SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The judges called her collection spectacular, different, cool and unique. But Taos Pueblo fashion designer Patricia Michaels didn't win Season 11 of "Project Runway," the fashion-design-themed reality show on cable television's Lifetime channel hosted by supermodel Heidi Klum. Michaels came in second.
"Sorry guys," the designer said to supporters who gathered for a $100-a-plate dinner at a private home on Santa Fe's east side to watch results of the competition's finale, which was recorded last summer but kept secret until the April 25 broadcast.
Michaels' second-place finish means she won't get the $100,000 top prize to create a new line to sell at Lord & Taylor department stores. She also didn't win a fashion spread in Marie Claire magazine or a new Lexus.
Those prizes go to first-place finisher Michelle Lesniak Franklin, who some partisans considered the "mean girl" on the show.
But Michaels' 12-piece collection, inspired by trees and embellished with horse hair and handmade sterling silver sequins, created quite a stir among the celebrity judges on the panel, including famed dress designer Zach Posen, who dubbed it "techno pow-pow."
And Michaels — the first Native American to appear on the show and a season-long favorite of host Klum — has already begun to parlay the exposure into a number of lucrative and creative projects.
Michaels' longtime assistant, Amber Gunn Gauthier, said the duo already are working on a line that they'll debut at New York Fashion Week in September, aided by support from Thursday's fundraiser. Posen has asked Michaels to collaborate with him on a textile project. Her work will also be the subject of a retrospective curated by the Smithsonian. Just this week, she turned away people who wanted to take her textile-making class at the POEH Center in Pojoaque. And she's she has several other projects that are still in the secrecy stage.
Guest judge and fashion superstar Michael Kors said at the beginning of her runway show, "I was like, 'Oh my god, the art teacher is on an acid trip,' " but he later called Michaels work "fabulous" and said it "comes from her soul." Indeed, it was her unique way of expressing herself through handcrafted textiles inspired by nature that kept her in the show through the whole season and also played a part in the judges' decision to choose Franklin's collection over Michaels'.
"I don't understand who her customer is," said judge Nina Garcia, a fashion critic and fashion director at Marie Claire who has been critical of Michaels' work throughout the season and wanted to Michaels to "make it more understandable."
"They wanted New York ready-to-wear," Michaels said, "and I knew that. But what was I gonna do, be safe and go home sad?"
Michaels said she feels honored to have come as far as she did on the highly competitive program, which began with 16 contestants, and to represent her native culture on the runway. And she's glad she stayed true to her vision and didn't succumb to pressure to make her collections more commercially appealing. "As I designer, if you don't give something new for the world to see you are wasting everyone's time," she said. "As an artist you have to be bold enough to put your work out there."
"I hope I've met everybody's expectations," she said.