Santino, Mondo, Uli, Christian and, of course, WENDY PEPPER. Since its inception in 2004, “Project Runway” has been about so much more than great fashion—it’s also brought us some great characters. Though this is entertainment, designers are there for a purpose: as mentor Tim Gunn says, to “make it work.”
“Some of the drama that happened on the show was just pointless, and I don’t want to waste my brain cells,” said Justin LeBlanc, one of Season 12’s four finalists. LeBlanc, who hails from Raleigh, N.C., and got his master’s in fashion from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, had a unique way of dealing with noisy distractions—he’d remove his cochlear implant.
“They only showed it at the beginning, but I did it like every other day on the show,” he said, laughing. LeBlanc was born with severe sensorineural hearing loss, and got the implant when he was 18.
“Project Runway” has allowed him to connect with an entirely new group: the Lifetime show’s audience. “For me, that’s my identity, but at the same time, we are able to really show people that we don’t have to pick,” he said of advocating in both the Deaf and gay communities. “Just be true to yourself, and that’s what I’m doing right now.”
While on a weekend trip to Chicago ahead of Season 12’s penultimate episode, LeBlanc sat down with RedEye to talk about the inspiration behind his collection, the one thing he hates about the city and, yes, foamy vaginas.
The season finale of “Project Runway” is coming up; I didn’t even realize that tonight is the second to last episode, and you’re kind of competing for your life at this point. How did you feel when the judges announced that you were going to have to compete against the other two for the last spot?
Finding out that I will be competing with Helen [Castillo] and Alexandria [von Bromssen] for the final spot, part of me, I was very excited because now I have the opportunity to make my collection. It is something that I’ve been wanting to do for a while, and [I was] thankful that now I can go back home, make my collection and show the judges what I really am capable of, because I think one of my biggest challenges on the show is the time, because there’s not enough time to do anything and I’m a perfectionist, so everything has to be perfect, but it just never happened every time. And I mean, It’s gonna be difficult for me to compete against Helen and Alexandria, because in a way I became very close with them, especially with Helen. So it’s hard in the competition when you’re becoming really close with these people. So I just don’t know, I want to know the outcome. It’s just something that we have to do and just really do the best that we can do.
What was the inspiration for your collection?
The inspiration for my collection is actually based on my Deafness, and my upbringing as a Deaf person. In this collection, I’m focusing on three phases in my life, which is before I got my cochlear implant; —I got my cochlear implant when I was 18. So my experience for 18 years as a Deaf person, and being able to hear sound for the first time. getting my cochlear implant when I was 18 and the period when I hated it, because there was so much noise and an unknown element, this sense that I’d never used before, and just trying to comprehend what is going on; and now, where I have come to a place where I accept what I am hearing and [am] just learning new things every day. Hopefully for the collection, it will tell that story.
Wow, that design process must have been really emotional for you.
It was, but at the same time, as a designer, I tend to put my emotion on the line. I don’t want to design to make superficial things, I want to design things because there is a reason. , so that’s how I perceive myself.
So speaking of your cochlear implant, one of the funnier moments on the show this season was when everyone was [makes chattering noises] in the room and you just popped it right out. Did you do that more that once?
Oh yes. Probably every day. They only showed it at the beginning, but I did it like every other day on the show. Because I mean, some of the drama that happened on the show was just pointless, and I don’t want to waste my brain cells over the drama. So it’s like, nah, I’m gonna unplug this.
Do you find that that helps you focus a lot more?
Oh yeah. definitely. I mean, this is really all I need to focus on my work and do what I need to do. I came on “Project Runway” for a reason, not to cause drama but to show good work.
Well then, that’s definitely a good strategy. What would fans of the show be surprised about to know that happened behind the scenes?
I think one of the biggest things after watching the show that I am most surprised about is how they portrayed Ken [Laurence, who was eliminated in Episode 10]. Because Ken is absolutely the nicest person in the world. and it’s unfortunate that they portray him as the bad person on the show. He’s not. Right now, he is one of my good friends. But it’s just really interested to see how everything is edited on the show, and when they want to portray certain people in this personality. So it is unfortunate, but I know Ken is very strong, so he’ll be able to move forward from this.
Did you feel like you were portrayed accurately on the show?
Actually, I do. I know I don’t like being in drama or anything like that because I’m a professor as well [at North Carolina State University], so I wanted to show my students that they don’t have to be this crazy person to show what they are capable of. So overall the show portrayed me pretty well, and I do not cry every day. Just that moment!