Jeffrey Sebelia, <EM>Project Runway</EM> Jeffrey Sebelia, Project Runway

From the first moment he appeared on the screen, Jeffrey Sebelia, the winner of Bravo's third round of Project Runway, caused a bit of a stir. His harsh criticisms of fellow designers led many to call him a Santino Rice wannabe — which should be a compliment to Jeffrey, since he's a friend of last season's runner-up — while fashion-conscious viewers either loved or hated his rock-influenced creations. But the neck-tattooed, L.A.-based designer came up with a sophisticated and innovative final collection for Olympus Fashion Week, landing himself the show's $100,000 prize. On condition of handing Bravo our firstborn child if we leaked the info early, spoke to Jeffrey before Tuesday's finale aired. Congratulations! What inspired you to go on the show in the first place?
Jeffrey Sebelia: Santino and I watched what he did on the show last season. I said if he can do it, I can do it. You already had your own line, Cosa Nostra, and have designed for such stars as Gwen Stefani and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Why did you need this competition?
Jeffrey: I started by making all this handmade, one-of-a-kind couture stuff, and in order to grow my business I wanted to make lower price-point, ready-to-wear stuff. But I was sort of pigeon-holed as a rock-and-roll designer — I found it hard to make dresses and a real women's-wear line and sell it to people — so I thought, if I go on TV and four million people see me make dresses, that's instantly going to change my image. In the competition it seemed like half the time the judges said you did too much "rock and roll," and then when you did something different, particularly with the last challenge, they said it wasn't "you."
Jeffrey: What's really funny about that is that I sort of created this sort of design arc with what I did on the show. I started with a dark palate — everything was unfinished edges for the very first challenge — and then I started finishing things cleaner, and then I started using color and prints. The first 10 pieces that I sold to this high-end boutique in Beverly Hills were beautiful, handmade dresses. That last dress is a lot like the very first stuff that I made three and a half years ago. Your final collection also seems to be very different from that stereotype.
Jeffrey: If you know me as a designer, it's not at all different from what I do. You certainly didn't shy away from criticizing everyone else during the interview segments. Did you plan on having a strong personality to get more TV time?
Jeffrey: For sure. That environment... it calls for controversy, it calls for opinions, it calls for something interesting for people to see and look at and relate to. I like the idea that with editing they create these characters who polarize the audience. The last thing anybody wants is for viewers [to be] in the middle about everyone on the show. Did you have a dispute with Angela before the challenge where you designed for her mother, Darlene?
Jeffrey: In real life, there are just people I don't have a good feeling about. I just don't talk to them. Angela would have been one of those people I wouldn't talk to if I didn't have to. Was Darlene more demanding than one of your rocker clients?
Jeffrey: No, not more demanding. The way she came at me with her demands [just four hours before the deadline] was totally unrealistic. She wasn't going to tell me she didn't like the stuff I was doing [until I confronted her]. She said, "I didn't want to hurt your feelings." How are you and Laura now after she accused you of getting outside help for your final collection?
Jeffrey: I was at Laura's house just last night! I think it's a lot of fun for these types of things to fan the fire, but if I talk about things that haven't aired yet [at the time of this interview], I'll get sued! I got the highest score in my school tailoring class and the second-highest score in my sewing class. I think there's so much of a focus on me as an edgy, unfinished, rock-and-roll designer, and what you've seen [before the finale] are 10 pieces that I've made under crazy time constraints, under the really horrible circumstances of a game-show competition. What did you think of the other finalists' collections?
Jeffrey: I was at once a little let down and surprised that all of them were predictable, maybe with the exception of Uli's. Throughout the show, my favorite thing I saw Laura make was the silk jersey wrap dress for the jet-setter challenge. That's when I saw Laura do something that I thought showed another dimension to what she does. I think she should have gone more in that direction. I think Michael did better on the show than anybody else, with those circumstances and with the direction he was given, maybe because he's so young as a designer. The difference between me and Michael is that I started on my own, and I've never worked for anyone else, so where I shine is when you say, "Here's some money, go home and make what you want to make." Where I have a hard time is when you say, "Here are the parameters, here is the time frame." What was it like to leave your girlfriend and your 18-month-old son for so long?
Jeffrey: Oh, that was hard. Especially my son. Could you talk on the phone to them?
Jeffrey: I called a couple of times, but it really was difficult for me to be away from them. I got a call the first week I was [on the show], and the main water pipe had burst in our house. The basement flooded, and we lost all the water pressure. One of our dogs attacked the other dog, and my girlfriend had to take it to the vet, and both my son and my girlfriend got the flu... all in a matter of days. Talk about feeling helpless. We've discussed the down side of being on the show so much. What was fun about it?
Jeffrey: In a weird way it was all just a thrill, including putting my reputation and my livelihood on the line. I don't like gambling at all, but somehow this was exciting to me to roll the dice. But I don't know that I would call it "fun." Do you have big plans for your prize money?
Jeffrey: I have options. There are different places it can be spent. Every option that I have, it's going to go quick. Hopefully, you can pay for that broken pipe, too.
Jeffrey: That's right! That's $15,000!

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