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'Project Runway' designer shows students how to 'make it work'

December 10, 2008


Photo by Deb Jacques

Troy-based fashion designer Joe Faris visited Berkshire Middle School’s fashion engineering class Dec. 5 to talk about his experience on the fifth season of “Project Runway.”Faris brought with him a tank top made from an oven mitt and a skirt made from fusilli pasta and muslin that he created when challenged to use innovative materials from a grocery store in the first episode of

“Project Runway.”

BIRMINGHAM — Thousands of metro Detroiters tuned in weekly to watch Troy-based fashion designer Joe Faris battle it out on the runway with 15 of the nation’s top designers in the fifth season of “Project Runway.”

They cheered him on when he won the drag queen costume challenge, their hearts filled with pride when his “Americana” themed collection made it down the runway during New York Fashion Week, and they couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed when he eventually got “Auf’d” by host and supermodel Heidi Klum in episode 10.

Although the popular Bravo reality TV series is behind him, Faris is still on the go, splitting his time between his Troy home and his New York City office, where he works as a senior designer for Schott N.Y.C.

The married father of two young girls took time out of his busy schedule to share some insight with the fashion-engineering class at Berkshire Middle School.

The class, which is open to all seventh- and eighth-grade students through the Skills For Living department, teaches students about fashion, style, body image, patterns, fabrics and clothing construction.

Throughout the course, students use their decision-making and problem-solving skills as they look at clothing designs, fabric choices and garment construction. They sketch their own designs, invent styles using Patternmaster software, use a computer assisted drafting program to create patterns, and complete four sewing projects.

At the end of the semester, fashion-engineering students put on their own fashion show to showcase their designs for the whole school. In the spring, students are given the chance to take a field trip to New York to explore the fashion world.

Looking out into the sea of young fashion hopefuls, Faris reminisced about his middle school years.

“In seventh- and eighth-grade, I was actually kind of buying clothes and changing them and putting buttons on them. My mom would buy me a shirt for school and I would be like, ‘Well, that’s great, but I’m going to look like everyone else. What can I do to it?’ I had no idea what I was doing, but I would sew buttons or straps and cut things off or add stuff,” he said.

Faris’ love for fashion only grew deeper as he took on his first job, unloading designer Italian clothing from cardboard boxes in the Gucci stock room at Somerset Collection.

“When I opened them up, it was like a ray of light would come out of the box,” he said.

Wearing Giorgio Armani and Gucci clothing as a freshman and sophomore, Faris said, he felt a bit out of place, but he didn’t let that get in the way of his dream to go into fashion.

He encouraged Berkshire students to do the same.

“Whatever your dreams are, no matter how crazy, just follow them and don’t let anyone tell you no. Keep that fire and that passion in you,” he said.

For Berkshire fashion-engineering student Lizzie Goldman, 12, the opportunity to meet a “Project Runway” designer was a dream come true. “I was shocked when I found out he was coming here,” she said.

Goldman, who hopes to pursue a career in fashion design, said she liked the gowns and dresses Faris designed on the show.

“They just wowed you. You would definitely make an entrance at a party,” she said.

Sebastiana Gullo, 12, also a fan of “Project Runway,” said she was thrilled to meet Faris.

“I was really excited because I’ve never really met anyone off of a TV show,” she said.

About the author

Staff Writer Mary Beth Almond covers the city of Rochester, Rochester Community Schools and Avondale Schools for the Post. Almond has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2005 and attended Michigan State University.


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