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04
WED

Season 12 Q&A: Justin LeBlanc Embraces His Strengths

Posted By kim_messina 3:20pm GMT

Justin LeBlanc

Justin LeBlanc made history not only as the first designer to ever receive Tim Gunn's Save in Episode 6, but he's also the first deaf designer to compete on the show. To learn more about Justin's hearing loss and how he didn't let his disability affect his performance in the competition, read our Q&A below:

Q: Justin, would you please tell us a little about your history as far as your hearing loss?
Justin: When I was around 1 year old, my parents became concerned that I wasn't responding to sound. They took me to my pediatrician. According to my parents, after a general exam, he looked at me and said, "Where's your dad?" I smiled and poked my father in the stomach. What that, the pediatrician said, "There’s nothing wrong with his hearing." My parents weren’t convinced. They took me to Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston. There they did some sophisticated tested that involved measuring my brains response to sound. The tests revealed that I was deaf.

I was raised in an environment of "total communication." My parents hired a sign language teacher to teach us all sign language. They also provided me a speech therapist through most of my pre-college years. As a young child, I relied more on sign language, but as I got older, and interacted more with the hearing world, I relied more and more on speech. I have many deaf friends, so sign language is still an important means of communication for me. Throughout school, I’ve been mainstreamed in regular classes with the help of a sign language interpreter.

I always saw this as an opportunity to educate people about that aspect of myself. There were discouraging times, many in fact. But I am a VERY positive person. I am proud to be a deaf person. It is who I am, and I embrace it.

Q: What are your thoughts around cochlear implants?
Justin: I can only speak to my experience. This is not the best option for everyone. Each person needs to decide what best fulfills their goals and lifestyle. It provided me with greater access to the hearing world and the possibility to further my education and meet my personal dreams for the future. But that is a personal choice. I received my cochlear implant when I was 18 years old, I made the decision for myself.

Q: Can you share some of your reflections on being on "Project Runway"?
Justin:It’s been a truly life-enhancing experience. I’ve pushed myself to the limit physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from my peers and I’ve established friendships that I hope will be life-long. And believe it or not, it was a lot of fun!

Q: Has your hearing loss ever been a barrier or kept you from achieving a goal?
Justin: Never. If anything, being deaf gave me more incentive to achieve my goals. A deaf person can achieve anything that they choose.

I remember my parents telling me that that when I was little, a couple who had just learned that their child was deaf, came up to us to say that they were terrified at the prospect of having a deaf child. But after seeing me, they were put at ease because I was so happy, outgoing, communicative, and well adjusted. I hope that, as an adult, I can get the same message across. I don’t view deafness as a disability or a handicap. It’s part of who I am and I am proud to be deaf.

Q: What advice would you give to young people who are deaf and would love to follow in your footstep?
Justin: Work hard, really really hard. Pursue your educational goals with whatever resources you can find. Don’t use your deafness as a crutch. Demand equal treatment and access to educational resources. Experiment with art in all of its forms. Do not sell yourself short. And find something that you are passionate about.

30
FRI

Season 12, Episode 7: Best Foot Forward

Posted By laurareineke 4:15am GMT

It's time for a pulse-taking. The designers chat about the fact that the stakes are higher, both because the competition is now halfway over and because Tim's sole designer-rescue card was put in play last week to keep Justin around. Better step it up, make it work, etc.

The gang heads to the Marie Claire offices at Hearst to peek in on the mag's epic shoe closet. Editor-in-chief Anne Fulenwider is there to help introduce the challenge: Design a look inspired by a pair of shoes. The models will be wearing those shoes on the runway, so the looks have to complement and show off the footwear, too. The suggested budget is $250, and the designers have 30 minutes to shop.

Alexandria gets first dibs in the shoe-picking game thanks to her win last week. She grabs a pair of intimidating thigh-high gladiator sandals. In order to determine who'll pick next, the designers are quizzed on fashion history by Tim and Anne. They're asked about the inspiration for Christian Louboutin's famous red-soled heels, the creator of the Little Black Dress, Dior, McQueen, Marc Jacobs, and the famous ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, until finally Miranda, last to choose, nabs a pair of red leather loafers.

