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Eluxe Exclusive: Project Runway’s Michelle Lesniak


By Bre Cruickshank

If you’re a fan of the hit American TV show Project Runway, then you’re familiar with Season 11 winner Michelle Lesniak Franklin. The notoriously strong-willed designer experienced a tumultuous journey throughout the show, eventually stealing the spotlight with her final collection at New York Fashion Week.

Michelle’s aesthetic is emotive; capturing a careful balance between fragile and fierce. Her collection, created for and shown at New York’s Fashion Week, won praise from the show’s big-name judges, including star designers Zac Posen and Michael Kors, Marie Claire magazine’s Nina Garcia and supermodel Heidi Klum. The Portland based designer is committed to local production and has established unique collaborations with artists who compliment her sustainable focus.

Here, Michelle shares her inspiration and insights with Eluxe in an exclusive interview.


What inspires your designs?

I often seek inspiration from my personal life; how I am feeling, what I am going through, etc.  Then from that point I look to nature for my color palate guide.

As a luxury designer, what are your thoughts on fast fashion?

I am very disturbed by the throw-away-fashion-culture we have become.  I think it is wasteful, distasteful and harmful to the environment.


What are some challenges you have faced with local production?

Finding it!  It is challenging sourcing production since Portland isn’t a giant fashion capital.  But as the city grows and more designers pop up the more opportunities we will have for production.  If you design it, they will sew.

Tell us a bit about some of your collaborations with Portland artists. You worked with one designer who up-cycles vintage dolls into jewelry…

I love collaboration!  The more minds and ideas the grander and more streamlined the vision becomes.  Ben Posen of Sticks and Stones designed jewellery for me.  I have also worked exclusively with Mr Moo for music (Milo Hayen).  Then there is Sarah Adams, owner of 77 Salon in the Pearl. She is my ‘go-to’ girl for hair and makeup; she is a genius!


How do you try to embrace a sustainable lifestyle?

I try not to have a throw-away lifestyle. I purchase well-made clothing to last a lifetime.  We all have to do our part.

What causes do you support, if any?

I’m a huge animal lover, so any cause for a dog or cat I’m in!  I have worked with Dove Lewis animal hospital and the Oregon Humane Society. Then on the human side of things: Girls Inc, Cascade AIDS project, Planned Parenthood, Tsuga, Oregon Food Bank…the list goes on.

What changes are necessary to reform the fashion industry?

Accountability.  We all need to be responsible for what we put out into the environment.

 To see a shoot featuring some of Michelle’s amazing work, please click here.

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