As fans anticipate the new season of Project Runway, many may wonder where the winning designers from the past 15 seasons are now. Who are all of the designers, and what did each winner do with their prize money?
Most of all, was it worth the lack of sleep and the chaotic one-day challenges that included frantically hot-gluing alternative materials like car parts or mealworms, all for the sake of fashion? And has Project Runway made good on their promise to launch the “next, great American fashion designer?
Jay McCarroll, Season 1 Winner
Considered by many Project Runway fans to have the best final collation in the history of the show, his designs were a love letter to fabric and color. Jay’s hip collection had his models wearing headphones, oblivious to the crowd. He sent down gorgeous knits, handmade quilting, and luscious colors, including a fuchsia finale dress with feathers that everyone wanted to bring home.
McCarroll still moved himself to New York City to try to make it in the big city, despite refusing the $100,000 prize and the Banana Republic mentorship, as he would have to pay 10 percent royalties to the show’s producers.
First, his fashion career was delayed with back surgery, then he focused on himself and lost an amazing 40 pounds on Celebrity Fit Club. Three years later, he moved to Philadelphia, where he preferred the pace.
Happily settled in Philly, Jay McCarroll teaches at Philadelphia University and still puts out collections, which he sells locally.
I still think the winner of the 1st Project Runway was the best…Jay McCarroll. That collection was insanely good. pic.twitter.com/yxX3M0leho
— Penny Watson (@PennyRomance) May 6, 2016
Could he possibly appear on a future episode of Project Runway All Stars? Absolutely not! According to the Sentinel, McCarroll “can’t imagine” why any designer would want to repeat the experience, knowing how “isolated” the designers are while filming the show. Yet, he has no regrets for participating in Project Runway.
“Still, I got opportunities because of it. That’s just life — it’s challenging.”
Chloe Dao, Season 2 Winner
Accused by runner-up Santino Rice as being just a “pattern maker,” Chloe Dao chose to stay in Houston after her win to make her town more fashion-forward. Before the finale, Chloe shared that she had done the whole New York designer experience and had no intention of moving there again. Instead, she has now created a thriving business in the Houston area and has participated in the community, as well.
She has sold her feminine garments on QVC and at her own boutique. Chloe explained to Forbes why she chose to go the QVC route instead of creating her own brand.
“The $100,000 [you win] only takes you so far, she says. Between paying the production people to create the collection and getting them in a retailer, then having to pay them if the merchandise doesn’t sell, you end up blowing through that cash in an instant.”
The risk and reward of being an independent designer are great.
“If units don’t sell at a retailer like Bergdorf Goodman, it’s my business. If they don’t sell on QVC, it’s my ego. For me its all about avoiding the risk.”
The talented reality star recently designed Shaquille O’Neill’s daughter’s birthday dress. Taahirah, the birthday girl, turned 21 and had all of the guests dress in white, but she had designer Dao create a chic black dress for her special occasion.
The Vietnamese-born designer attended the party, wearing her own fabulous white creation, and at the stroke of midnight, the Houston Chronicle reported that the Project Runway winner was now the birthday girl, turning 46.
Clearly happy with her show success, Chloe has also inspired her sister Sydney Dao to go into fashion, instead of becoming an English professor. Sydney worked with Chloe’s design business for 12 years and is now an entrepreneur. Sydney has started a storefront business called Launch, which rotates garments by local designers.
Dao has also been a judge on Project Runway Vietnam, yet has never returned to All Stars.
Been working at he store for the last four days, I am so happy to be back at the design studio with my apron on and ready to design and be creative. I am so lucky to have an amazing team at the store and studio. #designerfashion #houston #madebyhand #fashiondiaries #design studio #Fashion #madeinamerica #madeinhouston #designer #designerlife #DaoChloeDao
Jeffrey Sebelia, Season 3 Winner
Edgy designer Jeffrey Sebelia has now become the designer for stars, including JLo, Elton John, Marilyn Manson, and the late Chester Bennington. On Project Runway, he was the resident bad guy. He made Angela’s mother cry, and he survived a false cheating accusation by Laura Bennett. Yet, in the finale, he impressed all of the judges with his flair for rock-star fashion.
