NC State’s Justin LeBlanc, an assistant professor at the College of Design, was one of two faculty advisors at the popular student-run Art2Wear fashion show in April, taking care of logistics that included coming up with a tent design and making sure the runway was placed correctly.
But LeBlanc is about to hit another runway — and in this one, he’ll appear on a national stage. LeBlanc is one of 16 contestants chosen to appear on this season’s Project Runway, the Lifetime reality show that pits up-and-coming fashion designers against one another in a series of challenges. Contestants are eliminated as the show progresses, and the winner gets prizes valued at $500,000 and a showing at New York’s Fashion Week in Lincoln Center.
For now, LeBlanc’s family and friends have had no contact with him for weeks and even his mother isn’t sure when he will return to Raleigh. “I’m a lawyer and I’m used to being able to control everything around me, but I can’t control this,” Kathy Edwards, LeBlanc’s mother says. LeBlanc’s father, Gerald LeBlanc, is head of the Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology at NC State.
“They keep it very hush-hush,” says Katherine Diuguid, an assistant professor at the College of Design who was the other faculty co-adviser for Art2Wear. “No one has heard from him, and I believe they confiscate ipads, iphones — you cannot have contact with anyone other than Project Runway.”
LeBlanc, who is deaf, grew up in Raleigh and received two degrees from NC State: one in architecture in 2008 and another in art and design in 2009. On his website he writes that growing up deaf has helped him develop artistically. “Throughout my life, I’ve lived in an altered state of mind,” he writes. “I was born deaf and have relied throughout my life on artificial means to provide some semblance of sound. The lack of natural hearing heightened my other senses resulting in a perception of the world that differs from that of a hearing person.’’
Diuguid says she believes that LeBlanc, a former Caldwell Fellow at NC State, has an excellent shot at winning the top prize. His architecture background gave him a strong sense of geometry, form and perspective. And he is incredibly creative with fabric, she says. “Texture is very important to Justin,” she says. “Anytime you see him, he’s got something in his hands and he’s working on it. One day he had a piece of wool, and he had rubber-banded pennies all around it. Then he boiled it so it shrank down and created this amazing coral-reef like texture.”
That sort of creativity will likely serve him well in the Project Runway forum, where contestants face different design challenges each week. “It could be Heidi Klum on the red carpet — or going to a hardware store making a dress out of washers.’’ Diuguid says.
Edwards says she and her husband recently watched an episode of the show from a previous season in which the contestants were awakened at 4 a.m., sent to a workroom and told to change clothes. They were then asked to design a garment from whatever they had been wearing to sleep in.
“I looked at my husband and said, ‘I can’t believe we let him do this,’’’ Edwards says, “and my husband said, ‘I don’t think it was our choice.’’’
Edwards will have to wait to see how far her son makes it on the show, which may be in the process of taping now. In the meantime, she’d like fans to go on the Project Runway website and “like” the Facebook icon next to LeBlanc’s picture.
And LeBlanc gave a shout-out to NC State on the question-and-answer section of the Project Runway site when he was asked about his occupation, including “Go Wolfpack!” in his answer.
–Sylvia Adcock ’81