I'M DONE BEING MAD at Project Runway. No more telling Portland designers what to do with their careers. When Michelle Lesniak Franklin becomes the seventh local contestant on the show this week—you may have seen her line Au Clothing, available at Anne Bocci and Garnish Apparel, where Franklin also works—I'll simply be watching with friends, chardonnay in hand, enjoying the drama and rooting for the home team. Project Runway Season 11 premieres Thursday, January 24, 9 pm, on Lifetime—check mod.portlandmercury.com on Fridays for episode wrap-ups.
MERCURY: What motivated you to try out for Project Runway?
MICHELLE LESNIAK FRANKLIN: It's a really great sounding board, and basically a giant commercial to get your product and aesthetic out there. I'm relatively late to this career, starting at age 32, so I figured this would be a really great opportunity to get my name out there and start selling more of my work.
Are there any past competitors you think did a particularly good job making the opportunity work for them?
I think all of the Portland designers that have won did an incredible job. They're still out there, they're still working, they're doing what they love. This whole process is about taking the momentum you get off the program and keeping it going.
At what point were you informed of this season's new team dynamic?
We were told that it was a team-based Project Runway the moment we got there. So, not knowing at all, going to New York, going to Parsons, seeing the runway, we're all excited, we hear our first challenge, and Heidi Klum is like, "Well, you know, it's teams!" And not teams like teams for your first challenge, it's teams for the entire process. I don't think anyone in that room was happy, except for maybe Heidi and Tim [Gunn].
When you choose a design team, you're hiring people in the work environment that are particularly good at something: pattern making, grading, marketing. Here are 15 [other] designers that are here just to be head designer. They're not really there to work as a teammate to help you be successful; they're there for themselves. So it totally changed the dynamic, and um, yeah... It was pretty frightening.
Do you think it was a good idea for the show?
It is how the industry works. No one in the design world flies solo. You need to be able to work well with others, and in most work environments, even if you hire someone, you might not get along with them personally. So we just had to suck it up. And in doing so, perhaps more than any other season, we became closer because of it.
Was it harder to be away from your husband or your pets?
Honestly? I'm really, really close with my Chihuahuas, and I think because animals are such a great stress reliever, I craved them more. I missed my husband more, but I craved my dogs the most.
Are you going to be watching the show as it airs?
Yes. Probably with quite a few drinks in me. For the first episode we are having a viewing party at the Back Stage Bar [3702 SE Hawthorne]. I worked for McMenamins for four years, so it's kind of like coming back full circle. We'll see how it goes; if the space works out really well, we'll continue to do it there.
Who else among your fellow competitors should we keep an eye out for?
There's definitely a lot of personality with this group of people, which can be a good thing, and can really cause tension. The people I think are really interesting to watch... definitely Richard [Hallmarq]. He's got the one-liners. Amanda Valentine: She's got a really interesting backstory, and does most of her business in styling, and styling musicians, so she has an interesting take on the process.
Should we be emotionally prepared to see you cry a lot?
I think four hours of sleep every single night, and being away from friends and family... if you don't shed a tear, you don't have a soul.
Are you going to be another hometown Project Runway contestant who leaves Portland after this experience?
Hell to the no.