After winning Project Runway, he told New York Magazine that he made up the bad guy bit to get on the show to win. He also revealed that his original business loan for his pre-show design company, Cosa Nostra, took up most of the winning money.
How did he make money to keep his business going after the loan was paid off? He told New York Magazine that he was designing costumes for Bratz.
“I’m almost afraid to admit what I’m doing, but it’s costumes for a movie. It’s a live-action movie for the Bratz… Yeah, those slutty dolls.”
No one could ever criticize him. He was designing, although this may not have been his desired gig. Yet, he soon became head designer at the now-defunct Los Angeles-based brand FLuXuS.
His next move surprised everyone. Obviously inspired by his beloved son, Harrison, Sebelia began designing for children with his new edgy children’s brand, La Miniatura. Jeffrey is currently designing for his new L.A.-based fashion label SCL_MDIA along with artist Kirk Nelson.
Jeffrey did return to All Stars in a season that boasted a total of three winning designers, including Seth Aaron Henderson and Irina Shabayeva, along with Sebelia. Most likely, he wasn’t thinking of the lack of sleep or the crazy challenges but instead was tempted by the $150,000 prize money.
The expectation was that he was going to soar above all of the designers, but he seemed to be missing something. Some questioned if he was perhaps struggling with all of the competition who was there to beat out the three previous winners.
Yet, when he created the men’s look for the Bonnie and Clyde challenge, his Japanese-inspired design was the clear winner. There are no free passes on All Stars, and sadly, the next week his dress for Marge Simpson’s date night sent him packing.
Was going on Project Runway worth it for him? His answer may make fans wonder why he did return to All Stars.
“It’s things like the Bratz movie that are really interested in having someone who won Project Runway attached to their show. Most of the companies I’d like to be involved with really couldn’t give a s*** that I was on TV.”
Christian Siriano, Season 4 Winner
Perhaps the best-known designer to ever come from Project Runway, Siriano has dressed everyone from First Lady Michelle Obama to JLo to scores of actresses. There is rarely an awards show without at least a few of his dresses on the red carpet.
— Christian Siriano (@CSiriano) July 12, 2016
There was a lot of expectations when Siriano first won, yet the youngest Project Runway winner told the Washington Post that he realized that this was a marathon, not a sprint.
“We’ve found a little niche. The first key to being successful is having people wear the clothes season after season. It’s easy to get a customer once. But to get them coming back… you can’t have one great season and then have the next season kind of bomb.”
— Christian Siriano (@CSiriano) July 29, 2017
Early on, Siriano created lines for online catalog Spiegel and for low-cost shoe source Payless, making his designs available to the legions of fans that cheered him to his win. Now, he has his own store in New York City, and his business is estimated to be worth up to $20 million dollars.
— Christian Siriano (@CSiriano) July 27, 2017
He has also been walking models of all sizes on the runway. He has become a go-to designer for celebrities who are not model-thin.
— Christian Siriano (@CSiriano) July 25, 2017
In addition, he is involved as a judge with Project Runway Junior, inspiring other young designers with his tremendous success.
— Christian Siriano (@CSiriano) July 27, 2017
Did Project Runway change his life? As Christian Siriano has such incredible talent, he was bound to be a success, yet, the show may have catapulted him to the top a bit faster. It may be pointed out that Christian Siriano’s success may be what keeps Project Runway on the air and millions of fans around the world still watching!
Leanne Marshall, Season 5 Winner
Leanne Marshall quietly got to the top in her season of Project Runway. Yet, in her final collection, her ethereal, pale aqua dresses with delicate waves and ruffles sealed the deal. From there, she has been steadily showing her collections. Besides winning $100,000, she won the privilege to design an eco-friendly collection for Bluefly.
Leanne made the big move from the Pacific Northwest to Brooklyn, where she now owns her signature bridal and ready-to-wear lines. Her gowns are at her New York City flagship stores, as well as bridal stores all over the United States and on Etsy.
Her gowns are so popular that Julianne Hough recently wore one of her gorgeous dresses during her wedding weekend.
