Making the Cut
New season of Project Runway puts Austin designer Lindsey Creel in the spotlight
Viewers looking forward to the 14th season of Lifetime's Project Runway, premiering Thursday, August 6, may have more than an attachment to the perennially loved Tim Gunn, longtime mentor and a producer of the show. Maybe it's because Austin, Texas, finally has a shot with some local talent on deck, since designers from Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio have already been featured on the show. Enter local designer Lindsey Creel. With no way of knowing how she fared, we became curious to meet her, and to find out what she's about before reality television does it for us. Essentially, the way the show works is that casting hopefuls who have made it past a rigorous application process go on to a semifinalist audition on tape, in front of a panel that usually includes Gunn. Having made it through that minefield, one may then be asked to speak on tape with the casting director. The process yields 16 designers put to the test by living, working, and taping together for as long as two months. Triumph and tragedy alternate as designers either prevail or are eliminated each week, and are punctuated by Mr. Gunn's reserved "save" of a contestant otherwise facing elimination. Winning the whole enchilada includes $100,000 to launch a business, a cruise for two, and a deal with Sally Beauty. The 2015 Lexus RC 350 and fully loaded studio with bells and whistles from Brother Sewing & Embroidery aren't shabby either, and expect to see a fashion spread for the winning designer and model in Marie Claire magazine.
I met Lindsey Creel at Epoch Coffee on a white-hot afternoon, a good backdrop for a conversation about industry and ambition and pursuing a muse. Against Kevin Garry's hand-hewn woodwork, she was crisp in a smart black linen sundress. Tall and beautiful, but completely unassuming, she offered to get a table and wait while I grabbed coffee. Made blond by nature, her wide blue-eyed gaze is framed by long black lashes that curl like palm fronds under a messy-perfect top knot – her seriousness is immediately apparent. It makes sense when she describes how she moves toward the technical in clothing design, the ideal being garments that make one feel pretty, but don't distract, and are comfortable to live in. It's not really that function follows form, but more about a democracy of the two. So patternmaking comes naturally to Creel, 28, a self-described homebody, whose immediate interest seems to focus on how things work effectively. From there she begins to riff on the themes and visual clues that have recently inspired her. Construction was definitely the focus when she interned with a milliner, which she describes as an ideal learning point. Hardly an ingenue today, Creel received a bachelor's degree from Savannah College of Art & Design before a stint with New York-based designer Rachel Comey that led to freelance production. Hers is a seriousness that spawned a small-batch women's line two years ago named M.E. Shirley, after her great-grandmother, who along with her grandmother was an accomplished seamstress. It is very much a growing business. Someday we expect to see that legacy held in brick and mortar, but until then, the line is available at Austin boutiques Sunroom (2324 S. Lamar) and Olive (1200 E. 11th). You can also see M.E. Shirley at www.meshirley.com.
When asked about the dynamics that unfurl between contestants on Project Runway, she responds with real respect for her peers: "Honestly, I was so impressed by the level of talent I saw in the others, I knew immediately this could be a sincere competition." As Creel ponders M.E. Shirley's spring 2016 line, we're sure that whatever happens on the shifting sands of reality television, she is already on very solid ground.