a press release, “The night marked a turning point in the fashion industry. I was able to prove that sustainability is sexy.”
In 2013, Henderson appeared on the third season of All Stars, once again walking away with the crown. (He didn’t have the same luck on All Stars Season 7.) Henderson also went on to collaborate with the sustainable footwear brand Feetz to create the world’s very first 3D printed shoe, which debuted at the 2017 FashioNXT Week.
In 2019, the Idaho State Journal reported Henderson was “named the new lead designer at Fin Fun, the Idaho Falls-based, family-owned manufacturer of fabric mermaid tails and other swimwear.” It may seem like a strange fit, but Henderson told Idaho Falls magazine, “I live in a whimsical world. I have my own world in my head and coming into a company that’s founded on mermaids is right up my alley.”
Dom Streater has been focusing on 'slow fashion' and art since her Project Runway win
Designer Dom Streater won Season 12 of Project Runway in 2013 thanks in part to her custom created prints. After her win, she transitioned that vibrant style to a womenswear brand while she continued to carve out her niche in fashion. Just a few short years later, Streater returned to competition in 2016 for Season 5 of Project Runway All Stars and once again came out on top.
But after two wins and four New York Fashion Week collections, Streater told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2016 that runway fashion “wasn’t worth the money.” She explained, “It’s better to invest in social media, my line, and advertising to my customers.” Since then, Streater has mostly eschewed runway shows in favor of what she told the News & Observer in 2018 is a focus on “slow fashion,” including “limited-edition pieces and capsule collections” for her Dom Streater brand. The online brand currently features t-shirts, scarves, jackets, and artwork, all created by Streater.
Project Runway winner Anya Ayoung-Chee 'aims to empower' with her designs
A few years after she was named Miss Trinidad and Tobago, Anya Ayoung-Chee won the ninth season of Project Runway with a Caribbean-inspired collection. After her win, she launched her eponymous womenswear line that, according to her website, is produced in Trinidad and Tobago. By producing the line in Trinidad and Tobago, Ayoung-Chee has “limited access to large quantities” of supplies, so she’s naturally moved into limited edition pieces and slow fashion.
In early 2020, Ayoung-Chee premiered a new line, WYLD FLWR, at the Museum of Sex in New York City. As noted on the WYLD FLWR site, the line is “inspired by Trinidad Carnival and Burning Man and aims to empower women to experience true freedom and radical self expression, while affording financial independence to the women who manufacture the line in Trinidad [and] Tobago.” Ayoung-Chee also the co-founder and director of the Together WI Foundation, an organization focused on social activism and creating change in the Caribbean.
Dmitry Sholokhov tied for Fashion Designer of the Year after winning Project Runway
During Season 10 of Project Runway in 2012, designer Dmitry Sholokhov was scraping by after losing his lease and being forced to quit his job, telling The Hollywood Reporter after winning the season, “I was pretty much homeless for all the time I was on Project Runway.” After his win, Sholokhov debuted a capsule collection exclusively with Lord & Taylor before launching his Spring 2014 collection. Regarding his Lord & Taylor collection, he told In Style, “It’s my belief that each of my dresses offers something for everyone.”
In 2014, Sholokhov returned for the fourth season of Project Runway All Stars, winning the season and becoming a two-time Project Runway champion. Though he competed once again after that win, trying for a third crown, he lost in season seven of Project Runway All Stars (more on that later) in 2019. Still, it wasn’t all bad news in 2019. In October of that year, Sholokhov tied with Sue Wong for the Metropolitan Fashion Week Fashion Designer of the Year award. According to his website, Sholokhov now “focuses on private commissions and pursuit of partnerships with major retailers.”
Project Runway winner Michelle Lesniak returned for the final All Stars crown
Michelle Lesniak Franklin, known professionally as Michelle Lesniak, competed on Season 11 of Project Runway in 2013, and, as the FashionNXT website put it, “Her lack of formal training gave her an edge.” One of the so-called “mean girls” of the season, Lesniak was crowned the winner, and she went on to run a boutique in her native Portland, Oregon.
In 2014, she competed on the fourth season of Project Runway All Stars, telling The Oregonian that she knew it would be good for networking. Though she lost out to Dmitry Sholokhov in that season, she got her turn in the spotlight when both Sholokhov and Lesniak competed again on the last season of Project Runway All Stars in 2019, and Lesniak came out on top. Additionally, Lesniak has focused on her collections and collaborations. According to her website, Lesniak’s Portland studio is currently open by appointment only.
Ashley Nell Tipton won Project Runway, but is stepping away from designing
Designer Ashley Nell Tipton made Project Runway history in Season 14 when she was the first designer to show a plus-size collection at New York Fashion Week. After her win, Tipton became a brand ambassador and designer for JC Penney’s plus-size collection, Boutique+, launched in 2016.
But in 2020, Tipton admitted in an episode of the IGNTD Relationships podcast that her Project Runway experience was “exhausting.” She told the hosts, “A lot of people don’t know that I dealt with a lot of PTSD and I still deal with PTSD from Project Runway.” She went on to share, “You’re blindfolded, mentally. I’ve never been to jail or rehab or anything like that, but I almost feel like being on a reality TV show, being secluded, having all your items taken away from you, being told when to eat, when to wake up, when to go to sleep.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Tipton pivoted to making and donating masks to those on the front lines, but that experience led to an unexpected shift. Tipton announced in a September 2020 YouTube video that she’s decided to stop designing and instead focus on teaching others about “self-love, self-care and self acceptance.”
Project Runway winner Erin Robertson partnered (twice!) with MIT for fashion innovations
Not many of us think of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when we think of Project Runway, but 2017 winner Erin Robertson is changing that. Shortly after her win, the Massachusetts College of Art and Design graduate collaborated with the MIT Media Lab to create coats made from 3D printed faux fur. “I’m hoping what I’m doing can inspire other [fashion] people to work with engineers and scientists,” she told the Boston Globe of the collaboration, adding, “together, we can start thinking about sustainable textiles.”
Her approach to innovative, sustainable fashion led to another collaboration with MIT in 2020 as a judge of the Pandemic Response CoLab’s “Re-imagining face coverings and PPE challenge” to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Though you can be certain that her own design collections are still a priority, Robertson’s commitment to the marriage of science and fashion is ongoing. As she says on her website, “Technology is the sustainable way forward.”
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