A Chat with Project Runway Winner Michelle Lesniak Franklin

My heart bleeds for this sweater

The Project Runway season 11 finale was ages ago but based on how awesome her final collection was, I have a feeling that winner, Portland’s Michelle Lesniak Franklin, is here to stay. If you watched the show, you remember that Franklin struggled in the beginning of the season because of the the teams she was placed on, and experienced a near-elimination for going too casual on a challenge that Nina Garcia expressly warned against. The tenacious designer didn’t really shine until the teams got smaller and she found her footing. What resulted was a stunning final collection consisting of leather, quilted wool and swoon-worthy sweaters. Franklin and I chatted recently about Portland’s Project Runway luck and where I can get one of those amazing bleeding heart sweaters.

Ali Brownrigg: Do you feel like the show was edited to reflect what really went on or did they play up your frustrations with your teams?
Michelle Lesniak Franklin: I think for the most part the editing was right on. Perhaps they didn’t show both sides of the coin, but what was said was what was said, there is no editing that! And I was pretty frustrated with the teams on many occasions.

AB: What makes Portland (or Southwest Washington in past winner Seth Aaron Henderson’s case) such an amazing resource for PR contestants?
MLF: Portland is a very creative and open-minded city. Because of this people march to the beat of their own drum and aren’t afraid to think outside of the box and start trends.

AB: Why do you think the judges gave you that second chance?
MLF: I think that the judges gave me a second chance because they saw promise in me. They wanted to see what I could do. Perhaps they just wanted to reprimand me for making a shirt and pants…I will never know.


AB: What do you think will happen now that you've been thrust into the public eye? Will you stay in Portland or move to NYC?
MLF: So far I get more emails than I can keep up with! My phone has to constantly be plugged in due to phone calls and text messages, so I already know what is happening now that I am in the public eye! Will I stay in Portland? Yes. I love my city and I can be just as successful here as in NYC or LA.

AB: Who has been your most favorite winner/contestant from PR?
MLF: Probably Seth Aaron. And he’s local. So double win.

AB: Any advice for designers considering taking the PR plunge?
MLF: Know who you are. Know your design style. Have your conviction and don’t back down. It’s not an experience for the weak at heart; it can crush you. So BE PREPARED!!


AB: Where can I get a bleeding heart sweater?
MLF: Unfortunately the show owns our designs. So unless they plan on making them…but, (fellow contestant) Joe Aaron Segal and I are working together to create more fabulous sweaters, so don’t be downtrodden, even better work is on the horizon.

Keep your eye out for that new work at Franklin’s website, Au Clothing.