Who would think of using 3-D printing in a fashion contest? NC State’s Justin LeBlanc did, and on last night’s episode of Project Runway his innovative accessories helped earn him a spot in the show’s finale.
LeBlanc, an assistant professor in the College of Design, and two other contestants were given six weeks to design a 10-piece collection. Working with a palette of mostly gray and white, LeBlanc created a series of garments accentuated by belts and neckpieces in the shape of concentric circles — think sound waves.
LeBlanc is deaf and did not receive a cochlear implant until he was 18, meaning that until then his world was total silence. At first, hearing sound felt like an intrusion and he didn’t like it, but he has now come to terms with using a hearing aid. His collection was designed to represent that transition.
“This tells my story, the transition from a deaf person to a person who could hear,” he told the judges.
The first piece he showed was white unstructured pants and a sleeveless top that had the look of a long sleeveless vest with and a “sound wave” neckpiece, a look that LeBlanc said represented silence.
The second was a gray knee-length dress with white paint spattered near the hem, representing when he first began to hear. “I hated it,” he told the judges about that phase in his life.
“And that brings me to the last look,” he said, adding that he is now at peace. His model wore a totally white gown made with hundreds of tiny test tubes to satisfy the requirement of using an unconventional material in at least one garment.
Although the episode had the usual reality-show drama to keep viewers guessing, there were indications early on that LeBlanc might go all the way. When the show’s mentor Tim Gunn visited Raleigh, he didn’t hold anything back.
Gunn was impressed with the use of 3-D printing to create the accessories that unified the collection. Gunn had dinner with LeBlanc’s family, and the segment featured a shot of an NC State banner and a sign that said, “The Pack Backs Justin.”
Live-tweeting during the broadcast, LeBlanc returned the love with a “Go Wolfpack.”
Next week, we’ll see him compete with the other three designers chosen for the finale on the runway at New York Fashion Week. (Yes, Fashion Week was in September, but that’s how reality shows work.)
LeBlanc was emotional after the judges picked him for the finale. “This is a shock,” he said. “A dream come true.”
— Sylvia Adcock ’81