Season 1 (2004-05): Jay McCarroll
Still our favorite Project Runway contestant of all time, Jay McCarroll is also famously, stubbornly independent. He refused the series’s $100,000 award and Banana Republic mentorship (like they’d have anything to teach him!) because accepting them would have forced him to tithe his earnings to the show’s production company. Still, he was able to get on his feet without the startup capital, despite some tough times and a whole lot of New York couch surfing. A short documentary, “Eleven Minutes,” chronicles his path to his first post-Runway New York Fashion Week show.
These days, McCarroll lives in Philadelphia and teaches classes at a local shop called Spool Sewing. The designer has also created a covet-worthy line of fabrics called Habitat, the latest in a series of textile collections McCarroll has done for FreeSpiritFabrics. In 2008, he launched a line for QVC (although his clothing doesn’t seem to be for sale there now). He now presides over The Colony, an online boutique that sells McCarroll’s and other designers’ clothing, accessories, and fabrics at surprisingly reasonable prices. Just as they were on Runway, the colors are bright and the prints fun. McCarroll also has a blog, where he seems to pop in from time to time, although most posts appear to be purely promotional. Next month, he’ll show his Spring/Summer 2011 collection at Islands of the World Fashion Week. Oh, and in case you haven’t been watching VH1, you may be interested to know that McCarroll won Celebrity Fit Club back in April and is skinny now.
Season 2 (2005-06): Chloe Dao
Remember Chloe? She’s the one who made the big, weird ’80s prom dresses that somehow beat the much better clothing her competitors, Daniel Vosovic and Santino Rice, created. Unlike McCarroll, she took the prize money and Banana Republic mentorship.
Dao still operates Lot 8, the same Houston boutique she’s owned since 2000, which stocks her Dao Chloe Dao collection. She also makes bags for Nuo and a line of sportswear for QVC. In 2007, her designs were featured in Exit Saigon, Enter Little Saigon, a Smithsonian exhibit on Vietnamese immigrants. Earlier this month, Dao showed at Houston Fashion Week for an audience that included George H.W. and Barbara Bush.
Season 3 (2006): Jeffrey Sebalia
Best known for his punk-influenced design aesthetic and elaborate neck tattoo, Sebalia was the bad boy (and often the scapegoat) on the third season of Project Runway. While his behavior sometimes pissed us off, we still daydream about that gorgeous, green zipper dress.
A few years after winning Runway, Sebalia left Costa Nostra and its sister company Good Vig, both of which he founded. He is currently the head designer for Fluxus, which prides itself on breaking “away from tradition and encourages the advancement of self-expression through fashion.” In a review this March, the LA Times praised his fall 2010 collection, writing, “Sebelia didn’t disappoint the contemporary buyers, giving them top notch looks in the stated key trends — a shirred cotton jersey jumpsuit and a romantic belted poet blouse worn with a miniskirt over print leggings.” The clothes, which you can buy at the Fluxus website, are fairly affordable and pretty cute, if a bit tamer than what we saw on Runway. Jeffrey also has a band called Sing Orpheus, formed in 2008. You can listen to and download some of their music at their MySpace page.
Season 4 (2007-08): Christian Siriano
Perhaps the loudest, most flamboyant designer in Project Runway history (and believe us, he’s got stiff competition), Siriano was the design wunderkind who brought us gorgeously sculpted dresses and annoying catchphrases like “fierce,” “tranny,” and “hot mess.” Only 22 years old at the time, he was the show’s youngest winner and may be its biggest success to date.
After his victory, Siriano didn’t waste any time getting his work out there. In 2008, he made clothing for Puma and (as part of his Runway prize) Bluefly and designed “virtual promwear” for teen “hangout” site Gaia Online. By September, he was back at New York Fashion Week, where he’s continued to show in many subsequent seasons. You can buy his very expensive clothing and jewelry at his website. Clearly, Siriano doesn’t fear overexposure, because he’s also done a maternity line called (what else?) Fierce Mamas and a shoe and purse line for Payless, created Christian Siriano-brand makeup for Victoria’s Secret, and even partnered with LG on a phone. Now, he’s also a published author — his book, titled (sigh) Fierce Style: How to Become Your Most Fabulous Self came out around a year ago. In January, Christina Hendricks wore one his gowns to the Golden Globes, prompting Cathy Horyn to call her fat. And this spring, he showed up on Bravo again for Christian Siriano: Having a Moment, a one-hour special about his life and career post-Runway. Just a few weeks ago, he appeared as a guest judge on Season 8, and Siriano recently announced plans to expand his Payless line.
Season 5 (2008): Leanne Marshall
Young, quiet, and even a little bit nerdy, Leanne Marshall was one of the rare Project Runway contestants we could actually imagine hanging out with. Her smart, clean, architectural designs won our hearts — and the show.
Although she’s been much quieter than Siriano since her victory, Marshall has also done well for herself. Her Runway-related green line debuted on Bluefly in 2009, and she’s shown several collections at New York Fashion Week. (Watch a video of her Spring 2010 show here.) Although she sells her Leanimal line on Etsy, don’t expect bargain prices: the clothing is beautiful, but it’ll run you $200-1700. A big part of Marshall’s business is custom bridal gowns. She also has a cute blog.
Season 6 (2009): Irina Shabayeva
On a season that really offered no better option — tellingly, the first after the show’s move to Lifetime — Shabayeva won what amounted to the most boring Project Runway finale of all time. Honestly, Season 6 was so bad we had almost blocked it out.
We tracked down these photos from her Fall 2010 show, which show at New York Fashion Week, featured enough fur and feathers to outfit an entire jungle for generations — and was also some kind of collaboration with Tupperware. She currently has an active Facebook page, where you can keep up to date with her eponymous clothing line. There, she has posted this wet T-shirt contest of a promo video for her Spring 2011 collection, which hit the New York runway last month.