At Mood, Alexander and Miranda gravitate toward very similar wool plaids, and in the workroom they realize they're creating nearly the same outfit: White tops and fitted, high-waisted plaid pants. Both designers acknowledge the coincidence, but neither backs down from continuing to make their garments. I think there's an interesting challenge idea in there somewhere -- it would really test the creativity and construction abilities of the group if they were all required to make the same basic outfit, no? I can't be the only one who'd love a jeans-and-white-tees challenge -- but, as Ken points out, when two people create nearly identical looks, it's going to benefit one of them and leave the other in the dust.

For the runway show, Anne Fulenwider steps in as a guest judge, along with The Big Bang Theory star Kaley Cuoco. Onward:

Top Three
Helen
Shoes: Black stiletto booties with silver studded toe embellishments
A tailored sleeveless knee-length dress with a black shrug cape. Nina fawns that it's minimal and classic and sophisticated and fashionable (enough adjectives to prove she really likes it), and Zac digs the simplicity of it. Heidi compliments the young, modern hair and makeup. Faced with three solid, chic black dresses, the judges pick this one for the win.

Alexandria
Shoes: Thigh-high black gladiator sandals with knee pads
An understated black shift dress with lace cutouts at the clavicle and an asymmetrical hemline also trimmed with lace. Heidi loves that its femininity contrasts with the hardness of the shoes. Nina likes that it has an editorial attitude. Zac doesn't love the shoes or the dress nearly as much as the ladies on the panel, and even goes so far as to call the look "pedestrian," but he's easily outvoted.

Ken
Shoes: Lace-up black sandal heels
"My interpretation of a maneater for the new milennium," Ken says of this black peplum cap-sleeve minidress. The judges are impressed by the fabric choice and the garment's edginess, especially since Ken has struggled to keep his looks youthful. This one fares even better once the panel gets a closer look at it.

Bottom Three
Jeremy
Shoes: Black velvet knee-high stiletto boots with gold buttons along the outside length
A tube miniskirt and shimmery gold tank paired with a cream-colored silk chiffon mock-argyle sweater. Like many of Jeremy's previous designs, this one veers too old and too trampy for the tastes of our judges. Zac gets real: "I'm starting to question who you are as a designer. [...] I really need to see [your techniques and skills] come together so we can properly assess you." That's an official warning, Jeremy!

Bradon
Shoes: Gold tuxedo loafers with gold beading decoration
A halter-necked silk top draped and sewed to resemble water paired with a brown silk circle skirt. There's no love in the room for this garment, but the judging panel likes Bradon a lot so they offer a lot of suggestions for what they would've liked to see with those shoes instead, like a suit or a brocade t-shirt dress. He's in the bottom two, but let's be real: It's too early for him to go home.

Miranda
Shoes: Red patent leather tuxedo loafers
Plaid pegged pants with a white polka-dot top and a white leather bolero jacket. This is not offensely bad, in my opinion, but the judges have no residual affection for Miranda's work so they tear into it a bit. Zac admits that he likes its inherent "nerd alert"-ness, but Nina says it's too Christmas-y and too obvious. It's also way too similar to many of Miranda's earlier works. Miranda gets the auf.

What say you, commentariat? Was Miranda's look that much worse than Alexander's? Was Helen's dress that much better than Alexandria's or Ken's? Do you think this is the beginning of the end for Bradon? Which pair of shoes appealed to you the most? (I loved those studded black booties. Gimme.) Holler at me in the comments.

30
FRI

Designers' Choice: Season 12, Episode 7

Posted By laurareineke 4:12am GMT

Exclusive! The Season 12 designers pick who they think had the Top and Bottom looks each week!

Alexander
TOP Jeremy "Love the layers."
BOTTOM Karen "WTF?"

Alexandria
TOP Alexander "Top was very cool."
BOTTOM Dom "Colors too bright for shirt."

Bradon
TOP Alexander "Polished."
BOTTOM Jeremy - "Messy technique for the top."

Dom
TOP Alexander "Love fit of pants and sculpting of top."
BOTTOM Miranda "Donít understand choice of fabric, not fashion forward."

