Project Runway Comes to MOWA

By: Alicia Nieto with Co-Writer Gretel Galvin-Darnieder

Just in time for the premiere of Project Runway‘s 16th Season, the Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA) continued it’s ‘Summer of Fashion’ with a Project Runway Panel featuring contestants of past seasons each with ties to Wisconsin. The engaging panel included Miranda Levy-Adler (Season 12) of Miranda Kay Levy Fashion Design, Linda Breshears Marcus (Season 15) of Linda Marcus Design and Katelyn Pankoke (Seasons 11 & 12 + All-Stars Season 4) of Elaya Vaughn. Peach Carr (Season 8 + All-Stars Season 2) of Peach Carr Designs was scheduled to attend but an unforeseen conflict prevented her from attending the event. Nonetheless, the discussion panel led to be very informative and insightful. Following a lovely introduction of MOWA’s ‘A State of Fashion’ from the Executive Director and CEO, Laurie Winters, the panel opened to questions from the audience.

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Project Runway Panel (Left to Right): Linda Breshears Marcus, Miranda Levy-Adler, Katelyn Pankoke, Photo: Alicia Nieto for ‘I Live in a Magazine’

To begin the discussion the designers were asked, “How has this experience been transformational for you?” Linda Marcus, who later on the panel talks about being “typecast as the mom”, told the crowd of how she is a “self-taught” designer. With a background in journalistic writing, it was later in life that she discovered her interest in fashion design. “I believe women have multiple careers in their lives”, Marcus stated. While pursuing her design career, she learned to keep pushing herself and to learn on the way. No matter the episode of which she “got out” on the show, she proudly shared this; “My kids were so inspired that I would take that risk, that it inspired them to take risks.”

Miranda Levy-Adler told the group of her hometown of Wilton, Wisconsin, population 500. Early on she was told her thought of becoming a fashion designer was just a “pipe dream”. Despite this, Levy-Adler, after serving in the United States Army, followed her dream and studied fashion design and landed herself a spot on Project Runway. After the season aired, she returned to her small hometown where she was honored in a town parade. She told the panel’s audience that her hope was to inspire children who were just like her, and “allow them to dream.”

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Project Runway Panel (Left to Right): Linda Breshears Marcus, Miranda Levy-Adler, Katelyn Pankoke, Photo: Alicia Nieto for ‘I Live in a Magazine’

Katelyn Pankoke credits her Project Runway experience for “learning to design just for me. It helped boil me down to the purest form of myself.” While gaining confidence in herself and her design work, Pankoke also shared on the subject of her fellow contestants talent, saying she “learned just how much people are capable of.”

When the question of casting came up, all three designers identified with the concept of being typecast. Levy-Adler, who tried out three years in a row, learned that she had to tell a story, including more about her life and personality. With that, we learned that she was the first person from the military who ever auditioned for the show. With that though, came type casting she explained, “I was typecast. Producers were trying to push me in a certain direction.” This included the show’s agenda to falsely portray her as anti-gay, simply because of her military background.

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Project Runway Panel (Left to Right): Linda Breshears Marcus, Miranda Levy-Adler, Katelyn Pankoke, Photo: Alicia Nieto for ‘I Live in a Magazine’

Pankoke related to the idea of Project Runway having an agenda. At first she was turned away from auditions because she was too young. Following that experience, the year prior to becoming a contesting designer on the show, her chances were high as she remained hopeful until she received a phone call where she was told to “audition again next year. We already have the young one.” After being cast the following year she explained that the show “tried to make me the mean girl.” When dealing with the producers questioning during their taped ‘confessional’ time, Pankoke said, “You learn what to say and what not to say.”

Marcus, who earlier in the panel mentioned being typecast as “the mom”, says she “didn’t live up to what they [the show and it’s producers] thought. They would say so and so doesn’t like your designs and thinks you’re too old and the producers wanted a reaction from me.” These taped portions of the show were called ‘Sunday Pick-Ups’, where the designers would spend long hours being interviewed on camera by the producers. Off camera, Pankoke comedically recalls “singing entire musicals and then sometimes doing yoga” to pass the time, as they were not allowed access to television or telephones. The ‘Pick-Ups’ were arranged around a grueling schedule of back to back work days, which added up to a total of six weeks of filming.

Eager to learn more on the topic of what goes on behind the scenes, the audience wanted to hear more about the judges and in particular the show’s mentor, Tim Gunn. Marcus stated that, “Tim Gunn is exactly as nice as can possibly be.” The crowd was told that off camera, Gunn argued for two hours to keep Marcus from being eliminated from the show. This is an example of the Tim Gunn America has come to know and love. Marcus also opened up about the judges, saying, “Heidi Klum is just as beautiful in person. She was the only judge who cared to interact with us and joke around, while the rest of the judges were like what you see on TV.”

When it came to the sad moment of hearing Klum’s famous line, “Auf Wiedersehen” that ended a designer’s time on the show, the panel told of the experience of no longer being a contestant. They shared that after being kick off the show, you are still taken to Mood Fabrics, where you are not allowed to talk or be noticed (footage was used for upcoming previews). The losing contestants are then moved to a different apartment, where it felt like “purgatory” according to Pankoke. Unlike life prior to being “kicked off” the show, it was noticeable to the designers when the show’s producers no longer would shout “designer on deck!” when in their midst.

After their seasons of Project Runway concluded, the designers continued on with their craft, crediting some of their success to their exposure on the show. Pankoke is now the Creative Director of Elaya Vaughn, a luxury evening and bridal design line. Marcus is the name and designer behind Linda Marcus Designs, with a focus on high-end, handmade handbags. Levy-Adler, in addition to Miranda Kay Levy Fashion Design is the Director of Cultural Relations at MOWA.

Along with pieces from each designer on display, MOWA’s ‘A State of Fashion’  also included exhibits such as The Roddis Collection which included exquisite couture gowns, dresses and accessories from decades past. An additional exhibit, Florence Eiseman: Designing Childhood for the American Century has been extended through October 8th, 2017. Click here for more information on current and upcoming exhibits at the Museum of Wisconsin Art.

Read more from ‘I Live in a Magazine’ on MOWA’s start to their fashionable season here and view our photo gallery below capturing our latest experience of ‘A State of Fashion’.

Article: Alicia Nieto with Co-Writer Gretel Galvin-Darnieder for ‘I Live in a Magazine’

Photos: Alicia Nieto for ‘I Live in a Magazine’

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Designs: Katelyn Pankoke, Photo: Alicia Nieto for ‘I Live in a Magazine’
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Designs: Linda Breshears Marcus, Photo: Alicia Nieto for ‘I Live in a Magazine’
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Designs: Miranda Levy-Adler, Photo: Alicia Nieto for ‘I Live in a Magazine
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Designs: Miranda Levy-Adler, Photo: Alicia Nieto for ‘I Live in a Magazine’
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Designs: Peach Carr, Photo: Alicia Nieto for ‘I Live in a Magazine’
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Design: Shannon Molter Photo: Alicia Nieto for ‘I Live in a Magazine’
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Designs: Shannon Molter Photo: Alicia Nieto for ‘I Live in a Magazine’
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Garment Design: Lynne Dixon-Speller, Hand-blown Glass: Douglas Sigwarth and Renee Newgaard Sigwarth, Interconnection, 2012, Gift of the James and Karen Hyde Foundation, Inc., Museum of Wisconsin Art 2013-73, Photo: Alicia Nieto for ‘I Live in a Magazine’

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Alicia Nieto

i love to play dress up, i'm a photographer and blogger, i live in a magazine, and i love my cat.

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