And Sew It Begins: Lifetime’s Emmy-Nominated Project Runway Returns for 12th Season

In the twelfth season of Project Runway, which premiered July 18 on Lifetime, the sixteen fresh  designers will encounter inventive challenges, unexpected eliminations, fan interaction, the return of a mystery contestant from seasons’ past chosen by fans, and celebrity judges, including Michael Kors, Kaley Cuoco, Kelly Osbourne and Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Expect lots of confidence, dueling personalities, drama, —one contestant even goes “missing” – lots of unconventionality and lots of gay!

As part of the newly added  “PlayRunway,” legions of fans will be able to interact with viewers across the country in real-time during each episode through the new interactive on-screen feature. This feature empowers fans to use their smartphones, tablets and computers to share their reactions to episode storylines, design challenges and decisions by judges.

Among the fan integration elements include the Project Runway superfan contest. Via video submissions, seven super fans will be chosen to be featured in an upcoming episode this season for a fashion makeover. This season will also offer up more Tim Gunn. Fans have asked and Project Runway has delivered. Gunn will join supermodel and fashion maven Heidi Klum, fashion icon Zac Posen and Marie Claire fashion director  Nina Garcia to watch the runway show. Gunn will be able to “rescue” one designer during course of the season he feels deserves a second chance.

All sixteen of the season twelve designers have a their own unique aesthetic. I caught up with two of the courtiers –  Justin LeBlanc from Raleigh, NC and  Karen Batts, who is originally from Boca Raton, FL but now resides in New York.


Erik: Why do you think you will win Project Runway?
Justin LeBlanc: I KNOW that I can win Project Runway. I have the skill, the passion, the drive and the knowledge needed to win. I think that I also have the personality to enamor the audience and judges. I do believe that I have the ability to inspire others; that’s a big thing in my book as a designer.

Going back a bit, how did your fashion career get started?
While growing up, I always knew that I was a designer, although I didn’t realize that fashion design was my calling until college. Being deaf has made me a more visual person. This naturally drew me to finely crafted designs. I began my formal training in architectural design but soon realized that fashion design provided me greater opportunities to express my creativity.

How would you describe your design aesthetic?
I would describe my design aesthetic to be minimalistic,  highly tactile, with a zeal for finding new techniques.

Who are your style icons/inspirations?
My style icon is Daphne Guinness and some of my greatest influences are from some of my favorite artists and designers, including Lucy McRae, Bart Hess and Alexander McQueen. My training in architecture also heavily influences my design aesthetic. My deafness has always influenced my design aesthetic, as I strive to provide a full visual experience in my designs.

You talk a lot about utilizing the five senses in your work. How did you overcome any difficulties on the show because of your deafness?
My hearing loss may cause me to  have difficulty understanding challenge instructions or discussions amongst the designers. However, I will request a sign language interpreter if I need one. I am quite determined. Oh, and I think that my deafness may help me at times because I can turn my hearing device off in order to avoid drama in the workroom and focus on my designs. Not that this will be a problem – this is Project Runway! [Laughs]

Architect, fashion designer, and artist; is there one medium you are more passionate about than the other?
All the above. I was trained to think critically and understand the three-dimensionality of design. With my varied training in architecture, fashion, and art allows me to exploit and fuse different approaches, resulting in artistic expression that cannot be conveyed by one discipline alone.

With such a full palate,  does it make it difficult to have a dating life?
That is the last thing on my mind at the moment! However, I always love meeting new people and hearing their stories.

…For more info. and to see Justin LeBlanc’s work, check out


Erik: Why do you think you will win Project Runway?
Karen Batts: I think that I’m going to be the winner because I feel I bring an interesting point of view to fashion. It’s definitely something people want to wear. People are intrigued by my designs. My style is very much classic infused with current trends. I feel that really resonates with people.