23
FRI

Season 12, Episode 6: Glamping Is In-Tents

Posted By laurareineke 4:59am GMT

It says a lot about our designers' states of mind this week that upon hearing that they'll be treated to an overnight camping trip, they immediately start to brainstorm what sort of bizarre challenge will be thrown their way. "Worse case scenario: We can use our own blood to dye things," Kate says, and I don't doubt for a second she'd do just that.

Tim meets them at a remote, forest-y locale, where sponsor Resource Natural Spring Water has set up a first-class campsite. This not just a camping trip! It's a glamping trip, which is apparently a more glamorous version of camping complete with tents on risers, hammocks, lantern lighting, and a sit-down dinner at a real table.

Access to fresh air and fun activities seems to chill the whole group out considerably. They go rafting, take turns ziplining through the woods, and roast marshmallows over a crackling fire. As it turns out, outside the workroom they're an amiable, funny bunch of people. It's a relief to see them enjoy each other's company after five episodes of exhausting drama.

After last week's hodgepodge of requirements and inspirations, this challenge is blessedly straightforward: Design a high-end look inspired by the glamping trip. They get one day to work and a suggested budget of $300. The workroom is relatively subdued this week as Tim counsels the designers on fabric choice and color. Let's jump right to the runway (featuring guest judge Allison Williams):

Top Three
Alexandria - Modern basics: A long-sleeved zip-up chambray denim jacket with an upper back cutout and draping along the spine, paired with white drop-crotch knee-length pants. Alexandria gets unanimous approval for going out of the box with her design, and she takes the win.

Jeremy - Jeremy transcribed the text of a love letter he wrote to his family in script across the bodice of bias-cut white gown with white button details along the side. The panel is captivated by the romance of it, and Jeremy wins praise for the gown's easy elegance.

Alexander - A deep blue sleeveless floor-length gown with a leather train and handpainted details intended to resemble trees at midnight. Nina likes the drama of it, and Alexander gets kudos for impeccable construction. Zac doesn't seem all that excited, citing the gown's mid-thigh seam as a negative.

Bottom Three
Ken - A moss green wool knee-length dress with structured layering at the chest. Nina points out that seen in profile, the padded chest thing overpowers the rest of the dress; Allison and Heidi think the technique used to construct it might have been better utilized elsewhere. Zac calls it "a squished frog." Further thumbs down are given for the too-'80s styling.

Karen - A billowy yellow ombre dress cinched in just above the bust, accented with a brown belted strap, this one makes the judges frown. They toss around words like "trashy," "muumuu," and "runny eggs," and they call out the dissonance between the look's cowboy vibe and its alleged African safari inspiration.

Justin - In a move better suited for an unconventional materials challenge, Justin accented an airy gray gown with boatloads of dried hot glue. The effect is akin to "a foaming vagina," Nina says. The judges acknowledge that Justin was good to push himself to try something new, but as Heidi says, "At what point are you gonna say, 'I wanted to try something different but it actually looks really ugly, so I'm gonna stop myself'?" Justin is auf'd.

OR IS HE?! Many tears are shed by the rest of the designers, who clearly have a lot of affection for Justin. But then Tim Gunn pops in to announce that he will be using his Tim Gunn Save to keep Justin around for a little while longer. Problem solved!

What do you think? Should Tim Gunn have saved his save for someone else? Was Justin's garment bad enough to warrant his elimination? How do you feel about drop-crotch pants and Alexandria's execution of same? Bonus points if you have any fun camping stories to share. Let me hear 'em in the comments.

23
FRI

Designers' Choice: Season 12, Episode 6

Posted By laurareineke 4:45am GMT

Exclusive! The Season 12 designers pick who they think were the Top and Bottom looks each week!

Alexander
TOP Bradon "Love it."
BOTTOM Alexandria "Mess with construction."

Alexandria
TOP Justin "Detail is interesting."
BOTTOM Bradon "Clowny and costumey, strange color."

Bradon
TOP Helen "Made dead moth theme work."
BOTTOM Miranda "Too costume-like."

Dom
TOP Karen "Love use of color."
BOTTOM Bradon "Colors don't read as inspired by environment."

