Each day I scroll through the confirmed designer list at Vancouver Fashion Week, making notes on who is coming from where and designs what. Then choosing two or three to introduce to Vancouver or refresh the city’s memory of a jewel in our midst. Then Thursday, mannequin Donna Judy toppled. MICHELLE LESNIAK. It was right there in the proverbial black and white. My #WCW. Breathe.
Michelle Lesniak, Project Runway’s Season 11 winner is known for her strong aesthetic, quick wit, sassy mouth, mullet and tattoos. Michelle wowed both judges and viewers with her tenacity. Nearly voted off, Michelle fought back to reveal one of the most cohesive and distinctive collections seen on Project Runway to date. Her silk and leather mini-dress, manufactured by Lord & Taylor, sold-out overnight and she was unable to keep up with production demands upon returning to Portland. The recognition of the win and reward was immediate and Michelle managed it all.
“Clothing is emotional. The fashion world is a loony bin of creativity.” ML
Michelle trained at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, but could not keep her hands off of textiles. Self-taught in both garment design and leather working, her love of art, print, texture, and music comes through to her final designs. Each season brings a new direction, a new zest for changing it up with dramatic swings in mood and texture.
Of all the seasons of Project Runway that I have watched and loved, Season 11 was particularly juicy with personalities but was also the only season to be comprised wholly of team challenges. The concept crashed and burned with many viewers and I will admit it was super annoying at times but nothing that a bottle of Hardy Stamps of Australia couldn’t remedy!
The team challenges took their toll on the designers and Michelle appeared to get swallowed up and was almost voted off before the Europe episode. We cheered when she pulled herself up by her big girl boot straps, rallied and kicked numerous butts all the way to the win.
After winning, Michelle returned to Portland and is committed to staying in her native hometown. Dedicated to local manufacturing and ethical business practices, she is undoubtedly playing a key role in shaping and growing the Portland Fashion Industry.
I managed to get a quick interview in before VFW starts on Monday. Her collection ‘Falling Upwards’ debuted in Portland’s ‘Fade to Light’ fashion event in February and will hit the Vancouver runway on Saturday, March 21 at 5:15 p.m.
Give us a quick re-cap of your design journey since winning Project Runway Season 11.
A whirlwind! A suitcase is always packed due to the travel schedule! I’ve expanded my studio, upped my production, upped my materials as well as my design, booked really cool jobs such as costuming for the Oregon Ballet Theater’s 25th anniversary performance… the list goes on!
How did winning all the prizes change / improve the way you approached your design process and affect your life?
Just being on the show gives you exposure that upcoming designers need, it was like having a commercial for my brand. I now have companies coming to me to do design. I no longer have to support myself by darning holes in peoples clothing (ewe, by the way). The prizes amount to very little after taxes, the visibility is priceless.
You are traveling the world with your current line ‘Falling Upwards’. How is the response of the audiences so far to your line?
So far it has only walked the kick-off city, which is my hometown of Portland. The response was great, bringing another fellow designer to tears, which is not necessarily what I intend to do, luckily they were of joy!
An image search of your designs gathers hundreds of photographs of looks that are so diverse – colour blocking to patterns, long and short, feminine to androgynous. Do you naturally visualize on such a wide spectrum or are you pushing yourself explore an unlimited amount of silhouettes?
I don’t really know how to answer this question. I think all of the work I have done looks like me. And is super feminine, with a dark, emotional edge to it. I lean toward an unconventional colour palate and typically use the same three materials – silk, wool and leather. I don’t follow trends. A good designer should always be morphing or else they become stale, to themselves as well as their customer.
Finally, what was the inspiration for your unique tattoos? They appear to be design oriented and decorative rather than sentimental in nature.
Balance. Circle of Nature. What goes around, comes around. Words, even in shape, we should all live by.