Describe your family.
I grew up in a very all-American family. My father works for the government, and my mom quit her job as an accountant to be a stay-at-home mom when my little brother was born. We moved from Wisconsin to Florida when I was two. I get my entrepreneurship from my mother. She is always inventing new businesses. My father has a very good sense of humor, and has taught me the ways of the Jedi. My parents treated me like an adult from the day they brought me home from the hospital (I think this may be why I have an "old soul"). They also raised me on Disney movies (I think this is why I truly believe all of my dreams will come true). My little brother is 17 now, and he is a very talented motocross racer.
I am a designer.
Creative director, visual merchandiser, design volunteer, pattern-maker, sales clerk.
Missy (a.k.a. Chicken), a cat; Engine, a cat; Boone, a cat.
When did you realize you had designer potential?
I started designing when I was 14, but it wasn't until my junior year in high school that I realized I could make a career out of it. I would make garments for myself for special occasions. I got so many compliments on the garments that I made for myself; it was then that I discovered that I could do what I love and get paid to do it.
First garment you ever made?
The first piece that I designed was a hideous denim tank top. I was 14, and I decided it would be a good idea to chop up some of my fat-kid jeans and make them into a top. I put the fly front on the bodice so that you could unzip it and it could go from day to night. Needless to say, this piece isn't in my portfolio.
What's your design training/schooling, etc.?
I graduated from Florida State University's Apparel Design and Technology program in December of 2010 (GO, SEMINOLES!). I also attended Syracuse University's Summer College for High School Students, where I studied fashion design for a semester.
Have you won any awards for your designs/work related to design?
I have received several awards and recognitions for my designs.
Strengths as a designer?
One of my strengths as a designer is my ability to predict color trends and silhouettes that will be popular the following season. Another strength I have is the ability to design artistic garments while still remembering that they are clothing and should be flattering to the wearer. I also understand the meaning of inspiration. I feel that some designers take it too literally. If I am inspired by something, I merely take the element(s) that I most admire and incorporate it into a design, I don't replicate the object that inspired me.
Weaknesses as a designer?
My weakness as a designer is that I am impatient. I sometimes stay up all night to finish a garment instead of taking my time and spreading the process out hopefully, this weakness will work in my favor.
What are your influences?
I am always inspired by movement, for me it is the most important part of a garment. My favorite place to find movement and inspiration is in nature. I am also inspired by fashions of the past. My favorite time periods are the early 1900s-1950s. I love how intricate clothing was back then, and I try to emulate that detail in my designs. Right now I am really into collar bones and anything I can do to accentuate them, be it a scoop neckline or an off the shoulder strap.
What's playing on your iPod when you're designing?
When I am designing I love listening to what my fiancé calls the Sad Girl genre. I love artists like Maria Mena and A Fine Frenzy. If I really need a pick-me-up, then I put on MIA.
Favorite material or fabric to work with?
My favorite fabric to work with is silk satin-faced organza. It is sheer and lightweight like regular organza, but it is slightly more opaque. It is as close to wearing a cloud as one can get; it literally floats.
Item you're most proud of designing?
The garment I am most proud of designing is a gown named Vie. I had designed Vie almost a year before I made it. I had never planned on actually constructing Vie, mostly because it hurt my head just to think about it. Vie is an intricately draped fitted evening gown with 8-inch ruched swags of silk chiffon wrapped around it in every possible direction, topped of with a shredded tulle trim (handmade by me). Like I said, I had never planned on having to make this gown, and then one day I got a phone call. It was "Project Runway"! They gave me a rundown on all of the things that I would need for my in-person interview, and then as we were about to hang up, "Oh, by the way, you know you can't bring Bridal to the interview." My heart sank. All of my most recent/most impressive pieces were Bridal, and I had only one week until my interview! But I knew what I had to do. I bought 12 yards of bright red silk chiffon and started cutting it up into 8-inch strips. At this time, I had already moved back in with my parents, little brother, grandpa, and our cats. My little brother made me a cage, and I sat in that cage draping all week. At one point I think I blacked out. When people see that dress, they always ask how I made it, and I always say, "It was a miracle!" During the process of making this dress, I learned many things. I learned that I have the most supportive family in the world. I learned that cats love to chew on silk chiffon. I learned that it is way easier to cut 12-yard-by-8-inch strips of silk chiffon if you pin it to paper first and weight it with Campbell's soup cans. I also learned that if you believe in yourself and you want something enough, you can do anything.