A few years ago, she was asked by the Portland Monthly if she would do Project Runway again. Although she has no regrets doing the show, she thinks that there are now better ways for a designer to make their fashion dreams come true.
“I don’t regret doing it one bit, but if I had the choice to choose doing it right now at this exact time in my life with the show at its 11th season, I don’t know if I would. When I did it, I felt it was new and exciting; now I think there may be better venues to have exposure. “
Irina Shabayeva, Season 6 Winner
Georgian-born Irina Shabayeva won the first Lifetime season of Project Runway. Along with Carol Hannah Whitfield and Althea Harper, none of the three designers had a negative garment the entire season, and they all sent down incredible collections.
After her win, she designed for Selena Gomez and Carrie Underwood, who wore her bespoke dress on the cover of her album Blown Away.
Nicknamed “Meana Irina,” the designer may have suffered a few unflattering edits on the show, but when she did return to All Stars, everyone was reminded of her nickname once again.
During critiques for the QVC red carpet challenge, Irina criticized her model for breathing too much, as her gorgeous yet fragile and very tight, long, white dress ripped in the bodice.
Ultimately, Irina was sent home for sending down a dress that admittedly looked too bridal, but it was one of the most breathtaking gowns ever made on the show. Irina confessed that she wasn’t too pleased that she had worked so hard on something so beautiful and yet still went home for it.
Tim Gunn, ever the sage, sees Irina as hardworking and determined, he explained to the Los Angeles Times.
“Irina is tenacious. She really wants it. We had a very long lunch with Irina and her family, and, oh my God, talk about the nut not falling far from the tree. Her mother was saying things like, ‘If Irina doesn’t win, she better not come home,’ and I could say she’s already a winner. Also, Irina was my student.”
Currently, she is consistently showing in New York, and her garments are sold on Etsy, where customers can purchase her bridal and feather gowns, headpieces, and caftans, and they can even make a custom order. Irina is very active in numerous charitable causes.
Seth Aaron Henderson, Season 7 Winner
The first winner of both a regular Project Runway season, as well as an All-Stars winner, Seth Aaron looks like an 80s new wave musician.
Designing from a new wave perspective with a modern kick, Seth Aaron uses colors that look like something from an early MTV video.
His hard work ethic and upbeat personality have made him a fan favorite. Since winning, he made one line for QVC and then went into producing another line, using sustainable fabrics that he made from plastic bottles.
He has launched bright, graphic iPad covers, and wild eye glasses.
When Seth Aaron appeared on All Stars, he explained that while $100,000 is a lot of money, he needed more. Launching a fashion collection is expensive, and there is no doubt that the $150,000 that he won with All Stars helped a great deal.
Seth Aaron had also expressed a desire to move it all to Los Angeles, but by all accounts, he has remained in the Pacific Northwest. He has created collections and has even sold some of his work on Etsy.
Was it all worth it? Seth Aaron told the Portland Monthly that it was!
“Absolutely, the show was nothing but a positive stepping-stone for me. That’s why I currently still work with them. I cast (seasons) eight through 11 for them.”
Gretchen Jones, Season 8 Winner
The battle to determine who would win between Gretchen Jones and Mondo Guerra divided the judges like no other. Heidi Klum and guest judge Jessica Simpson wanted Mondo. Nina Garcia and Michael Kors wanted Gretchen. Gretchen, whose edit on the show was a bit negative, came out the winner, creating a line of sustainable clothing that was worthy of the NYFW catwalk.
While Mondo went on to win All Stars, Gretchen has gone another route. Although she owns her own label, Gretchen Jones NYC, Jones has mainly been out of the spotlight, focusing on sustainable fabrics. She has been studying at the University of the Arts London and is an executive MBA candidate. She wants to become an advocate of ethical business practices.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, she believes that being socially responsible and enjoying life can be practiced at the same time. This includes speaking at SXSW. One of her talks included “All the Rage: Female Activism and Altruistic Design.”
