Reality competition shows offer their contestants fame and fortune if they can make it to the end and come out victorious. But do the judges always get it right?
Look at Project Runway, for example. A lot of the design show’s most successful alums didn’t even win their season!
For this article, we’re looking at seven Project Runway designers who made it big after their time on the show, whether or not they actually came out on top at the end.
An all-time fan favorite, Mondo Guerra achieved Project Runway fame as a runner-up on Season 8 and as the very first winner of the spinoff Project Runway All Stars. He stole viewer’s hearts with his heart-wrenching confession that he had been hiding his HIV-positive status from his friends and family, revealing on the runway that the custom textile he’d made, which was emblazoned with plus signs, was really his way of revealing this secret about his identity.
Fans (and Tim Gunn himself) were outraged that Guerra lost to Season 8 winner Gretchen Jones, but Guerra has arguably achieved more success in the fashion industry than Jones. Post-Project Runway, he’s designed many looks for drag queens, with his work having appeared on several episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race, including the Season 10 finale.
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In addition to his successes in the design world, Guerra has also become a spokesperson for Project I Design and Dining Out for Life, two national HIV awareness campaigns.
Though Austin Scarlett didn’t win Season 1 of Project Runway, he did get his own spinoff series, which was called On the Road With Austin and Santino where he and Season 2 designer Santino Rice traveled the country making couture looks with local supplies. Needless to say, Scarlett’s personality on the show was a hit with fans.
Scarlett remains a successful bridal designer, with his gowns even being seen on TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress. He has also designed costumes for Broadway, the Juilliard ballet, and Shen Wei Dance Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts.
Scarlett still sells ready-to-wear garments at Neiman Marcus stores across the country.
A finalist from Season 14, Candice Cuoco became known for her edgy looks and utilization of black and leather. She’s shown her designs at New York, Paris, London, and Los Angeles Fashion Weeks, and has dressed a number of celebrities, including Nicki Minaj and Kat Von D. Her most famous celebrity look, however, is probably her 2020 custom look for Lady Gaga’s acceptance of the Tri-Con VMA lifetime achievement award.
In another collab with Gaga, Cuoco created some of the custom pieces worn in the singer’s “Stupid Love” music video. She might not have won Project Runway, but she definitely won over the Little Monsters’ hearts with the heart-shaped nipple pasties Gaga wore in the video.
Unlike many of the others on this list, Season 5 contestant Leanne Marshall actually won her season of the massively popular design competition. The self-described “ethereal” designer swayed the judges with her Mercedes Benz Fashion Week collection of turquoise, ivory, and sand-colored pieces. In the years since, she’s dressed a number of big name celebs including Ariana Grande, Solange, Julianne Hough, and Jane Fonda.
For the past ten years, Marshall has been working as a successful bridal wear designer. However, in May of 2022 she announced on her website that she planned on leaving the bridal industry to launch an inclusive ready to wear line that will debut in 2023. We can’t wait to see it!
Another Project Runway winner, Irina Shabayeva came out on top during Season 6 of the series, becoming known for her luxurious coat and outerwear designs. Shortly after winning the title, Shabayeva designed well-known looks for Selena Gomez (her butterfly dress at the People’s Choice Awards) and Carrie Underwood (the ombre-gray look seen on the cover of Underwood’s album Blown Away.
Shabayeva still sells “made to measure” bridal couture on her official website. She’s also currently the creative director for Maison MJZ, a French couture brand, and works as a stylist for celebrities.
Despite not being popular among his fellow Season 8 contestants, Michael Costello has turned into one of the most prolific designers from Project Runway.
In the past, Costello has dressed Cardi B, Lady Gaga, the Kardashian/Jenners family, and Meghan Trainor, but he’s arguably most well known for his work dressing Beyoncé. Costello has created Bey’s looks for a number of events and performances, including her On The Run tour as well as her The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour.
It’s hard to argue that anyone other than Christian Siriano could be Project Runway’s most successful alum. The designer is the youngest winner of all time, and since his win in 2007 he’s gone on to create looks for some of the most prestigious events in fashion.
A member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Siriano’s collections have been sold at Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, and Puma. He’s dressed Michelle Obama, Kim Kardashian and Taylor Swift (among MANY others), most recently dressing Wednesday star Jenna Ortega for an appearance in Bello Magazine:
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Okay, so Project Runway’s most successful designer did win their season—but I still think it’s cool that anyone who’s really talented has the chance to become successful afterwards, even without having won the competition!
Episodes of Project Runway and Project Runway All Stars are available to stream with a Hulu subscription. You can also watch episodes of both series on the Lifetime app in between streaming Christmas movies.
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She/her. Lover of female-led comedies, Saturday Night Live, and THAT scene in Fleabag. Will probably get up halfway through the movie to add more butter to the popcorn.