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The Project Runway Blog

Q&A: Season 11 Winner Michelle Lesniak Franklin

By laurareineke Mon., Apr. 29, 2013 ,5:37 pm EDT

Michelle Lesniak Franklin

Newly-crowned "Project Runway" Season 11 winner Michelle Lesniak Franklin took some time to talk with me about her experience on the show, her "do or die" moment and her reaction to being called a "mean girl." Check out the full interview after the cut, and don't forget to tune in for the Season 11 Reunion Special on Thursday at 9.8c.

If the season hadn’t been team-based, what other designers do you think would have made it to Fashion Week?
Layana Aguilar, most definitely. I think her designs are just impeccable, really feminine and totally different from mine. I would’ve loved to have seen her there. Samantha Black, as well. Incredibly tenacious, and she really deserved to be there as well.

If you could go back and collaborate with someone that you were prevented from working with due to the teams set-up, who would you choose?
Joe. Joe Aaron Segal. I was able to work with him for the line that I showed —we worked together for the two sweaters that I showed—but I really would’ve liked to work with him on the actual show.

What challenge really stuck out for you?
Working with Stanley on the avant-garde/HP challenge. I thought we nailed it out of the park.

You’re the fourth Portland-based designer to win “Project Runway” (after Leanne Marshall, Gretchen Jones and Seth Aaron Henderson). What is it about Portland that’s birthing these great designers?
Girl, it is amazing out here! People aren’t afraid to be themselves and march to the beat of their own drum. It’s really celebrated to be an individual. And I think, with that, you come up with your own point of view easily. And it draws people to this town. You know who you are as a person—and to be successful on “Project Runway,” you have to have that.

Now that you’ve had a little time to look back, how do you feel about your designs from the season?
I’ve loved every single thing I’ve done. Even the stuff the judges didn’t like, like my Miranda Lambert spaghetti-linguini necklace. I have no regrets. I loved everything I did. I always trust my gut. I listen to people’s advice and their constructive criticism, but it’s their own point of view and I’m going to stick to my own as well.

Going back through your looks, even in the team challenges your specific aesthetic is pretty obvious. Like in the flower challenge, that blinds-and-petals look; how much of that was you and how much of that was Richard?
Should I be nice or should I be real? In the end, it was probably about 60-40. I think that perhaps his lack of technical terminology made it hard to work with him, because the communication wasn’t going back and forth on the same terms. And he was not very adept with a power drill. [Laughs]

What can you tell me about the reunion special?
You know, we are all grown-ups, and some of these adults need to figure out that what happens in kindergarten, you need to get over by first grade. And perhaps what happened in kindergarten isn’t what actually happened, and you’re making sh-t up in your head.

It looked like you got to be pretty good friends with some of your fellow designers.
There’s a gang of us, a very close-knit gang. Amanda and I talk every day, as do Stanley and I. Stanley and I are really close; in fact, he’ll be in Portland in a couple weeks, and I stayed on his couch when I was in L.A. recently. We’re very close. Matt and I are super close, Joe and I are close. We’ve got a gang.

Regarding the whole “do or die” moment, and the fact that you didn’t get to go abroad: How do you feel about that now that it’s over?
What they didn’t show is that I was going to quit. Yeah, I was gonna quit. I was really upset. I felt that mine was the best garment up there by far, and it had the most design edge, and had never been done before. And to be the one to get kicked off, I was like, “This show is bullsh-t. I’m not doing it anymore.” It was just…and I don’t know what happened. I didn’t see what happened. Something happened that I didn’t see that saved me. There are rumors that Tim saved me. They didn’t put it on the show so I have no idea what really happened. When I was telling the producers that I was gonna quit, they were like, “You can’t quit, you have so many people rooting for you.” And I kind of finally snapped out of it and thought, “If you quit, you’re gonna regret this for the rest of your life. You’re not a quitter, girl! Snap the eff out of it and get back on your game.” And yeah, I was moody for a while, but I’m so glad I didn’t quit. I thought, “I’m gonna take that challenge and take it to the tenth degree. I’m gonna prove ‘em wrong.”

Some people think you came across as kind of a “mean girl” this season.
I think people don’t understand that when you’re straightforward and you tell the truth, it’s not mean. I’m very strong in my convictions. It’s like saying, “Powerful women are bitches.” It’s that exact same thing. I don’t think people understand that. It was brought up in the reunion, and I don’t know if they’ll air it, but every single designer except one came to my defense.

What’s next for you?
You can actually buy my stuff in stores here in Portland—I already have a line that’s going. The only problem is that I’m a one-woman show, so what’s happening next I’m hiring people. It sounds so amazing to have help! A lot of my line was about that kind of mix-and-match, utilitarian, feminine, jeans-and-a-t-shirt girl. I’m from Portland, and this is a town of jeans and a t-shirt, and I’m just gonna elevate that.

Any last words for our readers?
I’m not a bitch! I’m actually a really funny person!