I'm really excited to announce that I'll be speaking within the #socialimpact portion of 2017's @sxsw_official‼️ My talks topic – 'All the Rage: Female Activism and Altruistic Design' • Here's the briefing if anyone is planning on attending and interested❣️ "Fashion director and activist Gretchen Jones believes what we choose to create and consume can make a better world. With the right awareness and resources, everything we make, everything we buy and everything we engage with can be activism. With an all-female collective of volunteers, Jones recently launched @good.support a platform seeking to connect the dots for Millennials (especially women) willing to pay for brands they believe in, but who remain reluctant to engage more directly with activism. Believing in the power of education and activation, we can pave the avenue for creating a better future. Her macro focus is to bring deeper purpose to the consumption equation, through dedicating ourselves and our creative work to promoting the common good. When we empower good brands to create for good reasons, we help everyone learn how much our choices can matter. And through mutual support and collaborative engagement, we can create a better future together." #sxsw2017 #ladypower #activateinyoureveryday #ingoodsupportwecan #ourrevolution #feministthought #gatheryourpeople #educateandelavate
In addition, she has been politically active, designing an “evil eye” bralette, for those walking the Woman’s March in Washington, D.C., back in January.
Today is the deadline to order your @good.support bralettes & pins for @womensmarch next Saturday! We march because womens rights are human rights and in #goodsupport we can speak louder! #engageandactivate #bettertogether #liftandparticipate #organize #stayhuman #ingoodsupportwecan (thank you to the lovely @mollyquan for the beautiful imagery! This 'eyeseeyou' bralette is @thiefandbandit and almost sold out!?) #whyimarch #wmw
Was she glad she went on Project Runway? Absolutely! She believes in taking big risks in order to get the big rewards.
“Of course. I wouldn’t have done it in the first place if I didn’t think it was worth the risk. You can’t win big if you don’t risk big.”
Anya Ayoung-Chee, Season 9 Winner
One of the first things that Project Runway fans learned about Anya Ayoung-Chee was that although she had gone to Parson’s, she had only learned to sew less than a year before she went on the show. Despite this new skill set, the former Miss Trinidad & Tobago impressed the judges week after week with her designs and fresh looks.
When a collab for #PlannedParenthood brings you together, you know the synergy is real! Excited to be working alongside #ZoeBuckman for the 100 Year Anniversary of this incredibly resilient organization. And thank you to #ForFreedoms for inviting me to be a part of tonight's momentous occasion! #PlannedParenthood #100YearAnniversary #TogetherWI #LeaveSheAlone #ForFreedoms
After winning, she went back home to Trinidad & Tobago to make a fashion name for herself. She launched a “sexy and stylish” clothing line called PILAR and a lingerie line called Anya de Rogue.
Anya also returned to reality television, when she joined former Project Runway designers Mondo Guerra and Nick Verreos, along with Tim Gunn, for Under the Gunn. She told HuffPost that being a mentor was not at all like being a designer.
“When you are the designer, you have all the control. When you are a mentor, you give your advice and come back the next day either really pleased or like what the…”
"Every single day there are many different encounters. Sometimes they can be jarring, sometimes they can be beautiful, and I view all of it as love." #WeMirror with @anyaayoungchee of @togetherwi_ . Come check out the We Mirror pillar in action at @iamjoysela's interactive talk featuring me & @mas_sajady on June 21st in NYC! . ⠀ Please send a DM if you’d like to attend and keep an eye out for a video recap from the live talk. .⠀ #PositiveDisruption #Tumblr #MasSajady #AnyaAyoungChee #JoySela #JasmineSolano #Kombrewcha #TogetherWI
The travel ambassador for her Trinidad & Tobago has taken her Project Runway experience and has become a mentor for other Caribbean designers.
Dmitry Sholokhov, Season 10 Winner
Sleek perfection is the what comes to mind when Dmitry Sholokov comes to mind. One of just a few designers to win both Project Runway and All Stars, the Belarus-born designer had lost his job and became homeless to go on the reality show the first time. The risk was worth it!
After his initial win, he designed an eight-dress collection for Lord & Taylor and had fashion week shows in Moscow and Panama.
After his All Stars win, he had an exclusive collection with QVC. His marriage of “elegance and fluidity” and architectural shapes makes his designs show-stopping. The New York-based designer wants his garments to tell the story.
