New York City may be the hotbed of US fashion, but Portlanders are influencing that fashion scene, one designer at a time.
Michelle Lesniak Franklin is the seventh Portlander to appear on the fashion design reality show “Project Runway,” which is filmed in New York City. Currently, Lesniak Franklin is one of four remaining designers from a starting pool of sixteen. At this point in the season, she has made it past the preliminary design challenges, and is working on a collection to potentially show at New York Fashion Week. From the three finalists who are chosen to show at Fashion Week, one will be selected the winner of “Project Runway,” which serves as an introduction to the fashion industry and opens doors for sponsorship.
“Project Runway” is known for the grueling environment it puts designers through—over thirteen weeks of long hours, little sleep (try four hours a night), and kooky challenges that tend to tax designers’ sanity and sap creativity. Lesniak Franklin is striking in that throughout, she has retained her sense of self, both in her designs and her outlook. During the unconventional challenge—Lesniak Franklin’s favorite—when designers created garments from materials found at a hardware store and a flower shop, Lesniak Franklin noted that, “It looks like every single garment was made by a crazy person, and none of these people are staying in the same mental hospital.” This mix of honesty and quirkiness has characterized Lesniak Franklin and informed her designs throughout the season.
Lesniak Franklin describes her design aesthetic as “geek chic,” which is unsurprising given her Portland roots. She began “shortening bridesmaids dresses from the [’60s], cutting open [necklines] and shifting seams” in high school, and went on to study printmaking in college. While in school, she “would design a print, put it on fabric and then create a garment,” and she thus began to cull her interests in printmaking and apparel.
Her early affinity for vintage and printmaking continues to influence her work and make it distinctive from that of her fellow contestants. While working with designer Amanda Valentine on episode seven’s Duck Tape prom dress challenge, Lesniak Franklin created her own houndstooth-inspired textile out of three colors of duct tape. Her punk-rock dress incidentally got her the win that week.
Four weeks later, she collaborated with contestant Stanley Hudson to create an avant-garde look inspired by the Guggenheim Museum, as well as a companion ready-to-wear look. For their avant-garde look, Lesniak Franklin created an olive-green overcoat with a long train onto which she hand-painted a whimsical, nearly-floral pattern. She additionally created the print they used in their wearable look, which featured a rotated sketch of the face of a woman on the brink of insanity.
Despite her success and creativity, even Lesniak Franklin at one point doubted her presence on the show. Her moment of tear-shedding, one nearly every designer on the show experiences, came at the end of episode ten, in which the designers had to create an editorial look for the May issue of Marie Claire magazine. In spite of being the bottom designer, Lesniak Franklin was given a second chance and allowed to remain on the show.
In her backstage interview after learning she had been granted a “do or die moment,” as show host Heidi Klum dubbed it, she succumbed to tears and stated that in that instant, she did not want to continue on the show. She explained that she was confused as to how to please the judges with her designs, and disappointed with herself for feeling so unmotivated.
However, the next episode saw Lesniak Franklin back to her chipper self and kick-ass attitude, and she is now primed to create a collection that may show at Fashion Week.
Despite being “the hardest experience [she has] ever had to go through,” Lesniak Franklin asserts that “I would do it all over again!”
With an attitude like that, it’s no surprise that she’s made it this far.