Project Runway Winner Sebastian Grey On Fulfilling the American Dream
Just a few weeks ago, Colombian-born Sebastian Grey became the winner of Project Runway Season 17, featuring a new host (Karlie Kloss), judges (Brandon Maxwell, as well as the return of Nina Garcia), and TV network (Bravo). Grey grew up working in his family’s leather business, developing a strong skill set and attention to detail in order to cater to customers’ needs and keep up with the trends. After attending The Academy of Professional Drawing in Colombia with a major in Fashion Design, he received a scholarship to Istituto Marangoni in Miami, Florida, where he continued to develop his voice as a designer. Throughout the 2000s, Grey’s work started to get recognized, as it was featured on Colombia’s National News Channel, RCN, and in numerous university textbooks throughout Europe. In 2018, he commenced one of his most ambitious yet relevant collections to date under the “SEBASTIAN” brand, “The Immaculate Virgins of Reality,” inspired by strong women within eastern culture. The process allowed him to further his vision that ultimately served as the key to winning Project Runway in 2019: to produce innovative pieces with expert craftsmanship, unconventional yet refreshing construction tactics, and an astute eye for detail. Coming off of his win, Grey is on a career high; in an exclusive interview, he looks back on the people and experiences that got him to where he is now:
When did you first develop your passion for fashion? Why was it so special to you?
While attending a ballet performance with my parents, I was captivated by the choreography and outfits--I immediately knew that was what I wanted to do. In the late 90s, I attended Incolballet, a fine arts school two hours from my hometown. The schedule was grueling, but it taught me to be expressive and creative with my body. The main takeaway from my time there was the strict discipline I was taught. This discipline created the mindset that I need to do whatever it takes to accomplish a goal. While rehearsing and preparing for school performances, I began paying close attention to the details of the outfits being constructed and the meticulous nature of the detail being completed by the designers. When I saw the outfits come alive and the stories told through expressionism, I knew where my next steps would take me.
How would you describe the style of your designs?
Sexy, strong, and educated.
Why did you decide to audition for Project Runway?
It’s a funny story. My husband pushed me to apply for Season 16, but I kept putting it off with negative self-talk, and the time eventually lapsed. Over the next year, I was pretty depressed. Every time [my husband] Matthew and I would watch fashion documentaries on Netflix, it would only upset me more and make me wish I had the same opportunities. When we found out Season 17 was open for casting auditions, Matthew began encouraging me again. I started having a lot of negative self-talk again. I told myself that my English wasn’t good enough or my clothes wouldn’t be as good as the ones people make on the show. Matthew and I would get into these innocent arguments until he sat me down to complete the 145-question application. After four failed attempts at submitting the application online, I finally submitted and waited anxiously.
What was your favorite part about being a contestant?
I loved meeting and working with 15 other wonderful and talented contestants. This was not a cutthroat season. We embraced each other, helped each other, and kept the drama out of the workroom. Honestly, we were a big family. Yes, there were moments when people may have gotten angry or rolled their eyes at each other, but we genuinely had great camaraderie in the group. My other favorite part was how much the show taught me about myself. It pushed me as a designer by making me think outside the box and collaborate with other designers. Receiving criticism from the judges and fellow contestants gave me the drive to do better--I never took what they said negatively.
What was the hardest part about being a contestant?
The hardest part about being a contestant was telling a story. My thought process was always, “People don’t buy stories, they just buy nice clothes.” Typically, concepts just come in my mind and my hands start moving; when I was asked about my inspiration, I didn’t know. The show helped me look inside my soul and develop stories with feelings and memories. That made designing much more passionate and it was reflected through the sophistication of my garments.
Which was your favorite challenge on the show and why?
The “Real Women of NYC” challenge was extremely special. I had a young woman who worked for the NYC Sanitation Department. She wanted a retro, 50s-inspired, pink, sparkly, princess dress. I mean, wow! This was a big ask, but it was all about listening to the client and incorporating those elements into a gown that she would be happy with. She ended up loving it! She came down the runway, twirled, and flashed a big smile. She looked like a million dollars, and better yet, she felt like a million dollars. I ended up getting a “thank you” letter from her [after the show], and she was hoping to wear it to her engagement party after her fiancé asked her to marry him.
What was the best piece of advice you received from the panel of judges?
To follow my dreams, work hard, and stay focused. I came to this country knowing it would be difficult. Nina’s extremely moving speech to me on the last episode about living the American Dream continues to ring in my ears. I only hope I can carry this advice and continue to spread ripples in the Latin community.
Who/what inspired your final collection?
In preparing for my final collection, I would often tell Matthew about trips with my family throughout Colombia and our deep-rooted heritage. I titled my collection “Reminiscence” based on my father’s legacy as a leather craftsman, our trips across Colombia, and our past rich in weaving techniques as we constructed baskets.
What obstacles did you face in creating your final collection?
The biggest challenge I faced was the intricate handling and construction of the leather-weaved garments. I spent lots of hours and days putting those together and making sure they looked perfectly positioned on the body.
What was going through your mind when you found out you won?
Everything went quiet. I felt like I died for two seconds. Everything was running through my head. I felt proud. I couldn’t believe the hard work paid off. I wanted to make my family and friends proud of me, and I was happy I accomplished that. I just wanted the right people to notice my efforts and hard work.
What are your future plans?
I’m really excited about the upcoming mentorship with the CFDA. Right now, I’m building a business plan, strategizing a new line, freshening up my web page, and consulting with some really great people educated on fashion to help me grow the “Sebastian Grey” brand.
This or That:
Leather or chiffon? Both.
Dress or jumpsuit? Jumpsuit.
Sandals or booties? Neither. High-heels.
Edgy or glam? Both.
Metallic or neutral hues? Neutral hues.
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