The Fashion That Drives You

Finding creativity among seatbelts, floor mats, headlights, and seat cushions!

Heidi instructs the designers to go to the rooftop of 142 West 31st Street. That's all that she says and bids them farewell. Once there, they find out that it's a parking garage. They ascend to the rooftop via the enormous car elevator and, once there, are presented with a lineup of five brand new Saturn Vue Hybrid vehicles.

I'm there to greet the designers and to introduce them to Chris Webb, lead color designer for Saturn, who gives them their challenge. He explains that this particular Saturn model is 85% recyclable by weight, ergo the hybrid aspect. Each car has been filled with the materials for this challenge: floor mats, seat covers, headlights, seatbelts, carburetors, air vents, and sun screens, to name many. The designers have four minutes to load as much of these materials as they can into the provided laundry bags and rolling carts. Then, we're headed back to Parsons where the designers can create any look of their choice. This challenge is about innovation using untraditional materials. Our last challenge of this nature was the first challenge, Gristedes. Frankly, the results of that challenge were hugely disappointing, so this is a second change for the designers to wow the judges with their creativity and aptitude for innovation. I know that they have it in them, but we need to see it! In the end, I'm extremely pleased and excited about their achievements. But, will the judges be?

The designers have one day for this challenge. Celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe is our guest judge. And season three finalist Laura Bennett stands in for the ailing Nina Garcia. (Thank you, Laura! Come back, too. You're a fabulous judge!) The winner will receive immunity.


Leanne WINS! This look was sensational: a strapless mini-dress made out of seat covers with a "feathered" neckline made out of fringed seatbelts. Had one not known the source of the materials, one would never have guessed that they weren't all purchased at MOOD. Leanne even incorporated the natural shape of the seat covers - rounded at the top - to create a modified pannier. When the judges remarked that her look was very "Thierry Mugler meets John Galliano," I started to bristle, because I feared that they were citing her look as being too derivative. But, they loved it and she won! Congratulations, Leanne!


Keith is OUT. His downfall? The judges pondered the lack of any semblance of the "cutting-edge designer" whom he claims to be, and they've grown tired of waiting for a demonstration of his creative and innovative potential. Furthermore, prior to the runway show, his model sat down, contrary to his instructions, and split the skirt, and he didn't have enough seam allowance to compensate for it. Consequently, the skirt's fit was horrendous. So, Keith presented basic items and silhouettes with a seriously poor fit. Yes, that's troublesome, but he was pitted against Lethah Stella for Heidi's "Auf Weidersehen," and her look was completely incomprehensible. (Oh, shut up, Tim.) In any case, I'm sick about losing Keith. Most of us will miss him very much.


Blayne created a dress using vertical lengths of taupe seatbelts. That structural arrangement and the construction it required - overlapping and sewing each seatbelt to another - increased both volume and textile rigidity, which fight against fit. In addition, the skirt of the dress cascaded in deliberately uneven lengths, which, frankly, looked sloppy. Blayne's challenge was to give the dress some shape and some elegance of proportion. He didn't (and maybe couldn't). So, with sloppiness and horrendous fit looming large, he's very lucky that the judges moved on and left him relatively unscathed.


Jerell designed a stunning look using the faux suede reverse side of the seat cushion for a strapless top and resin moldings and dashboard parts for trim. A black miniskirt was fashioned out of alternating matte and shiny textiles. It was sexy, sophisticated, and, I repeat, stunning. Furthermore, the judges called it out for being one of the top three looks.


Joe was definitely in his comfort zone, since he lives in Motor City (Detroit) and designs for Schott. These materials didn't unnerve him! He created an adorable Motocross (by virtue of his use of the Saturn logo) mini-dress using red and black seat cushions and taupe seatbelt insets between the seat cushion pieces. It was a Saturn Vue Hybrid jigsaw puzzle, of sorts, and it was a marvelous success.


Kenley used the off-white reverse side of a silver sunscreen to create a skirt to which she added an air filter peplum on which she "Sharpied" a mini zebra print. She paired this with a strapless top out of black seat cushions. Midway through this challenge, Kenley was delivered a "make it work" moment: Her model Shannone dropped out, so we brought back the last model eliminated, Germaine, who's a size larger than Shannone. The skirt and the top were both too small, which sent Kenley into a nosedive. In the Project Runway spirit, she rallied and conquered. Her look was sexy, fun, and show-worthy.