Why did he return to All Stars? He told Marie Claire that after he judged auditions for Season 13, he realized that he wanted to go back, but realizing that “If you go and do it again, you have to win again. That’s a lot of pressure.”
“I decided to do it again because I love television, and I’m not afraid to take a risk.”
Was the Project Runway experience worth it for Dmitry? He told the Hollywood Reporter that it was a learning experience.
“It was just great to get constructive criticism and learn from it and grow as a designer. That it’s important to stay true to yourself and not lose yourself in all the opinion and directions you’re being [given]. It’s important to stay true to yourself and go with your gut.”
Michelle Lesniak-Franklin, Season 11 Winner
Michelle Lesniak-Franklin will be remembered for creating a finale collection entitled the “Lone Wolf.” The irony, was that this was the first and only all-teams season for Project Runway.
What inspired the “Lone Wolf” theme was that when it came closer to who would be selected to go to NYFW, she found herself on the bottom. Yet, instead of going home, she was given a “save” opportunity. While the other four went on whirlwind international trips for inspiration in cities like Berlin, London, Paris, and Barcelona, Michelle had to stay in New York. There, she took a negative experience and pushed herself to win the whole thing, demonstrating why so many people love to watch this show. For her final collection, she showed color, a coveted heart design on a sweater, and some stunning leather work.
After winning, Michelle has stayed in Portland, eschewing a big move to NYC. She has become a leading fashion figure in the Pacific Northwest, constantly creating and instantly selling out her collections at local stores there and online. She also collaborates with musicians to create an extra-sensory fashion experience.
In addition, she spoke at TEDx on her own creative process.
Besides persistence, Michelle has a lot of determination and knows who she is. Fans the show really began to take notice of the designer when she defended her 80s-inspired garment created for Miranda Lambert that was negatively judged.
On Project Runway, she was not afraid to defend herself and her aesthetic, impressing Miranda so much that she stuck up for Michelle! This turned out quite well for the designer, as a few challenges later, she created a chartreuse dress for a Lord & Taylor challenge that sold out in a flash.
“You need to have a strong aesthetic, you need to have a strong will of character, and, by golly, you need to have some big cojones.”
Did she have any regrets about going on Project Runway? Although she did return to All Stars and left just short of the final show, she has never shown any sort of regret.
“It is the most challenging and most rewarding experience I’ve ever had. It made me really define who I am. I learned more about myself than I ever have in my 34 years. Yes, I would do it again.”
Dom Streater, Season 12 Winner
Very few people can mix patterns like Dom Streater! She combined some unlikely prints to win both Project Runway and All Stars, putting herself in an elite group. She also holds the distinction of being the first African-American woman to win each show.
Her upbeat personality and happy dance delighted fans, and who can ever forget her whimsy, especially noting her Tinker-bell-inspired look that had open slots for wings!
Since her initial win, she has designed for LaTanya Richardson (Samuel L. Jackson’s wife) and Lisa Nutter. Along with sneaker-box designer Kevin McCarthy, she created a collection of pocket squares for Jimmy Fallon and the Roots crew. She has designed a collection of dresses for Belk as well as Velodyne headphones. Although she has gone to NYFW, don’t expect her to return anytime soon.
“It wasn’t worth the money. It’s better to invest in social media, my line, and advertising to my customers.”
Between the two shows, the Philly-based designer has won well over $600,000 in cash and prizes, So what has she done with her money? She has learned a lot about what is worth the money in the fashion world. After her first win, she was able to navigate her business.
“I had two years to figure out who I want to sell to and what I want to make. A lot of designers don’t get to take all they have learned and essentially start again. It’s so expensive.”
Perhaps the most important lessons the new mother has learned is pinching every penny, seeking results and not being afraid to say “no.”
“Not everyone’s agenda is about helping you grow your business. I have to be very strategic.”
Deciding to return to All Stars was a mixed bag for the bubbly designer. Her concern is that there was not a lot of time between her two appearances, but the show’s producers encouraged the fan favorite to return.
In the end, she did not regret her decision to go on All Stars. She has even one keepsake from the show, one of her hand-painted fabrics is hanging in her living room.