Some of my favorite designers/labels are Alberta Ferretti, Marchesa and Alexander McQueen. Each of these designers/labels are extremely detail-oriented and have a vintage flare that I adore.
Sketch or drape?
I always start with a sketch. I keep editing the sketch until I have it just the way I want it. Then I do a combination of flat-patterning and draping, depending on the design. Sketching is definitely my favorite part of designing.
Patterns or solids?
Solids. I feel when you use a print the true design of a garment can get lost. I love using style lines and other forms of embellishments to highlight my designs.
My favorite colors to design in are mostly neutrals, more specifically white, hence the Bridal. I like designing in neutrals, because then the focus can truly be on the design. When there are no prints or bright colors to rely on, the design needs to be breathtaking in itself. My favorite color to look at is green. It reminds me of the woods and calms me down.
Biggest fear as a designer?
My biggest fear as a designer is sending something down a runway that I am not proud of. Fortunately, I can say that I am truly proud of everything that I made during this season of "Project Runway". No regrets.
Fit. Fashion is an art that is meant to be worn, but if it's not worn right, what is the point?
Fashion faux pas that drives you crazy?
Strapless necklines with no support. Nothing is less attractive than someone continuously hiking up a sagging bodice.
Ugliest item of clothing/accessory you've worn?
I used to have a vintage online clothing boutique, so occasionally I wouldn't be able to resist some of my finds. One in particular stands out. It was a 1970s Catholic-schoolgirl uniform. If you are thinking "sexy," think again! It was a plaid, wool, ankle-length jumper that probably belonged to a particularly big-boned girl. I thought if I belted it that it would be super chic. I wore it to class one day and my friends had to have an intervention.
Favorite style icon?
My favorite style icon is Grace Kelly. I saw her for the first time in "To Catch a Thief." Her character is so effortlessly classy. Not only was she an Alfred Hitchcock leading lady, but a princess as well (basically I wish I was her)!
What would you design for the first lady?
If I had the opportunity to design for the first lady, I would design a top and skirt that she could wear to one of her many appearances. I would do a fitted top with a bateau neckline and some tuxedo-pleated detailing and a peplum accompanied by a fitted felted cashmere skirt that would hit just below the knee.
Celebrity you wish you could design for?
I would absolutely love to design for Scarlett Johansson! I love her figure so much that it verges on creepy. I have never seen an hourglass figure like hers, and it would be my honor to dress those curves.
Favorite supermodel muse?
My favorite supermodel/muse, aside from Heidi Klum, would have to be Lily Cole. I love her old-world look, and the shape of her face. Her proportions are gorgeous.
If you had to name your label, you'd call it...
Already have, and it wasn't easy! It took me and my friends two years and several bottles of wine to come up with the name of my bridal line, Elaya Vaughn. Elaya comes from my great-aunt, Elaya, and Vaughn is my great-grandmother.s maiden name.
If you weren't designing, you'd be...
If I wasn't a designer, I would be a criminal profiler or criminal psychologist. I am so intrigued by the criminal mind and how it works, and I would love to put that fascination to good use.
Places/cultures you wish you could design for?
A boutique in Japan, Fuchigami Fines, picked up my bridal line. I am very excited to design for next season with them in mind. Their culture is so rich and fascinating.
Dream place to set up your business?
My dream flagship location is a city block on State Street in downtown Chicago. It is a Deco-era building with marble pillars and cast-iron floral details around each window. They just don't build things like they used to.
Websites that feature your work?
ElayaVaughn.com, BridalGuide.com, The Fete Blog
How were you described as a kid?
As a child I was a pampered little princess. I insisted on wearing a floor-length gown even to the doctor's office. Then, when I was a teenager, I went through a brief stage of denial and thought I was a tomboy. Eventually I gave in to my nature and have decided to acknowledge my title as Princess Kate.
How are you described by your family and friends?