Korto wowed everyone and was close to stealing the win from Leanne. Undaunted, she wove dozens and dozens of taupe seatbelts to create a swing coat that was an homage to the mod 1960s of Courreges. This was no easy feat, and to be able to manipulate the belts in such a manner that they would drape with ease was a serious exercise understanding the grain lines of the textile (Blayne's problem). The result was spectacular! Rachel Zoe even declared that she wanted the coat for herself.


Stella, oh Stella. Why does she choose this second chance to tackle innovation (remember her black garbage bag dress?) to wave bye-bye to her comfort zone, I ask rhetorically. "I don't do skirts," she declared to me. Then why are you doing one, now? It was a tiered A-line mini (are there such things?) made out of seatbelts. OK. But why are you pairing a shiny, taupe skirt that could be considered quasi-elegant (but lackluster) with a leather biker vest? It was incoherent. There was no cohesion. Neither I nor the judges understood anything about it. So, why is it that Keith went home, I ask rhetorically, again.


Suede fully embraced this challenge, but he ran the risk of over-designing everything. When I made my first rounds in the workroom, he was attempting to force myriad pieces of broken mirrors (from side-view mirrors) inside black plastic dashboard templates. This exercise in pietre dure (elaborate mosaics) was entirely too ambitious for the timeframe and it was distracting him from getting the core of his design finished. "Suede's in trouble" indeed. Wisely, he put that work aside and created an off-the-shoulder top using a draped black rubber floor mat and a flapper-esque mini out of a silver sunscreen. Whew!


Terri's look was stunning, too: quilted pants in black and gray and a black top, all made from seat cushions, with the exception of the cargo netting neckline. And, she was the only designer to create pants. (I know that viewers are saying that that's all that she does, but she does it superbly well, so why not?!) The only reason that she wasn't among the top three is because there was so much great work resulting from this challenge. Bravo, Terri!

Leanne Speaks!

May we present season 5 winner of Project Runway- Leanne Marshall! How did you feel when you won?
I was just in shock for a good couple of minutes after Heidi called my name. I was exhausted and exhilarated. It was the most amazing moment of my life. Were you shocked by the result?
I was shocked. It was a big shock. I had hoped and I had my fingers crossed but it had been a long week and I was really sleep deprived so I didn't know. What are you going to do with the money?
Going straight to the horse races... No, I'm actually going to re-locate to New York to further develop my clothing line. I'm actually going to hire some people to help me and hopefully show at fashion week again. What did you think of the criticism the judges had for you?
I definitely would have had a lot more variety. I just always had in my mind, throughout doing the collection, to keep it really cohesive. Creating it I had so many different ideas and I started to go off on tangents so I was thinking that I can't do too many things with such a small collection, I had to keep it cohesive. What did you think of the other collections?
I think Korto showed a really strong collection. I loved her colors and she makes great clothes for women. I think Kenley had some surprising pieces that looked really great on the runway. I definitely liked certain elements of Jerell's collection, the drama and the sparkle. It's very Jerell. Joe surprised me too. It was really well made. And Suede also did a really good job. Are you prepared for your life to totally change as of tomorrow?
I'm not. After finding out and coming back I've been living my life normally as if nothing ever happened. Yes, it's going to be crazy and I'm really excited about it all. How did you keep the secret?
I threatened to break anyone's arms who spilled. No... My family, my boyfriend, everyone was as strict as making sure that they don't say anything as I was. It's a great surprise and we want everyone to be surprised in the end. And I don't want to ruin it for anyone. You're only the second female to win Project Runway. How do you feel about that as a female designer?
It's awesome. It's really exciting. I think there are a lot of strong female designers out there. It just so happens that a lot of the Project Runway winners are male. It's definitely about time. Have you kept in touch which any of the other contestants?
I have been in touch with Korto and Jerrell. Also, Blayne every now and then. I definitely would love to keep in touch with them for a long time. Where can we buy your clothing?
Go to my website,, and I also link to my Etsy page where I sell things online. Two shops in Portland, Oregon, Seaplane and Foundation Garments. And I just got a ton of requests so hopefully everywhere soon! Any final words for your fans?
I'm just so touched and thank you for supporting me, coming up and saying hi and all that. I love it and I'm so appreciative of all of it. It kept me going and propelled when I was creating my collection. It's hard putting your self out there but one of the rewards is having [great fans.]