Little Girl Lost?

What happens after you win one of the most grueling seasons yet of Project Runway? The no-bullshit designer Michelle Lesniak sits down with Caroline A. Wong to discuss just that. And she definitely seems like she’s more in control than the name of her collection lets on!

Tastevin Magazine: Everyone wants to know: What have you been up to since winning Project Runway?
Michelle Lesniak: Tons and tons and tons of travel! Half of my life is spent out of a suitcase these days, which is really wonderful—because I love traveling—except for the part that I hate flying! I’m doing speaking engagements, working with various companies on design, maybe marketing material. I’m doing fashion shows. I’m meeting and greeting and signing autographs, and I’m feeling a bit like a diva! [Laughs]

TM: What’s the process of designing like when you’re so busy?
ML: It’s the cherry on the cake of being busy. The times that I actually get to sit down in the studio and do what I love—which is the designing side of things—is when I’m at my happiest. You definitely have to do everything else to get it out there. You have to do all the marketing and the meetings and the business and charity work and websites and responding to emails. You know, 99% of fashion is not designing.

TM: Still, it sounds like the life! When you first went on the show, did you expect all the attention that you’re getting?
ML: Not at all. I never would have thought that a year later I’d be flying to London over the course of my birthday. The show hadn’t even aired in England yet, and people were coming up to me, being like, “Oh my gosh! Congratulations! Oh, Michelle, I love you!” And I was like, Wow, how did you even see it? They were going online and watching it bootleg. It’s overwhelming, and I feel really lucky. Very, very lucky.

TM: Were you prepared for the aftermath of winning the competition?
ML: You definitely have to learn as you go. And I don’t think anyone can prepare you for being a little small-town Portland girl to having people recognize you in an airport, or in a burger shop, or when you’re working out. Umm…no one could have prepared me for that.

TM: Does it ever get invasive?
ML: Oh, most definitely, it does. But, even when it’s invasive, [I’ll] still [give] a warm hug because the people aren’t doing anything mean or anything malicious toward me. I get hate mail, but that’s all done in a passive aggressive way. You know, people are sitting behind the sanctity of their computer and sending a nasty email to me, as opposed to [saying something in person].

TM: What’s all the hate about?
ML: You know, some people just don’t really get humor, or comic timing, or just being a little bit of a sassafrass—and the fact that we are exhausted [when we appear on the show]. We’re saying and doing things that we wouldn’t normally do, and I just don’t think the viewing public—not all of them—gets that.

TM: Would you say that you were portrayed accurately after the edit of the show?
ML: Most definitely. I was myself 100% of the way. And all of the other designers who were on the show with me were like, Nope, this is exactly who she is and she’s not mean at all. She just says what she feels and says what she means.
You seem to have remained really true to yourself throughout this whole process. For example, you’re originally from Portland, and you continue to have your home base there. Why is maintaining that important to you?
You know, I was born and raised in Portland. It’s where I [derive] my creativity from. I love other cities, but I couldn’t live anywhere else. [Portland] has the quality of life that I love and the people that I love and the style and the weather and the food and the beverages. Everything I love is in this town, and I haven’t been able to find that anywhere else. So I support my town and hope that our fashion in this city just progresses further and further ‘til we become a fashion capital.