“It was nice to be able to have time to figure myself out as a designer. Now, with winning again, I can put into practice all that I’ve learned.”
Sean Kelly, Season 13 Winner
Fringe-loving, New Zealand-born Sean Kelly wowed the judges with his “Betrayal of Caesar” finale collection. The menswear designer showed that he could put out a real show! Yet, Project Runway fans had already been wowed by the designer earlier in the season.
Kelly created a magical rainway look that turned into the colors of the rainbow. When his model walked the special runway and the water hit the white garment that had pockets of dye strategically placed in the seams. She twirled and the colors intensified. It was a gamble and a showstopper.
In fact, when asked who his favorite designer is, Tim Gunn is quick to respond.
“Oh, Sean Kelly of course, he’s extremely talented and he’s going to make it (big). And I’m not just bowing to New Zealand, Sean Kelly was my favorite contestant.”
Kelly had worked for Alexander McQueen in menswear, where he learned the benefits of hard work and precision. Now, based in New York City, Sean has plunged headfirst into his signature line.
Ashley Nell Tipton, Season 14 Winner
In an unprecedented move, Ashley Nell Tipton won her season walking plus-size models wearing the designer’s pastel garments. Tim Gunn publicly called her garments “hideous” in a Washington Post essay on the lack of designers and retailers carrying plus-size clothing, but that has hardly stopped Ashley.
She has become a plus-size advocate and role model. She explained that many fans “praise me for being very brave for being on the show as a plus-size woman and a plus-size designer.”
Considered a “rule-breaker” by her legions of fans, she told BuzzFeed News that she has one mission and only one mission.
“I’m trying to put plus-size on the map. We can be fashion-forward.”
Tipton also pointed out that judging people for their weight doesn’t negate the need for them to be clothed.
“Some people think every fat person is leading ‘an unhealthy lifestyle.’ You need clothing to wear, so why are we going to make those people who decide to live that kind of life feel like crap and not have anything to wear?”
Did you guys catch me this morning on @goodmorningamerica with the @projectrunway crew @heidiklum @zacposen and @ninagarcia ???????????? I had so much fun in the studio creating a design for this mornings challenge, using supplies found around the office, swipe ➡️ to check it out ???? #designerant #designerashley #GMA #projectrunway
Ashley has made the most of her win. She has designed a line with Boutique + for JC Penney, designed patterns for Simplicity Design, and now makes plus-size accessories for K&M Accessories.
Recently, plus-size influencers, including Ashley, were invited to the Torrid’s Second Annual Pool Party. The #TheseCurves swimsuit promotion has been created to help women feel comfortable in their own skin.
Ashely has also done something major to get comfortable in her own skin. She had gastric bypass surgery back in April in order to help improve her overall health and improve depression.
Has Project Runway been a game changer for Ashley? It has changed Ashley’s life, and it has certainly changed the lives of many plus-size women and perhaps fashion itself.
Erin Robertson, Season 15 Winner
Things are moving fast for Erin Robertson. The most recent winner of Project Runway just announced that she has her website set up. Currently, the Utah native has no intention of leaving Boston, the city where she first pursued her passion for design, anytime soon.
She explained to the Boston Globe that she wants to be “close to technology and students at MIT who are doing innovative projects.” This means 3-D printing and sustainable fabrics.
The banana-loving winner does not want to be a “fashion calendar. She wants to create collections when she “wants to do them.”
“Fashion needs to slow down. There needs to be meaning and love rather than producing to be bought.”
Fans who fantasize wearing Erin’s fashion-forward designs will soon be able to go to JCPenney and purchase clothes specially designed by Erin Robertson for the major retailer on the new Private Runway line!
— JCPenney (@jcpenney) July 31, 2017
The new season of Project Runway debuts on Lifetime on Thursday, August 18. The fashion design reality show is heading into its 16th season, with a plus-size twist. This is the first season that there will be models between sizes 0-20 rotated between the designers. In addition, this is the first season with twin designers, and judge Heidi Klum has hinted that the two are very “naughty”!
Who is your favorite winner of Project Runway? Share. your fav designer below!
[Featured Image by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images]