16
FRI

Season 12, Episode 5: Bad, Weird, Funky

Posted By laurareineke 4:36am GMT

The designers convene at Gansevoort Plaza in NYC's Meatpacking District, where Tim announces that this will be their third unconventional materials challenge! They'll also be working in teams again! Poor guys. This challenge is a mishmash of (arguably too many) components, so let me try to break it down. In teams of three, the designers must create a luxe mini collection -- one look per person -- out of unconventional materials; they can choose two of three stores (a vintage wallpaper store, a specialty food store, a home goods/party store) from which to get those materials. The looks can be inspired by the new Lexus IS '14s they're given to drive to find supplies, but that's not a requirement. They have one day to work and a suggested spending amount of $1500 per team.

Ken throws shade like a true professional. He slowly turns to gaze upon his enemies with a stare so icy it gives me chills. Forced to work with Alexandria and Sue, he monotones "I'm living a nightmare" and the disdain just radiates from him. The other, more amenable teams: Helen, Dom, and Justin; Alexander, Bradon and Miranda; Jeremy, Karen, and Kate.

After their shopping shenanigans, Sandro pops back in the workroom for an impromptu apology/goodbye session, which the other designers greet with sighs of relief since they don't have to deal with him anymore.

Tim is unusually sassy during critiques. "This makes me sick!" he says of Team Ken/Alexandria/Sue's insistence on using materials that barely qualify as unconventional. He reminds them that teams who don't push themselves to use weird materials in creative ways usually come under fire from the judges. "How do I keep this dress sleek and modern like the car, and then also embellish the shit out of it?" Kate asks, summarizing the contradictions posed by this exercise.

Team Ken/Alexandria/Sue really struggles in the workroom. Alexandria tries multiple times to make executive decisions for their team, only to be met by Ken's aforementioned steely-eyed negativity; Sue prefers to keep her mouth shut and focus on her work, likely because she's hit often with criticism from her teammates regarding her design process. It's no fun to watch, especially when the other teams generally seem to be having fun and making cool stuff.

Runway show! Our guest judge is celebrity stylist/designer June Ambrose.

Top Team: Jeremy, Karen, Kate
Materials: Placemats, drawer liner, shower curtain packaging, poppyseeds, black rice, coconut shavings, glitter
The judges fawn over this collection, dubbed "futuristic Great Gatsby" by Karen. Most impressive to the panel is the incorporation of so many disparate materials. They love the construction of Jeremy's white strapless cocktail dress, and Karen's mod-looking sheath dress earns praise for its texture. Heidi is surprised that Kate designed the minidress with plunging neckline and shoulder details because it's a color she never uses: black. Nina likes that she can immediately tell how the collection relates to the car. Jeremy gets the win.

Bottom Team: Ken, Alexandria, Sue
Materials: Placemats, drawer liner, duct tape, vinyl curtain covering
This team does itself no favors when they can't properly articulate to the judges any relevent info about their garments, like the type of woman they designed for, where they found their inspiration, or even what each designer brought to his or her look. Zac decimates all three immediately. He calls Alexandria's structured jacket "a cocoon without a butterfly." He thinks Ken's dress makes the model look too wide, and calls out Sue for her uneven hem and tailoring problems. Nina: "It all looks bad, weird, funky, ugly. All of it." Sue's credentials come up for discussion again, and that seals the deal. She and Ken are the bottom two. Sue gets auf'd.

What did you think of this week's challenge? Which team do you feel best rose to the occasion? Who deserved the blame for the Alexandria/Ken/Sue blowup? And now that we're a few weeks into the season, which designer strikes you as most promising? Let me know in the comments.

16
FRI

Designers' Choice: Season 12, Episode 5

Posted By laurareineke 4:02am GMT

Exclusive! The Season 12 designers pick who they think were the Top and Bottom looks each week!

Alexander
TOP Bradon "Wonderful teammate."
BOTTOM Helen "Generic, again."

Alexandria
TOP Justin "Necklace didn't look like food."
BOTTOM Helen "Dress made the model look fat."

Bradon
TOP Alexander "Great to work with."
BOTTOM Helen "Most unoriginal."

Dom
TOP Helen "Good display of sculpting skills."
BOTTOM Alexandria "Not imaginative enough."

09
FRI

Season 12, Episode 4: Ties A-Plenty

Posted By laurareineke 4:17am GMT

This week we open in media res on an epic argument between Ken, Helen, and Sandro. It gets so heated that Sandro runs out of the building and hits the camera that's trailing him. Buckle up for some drama! Sigh.