I believe the people who know me best would describe me as passionate, fun-loving, intense, responsible, creative, feisty and trustworthy.
Why do you think you're easy to live with?
I think I am easy to live with because I am mostly a lone wolf. I won't bother you if you don't bother me. The only thing that would make it difficult to live with me is if you are a morning person. I simply don't have a soul until I get my Starbucks. If you can hold your tongue for the first 30 minutes of my consciousness and avoid eye contact, we should be fine; if not, I apologize in advance, I know not what I do.
My favorite hangout is my friend Jackie's house. I have much more fun staying in and having a girls' night with a bottle of wine (or two) than I do going out on the town.
For hobbies, I enjoy watching musicals, drawing/painting, reading and watching plays, and doing yoga.
Favorite movies and TV shows?
My favorite TV shows are "Project Runway," "Modern Family," "The Walking Dead," "Desperate Housewives," "Dexter" and "Glee." My favorite movies are "Beauty and the Beast," "Psycho," "Ever After," "Marie Antoinette" and "Sweeney Todd."
My favorite books are "The Glass Menagerie" by Tennessee Williams, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" by Edward Albee, all of the Dan Brown novels, and anything by Shakespeare.
My favorite websites are Pinterest.com, StyleMePretty.com, theKnot.com, and Style.com.
Your Twitter handle?
@ElayaVaughn and @KatePankoke
Favorite Twitter accounts?
Some of my favorite Twitter accounts to follow are @TimGunn, @BridesMagUS, @womensweardaily and @marieclaire.
iPhone. I didn't think I needed one, but then my family had an intervention, and now I couldn't live without it.
Fast food or gourmet?
Both. I love a good gourmet meal, but every now and then, I just NEED a McFlurry.
Cooking or takeout?
Cooking. I watch too much Gordon Ramsay TV for my own good, and for some reason, I think I can cook like the "Top Chef" contestants, although my fiancé may disagree.
I love dark chocolate, oatmeal and peanut butter (together or separate, it doesn't matter).
Beer or wine?
I am a total wino! Winesday Wednesday is my favorite day of the week.
Chocolate Beast Cake. It is basically the chocolatiest chocolate cake in existence. Each piece probably weighs a pound, and I can eat the whole thing, easy!
Biggest pet peeve?
My biggest pet peeve is bad customer service. Customers drive industry and are the reason businesses, like mine, can stay open. They deserve nothing but respect. When I see customers being mistreated or disrespected, it drives me crazy!
How did you end up auditioning for PR?
I have been watching "Project Runway" since its first season, and had been planning to apply ever since. I would watch each episode and sketch out what I would have done for each challenge. Finally I was going to be old enough to audition, but I missed the age cutoff by four days. I decided to audition anyway, hoping that someone would misread my birthday. They caught me. So I applied again the next year. The judges loved my designs, but said I was "so young, and fresh," they wanted to see more from me next year. So, once again I applied. As it turns out, the third time is a charm, or at least it was for me!
Favorite past PR designer?
My favorite designer is Nick Verreos from Season 2 of "Project Runway." I still remember the day he was eliminated. I was watching on a tiny TV in the kitchen of my grandpa's house, and I just started sobbing. I really felt like he was robbed.
Challenge you wish they'd bring back?
I wish they would bring back the Barbie challenge. I used to collect Barbies and make their clothes. It would be so much fun to design for Barbie for real!
Challenge you hope they don't?
I hope they don't bring back any menswear challenges. I just don't enjoy designing menswear, but I have a vast amount of respect for people who do.
Your take on team challenges:
HATE THEM!!! I am a Type-A control freak, and have enough of my own internal personalities to deal with. I hate having to compromise my vision to appease a group.
What do you look for in a model?
The first thing that I look for in a model is their overall "look." I like models with an old-world look. I like them to be tall, with big eyes, and dramatic hair is always a plus. They also need to be able to walk-it-out on the runway.
Do you think you can win "Project Runway"?
I totally believe that I can win "Project Runway." I have literally been training for this moment since the show originated. I know that I have what it takes to complete the challenges and stay true to my design aesthetic. I am confident in my ability as a designer, and I am determined to prove to myself and the world that it doesn't matter how young or old you are, you can achieve anything you set your mind to.