Project Justin: Getting by with little sleep and lots of coffee

October 30, 2013
By Bill Krueger

Justin LeBlanc was not only a finalist on Lifetime’s Project Runway reality show, he’s also been selected as the grand marshal for the Raleigh Christmas Parade. But life is beginning to settle down a bit for LeBlanc, who received a degree from the College of Design and is now an assistant professor there. We had a chance to catch up with him in his office in Leazar Hall this week in between student conferences.

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Justin LeBlanc addresses the crowd at showing of the final episode of Project Runway at the Hunt Library

How long were you in New York for the filming of Project Runway? We were there for six weeks. The filming of every episode took two to three days. When Tim [Gunn] would announce the challenge, we’d have a day to do it, but that was 10 hours, not 24 hours. We had to eat and sleep, too – they forced us to eat and sleep! I was so glad when I got home and I could cook my own food.

How much sleep did you get? About four hours a night….I would think of it more as a power nap. We were up at 5 a.m., and sometimes filming past midnight. Some days we were lucky and could sleep in a little. We had K-cup machines everywhere and we used, abused them, a lot.

What was it like having Tim Gunn to dinner at your family’s house in Raleigh? My father fixed him North Carolina barbecue. My father is an amazing cook. Tim loved it, ate all of it. After that he went to The Pit and had more barbecue.

Your collection for the finale at New York Fashion Week included accessories made with 3-D printing, earning a lot of praise from the judges. How did you come up with the idea? When Heidi [Klum] announced that three of us were going back home to design a collection – that was when I had the idea. It just came to me. I knew we had 3-D printing technology at the College of Design. It’s expensive to use, but I had a budget of $9,000…..Of course there were a lot of errors; the machine has a mind of its own.

dress2The showstopper in your collection was a white gown made with tiny pipettes. How long did it take to make that? Well, when Tim came here, he looked at it and told me I would need to bring some people in to help. So I did. It took three days with no sleep ….We had to drill holes in the top of each pipette and then sew them each onto nonslip carpet backing. Then added nail polish to make sure they wouldn’t come untied.

Do you get stopped on the street by people who recognize you? What’s that been like? When I was in Chicago three weeks ago…..a woman was driving and I was walking down the sidewalk. She backed her car up, then got out of the car while it was still running to get a picture. I was like, OK….I have learned the behavior of fans. I know the body language, I can see when someone recognizes me and they freeze up and don’t know how to approach me. Sometimes people take my picture without even asking……People should just come up to me and ask, that’s all, I love striking up a conversation with fans and seeing their insight.

You’re teaching a textiles studio class. What do you like best about teaching? I teach at the College of Design and I expect creative people. I want to know what they would like to do, what media they want to use, I like to see what story they want to tell. They constantly surprise me ….I never know what is coming next.

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LeBlanc signs autographs at the Hunt Library

How did you manage to stay clear of a lot of the drama on the show? I was alert for it. I knew everything we do is going to be on TV. I am a teacher, and I knew students would be watching ….Overall I think the producers did a good job, but at the same time, it’s a reality TV show. Something is going to happen. For me, it was about being in the right mindset.

Other than teaching, what’s next for you? I’m in the process of putting together a fall-winter 2014 collection, hoping to show it in the spring.

—Sylvia Adcock ’81

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