We flash back to the day of the challenge. Tim Gunn introduces Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who with his fiance founded the menswear-based charity and advocacy organization Tie the Knot. Thankfully for the designers (and the judges, and the viewers), this isn't a menswear challenge! Instead, the designers are tasked with creating looks inspired by the ties Jesse has provided. They must incorporate at least one tie into their design. The designers get 30 minutes at Mood, eleven hours to work, and a suggested spending limit of $200.

Workroom shenanigans: Helen struggles after her critique with Tim, admitting that she doesn't handle criticism well; Sue, who over-spent by $200 at Mood, makes two looks because she's indecisive; Jeremy gets the news that his grandmother passed away, and since he won't be able to leave the show to attend the funeral, he seems understandably withdrawn. Tim tries to make Sandro understand that catering entirely to the judges' preferences might get him far on the show, but won't help him succeed once it's over. Sandro clearly just wants to figure out the cheat code that will allow him to bypass the rest of the season and win the whole thing right now.

After the runway show, the judges deem Karen, Ken, Alexandria, Justin, Alexander, Sandro, and Helen safe for the week. But they take a second to scold Helen: Nina suggests that the only reason Helen won last week was because of Kate's influence, a totally valid observation to which Helen takes offense anyway because she can't handle criticism, remember?! Nina and Heidi let Helen know in no uncertain terms that they want to see better from her next week.

Then, despite the fact that he's safe, Sandro demands feedback from the judges. Zac praises Sandro's garment construction but notes (again) that Sandro's taste level is an issue. This doesn't please Sandro one bit. While the judges deliberate, we find ourselves back in the middle of the heated argument that opened the episode. Sandro and Helen get into it over the importance of having respect for the judges and for the "Runway" process. Ken tries to intercede, which only serves to make Sandro crankier. As we saw in the beginning, Sandro runs out, hits the camera, and escapes.

Meanwhile, the judges make their decisions:

Top Three
Bradon - A crop top made of hand-stitched bowties in shades of gold and brown, paired with tweed shorts and a jacket. Bradon's craftmanship is fawned over by the whole panel. Jesse thinks it's a homerun. Zac calls it "a labor of love without looking labored." Bradon gets his second win of the season -- and uses his time on the runway to propose to Josh, his partner of 18 years. At the end of the episode, Bradon videochats with Josh, who, inspired by the Supreme Court striking down DOMA and Prop 8, coincidentally proposes as well. A heartwarming moment, for sure.

Dom - A black-and-white striped dress with colorful striped bowties pieced together around the neck and right shoulder. Nina calls it "adorable" while Zac and Heidi compliment how seamlessly Dom arranged the fabric's pattern. It's not the winner, but Dom has officially caught the judges' eyes with this one.

Kate - This combo of an open-backed tunic with belt details and a modified-tuxedo-stripe pant gets the judges' approval for its wearability and sexiness. Kate seems to be on a roll so far this season.

Bottom Three
Miranda - Houndstooth extravaganza! A cropped houndstooth jacket and houndstooth pencil skirt offset an emerald green top. The judges are bored, calling into question Miranda's decision to leave her model's midriff exposed and the minimal incorporation of bow ties. They emphasize that they need to see more from her than pencil skirts.

Sue - A black jersey dress with bowties assembled on top of it like a sort of kelp exoskeleten. Heidi is in disbelief: "What a mess! It's so crazy. I don't understand it. It's memorable, but it's kind of like 'What was she thinking?' memorable." Zac calls it "Octopussy" and Nina is reminded of Sigourney Weaver in "Alien." Thumbs down all around.

Jeremy - A bright orange lace top with a high-backed collar and long sleeves, plus a pair of brown pants. The panel agrees that despite the solid construction of the garments, its overall effect is more akin to (in Jesse's words) "a really gorgeous 68-year-old actress receiving her Kennedy Center honors." Acceptable, but old.

Because of Sandro's outburst, he's out. (It's not totally clear if he withdrew from the competition or if the producers disqualified him.) That means Sue, Miranda, and Jeremy survive to see another challenge. How do you feel about Sandro's departure? Do you think one of the bottom three designers should have been eliminated anyway? Which look was your favorite? Let me know in the comments.