Going back a bit, how did your fashion career get started?
I grew up learning to sew from my mom and grandma. I was about 8 or 9 when I began sewing. I actually joined 4H, which is kind of like Girl Scouts but co-ed. In 4H, I did the sewing programs. I went to sewing camp one summer. I had a love for creating clothes then but I didn’t really realize that I loved designing until I went to college. Originally, I had gone to study photography at the Savannah College of Art and Design. While there, I took a fashion class and it opened my eyes to wanting to study design. It was through the course of my studies that I was like, “Yes, this is what I want to do. There’s no turning back from here.” [Laughs]

I saw that you are from Boca Raton. I’m very familiar with there, living in Orlando myself. Did you have a fashion career while there?
I lived in Boca until going to college in Savannah. So, my only fashion career while in South Florida was moreso home sewing and sewing for myself. I definitely hope to go back there now and talk to boutiques in the area and say, “Hey, I’m a Florida native, you should sell amazing garments I made.”

How would you describe your design aesthetic?
I would say my design aesthetic is definitely classic, minimalist infused with current trends. It’s beautiful – it has a girly-ness to it but has a tom-boy influence mixed in there.

Who are your style icons/inspirations?
I love the way Parisian women dress. It’s so… beautiful. It’s looks so casually put together but reads so chic-looking! Parisian women are such an influence. I love Hollywood stars like Keira Knightley and Elle Fanning – they’re so beautifully put together all the time. I love it! Totally effortless!
What fashion trends do you see for the fall? Print wise, I definitely see pastels but influenced by the night sky. I’m working on prints that – I don’t want to say psychedelic – but involve animals. Now I don’t mean kitty cats with lasers coming out of their eyes or something but definitely interesting. [Laughs] 

Photographer and fashion designer; is there one medium you are more passionate about than the other?
I don’t know. They’re apples and oranges. I love fashion and luckily it’s very commercial, so you can make money but fine art photography, I generally keep to myself. I went to school wanting to be a fashion photographer. It’s funny – when I graduated, I fell into doing more fine art photography. I have a medium format film camera that I use. I love to work in the dark room creating black and white prints of still life. I love to shoot my own work. I would love to someday be like Karl Lagerfeld – who, here he is designing his own collection but then he’s doing photograph campaigns for Chanel. I think that’s so exciting.

What has the experience been like being away from your husband/family while taping?
It’s been tough, especially being away from my husband. He is my rock. If I have a bad day or if I have a question, he’s the person I turn to. So, it’s been hard to not have him right there with me or to see him at the end of the day but getting to know the other cast members and hearing their stories about loved ones has been encouraging. We’re there to commiserate with each other. We can help each other, like “Hey, we’re gonna get through this” or “It’s going to be ok.” [Laughs] This is probably the most crazy experience I’ve been through. I’d do it again but it’s way more challenging than being in school. It’s kind of funny.

I read that you did a fashion competition prior to Project Runway in Charleston.
I did a fashion competition for Charleston Fashion Week. It was this past March. I created a twelve look collection; fall – winter women’s wear. Basically, how it works is you show an eight look collection and then at the semi-finals you show the twelve look collection. I was able to show an eight look fall-winter collection on the runway. It was amazing. I’m really proud of how it came out – and just to have my garments walking on models  down an actual runway – this is why I’m here. This is why I’m doing this. It was so joyful to see.

Do you think that helped prep you for Runway?
Definitely! I had actually applied last year. I had done the paper application and I got an email saying that the show wasn’t going to pursue me further. I wasn’t asked to come to the audition when they were here in New York. This year, it’s funny, because I was going to audition again since I didn’t have a full time job or anything important enough going on to stop me from being able to be on the show. I missed the paper application deadline, so I just went to the open call. I brought pieces from my Charleston show and Anthony Ryan [from season nine and All-Stars winner] was there. He just loved what I had made. It was an incredible experience to have something close to your heart resonate with someone else. It was so awesome!

…For more info. and to see more of Karen Batts’ work, check out

What: Project Runway
When: Thursdays, 9pm ET
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Photos by Barbara Nitke