09
FRI

Designers' Choice: Season 12, Episode 4

Posted By laurareineke 4:13am GMT

Exclusive! The Season 12 designers pick who they think were the Top and Bottom looks each week!

Alexander
TOP Bradon "Love the top."
BOTTOM Kate "Boring."

Alexandria
TOP Justin "Dress was very cute, great silouette."
BOTTOM Alexander "Neckline needs editing."

Bradon
TOP Sandro "Inner construction of the gown is great work for one day."
BOTTOM Miranda "Look has been done too many times."

Dom
TOP Alexander "Loved the rainbow ties."
BOTTOM Bradon "Fabric was ugly."

02
FRI

Season 12, Episode 3: Cranky Kitsch

Posted By laurareineke 4:30am GMT

Tireless Heidi Klum wakes the designers up at the crack of dawn to send them off on a jaunt to Coney Island. It's a rainy day, which is no fun, but the challenge parameters are pretty interesting: The designers will hand out samples of Yoplait Frozen Yogurt to people on the boardwalk, then ask them to describe the experience of eating it. The designers will then choose three of those words to inform and inspire their looks. As for the materials? The group will have to play boardwalk games to win their fabric in the form of giant stuffed animals, inflatable toys, and other Coney Island ephemera. Another unconventional materials challenge, yay!

But then Tim announces that it's also a team challenge, which bums everyone out, especially Kate, who's probably still stinging from a whole season's worth of team shenanigans. The pairs are decided by button bag: Alexander and Justin, Alexandria and Dom, Bradon and Karen, Helen and Kate, Jeremy and Ken, Miranda and Timothy, Sandro and Sue.

The workroom is evenly divided between teams working well together and teams embroiled in conflict. Sandro and Sue are a mess from the start; he's argumentative and controlling, and she doesn't feel like battling his ego, so she ends up working as his assistant, essentially, in the interest of completing their garment on time. Meanwhile, Miranda has little patience for Timothy, both as a designer and a person. When he overhears her unkind complaint session in the sewing room, he runs away to cry with his stuffed unicorn in a closet (literally). There's a lot of conflict and a lot of tears, and sometimes it's funny (like when Timothy dramatically sobs "If you know me so well, HOW DARE YOU?") but other times it's just sad (like Miranda crying over the conflict she instigated). Fortunately, the other pairs have a much more nuanced understanding of how to communicate effectively in a team setting.

Our guest judge for the week is Fashion Police co-host Kelly Osbourne. To the runway!

Top Two
Kate/Helen - A sculptural red mid-thigh strapless dress accented with rosette details, made out of sombreros, a kite, and stuffed animals. It's "sombrero Saturn chic," according to Zac. Kelly says she can imagine young starlets fighting to wear this on the red carpet. Kate graciously says that Helen should get the win, and the judges agree.

Alexandria/Dom - A sort of monster costume inspired by Japanese street style. It's youthful, casual look reminiscent of a sweatshirt dress, made out of stuffed animals. The front pocket looks like a monster's mouth and the crooked shoulder wrap has eyes sewn on. The judging panel praises the fun vibe this gives off. Nina calls it "an Instagram moment" and Zac likes that it's inventive. Alexandria and Dom are safe.

Bottom Two
Alexander/Justin - Made almost entirely of balloons, this look is an utterly bizarre mix of styles that I don't even know how to describe. Zac immediately complains about how much is going on in the garment: "There's kelp on the bottom, she has dorsal fins from her hips...she has seaweed on her bum. It just looks like a hot mess." Heidi wants them to edit; the panel agrees the look is much more palatable sans vest and weird peplum bumpers at the waist. But Alexander and Justin are safe for now.

Miranda/Timothy - A blue racer-back dress with a high-low skirt and a woven yellow vest. The judges don't respond to this one at all. Nina compares it to a bio-hazard warning and the consensus seems to be that the look, while technically complete and wearable, is boring. (The palpable crankiness between Miranda and Timothy during their judges' critique certainly doesn't help to sell the garment, either.) His vest is lackluster and this is his third time in the bottom, so Timothy is auf.

Which look was your favorite this week? Do you think Miranda and Timothy shared equal blame for their losing look? Are you sad or relieved to see Timothy go? Let me know in the comments.