By Phaedra Haywood
Michaels was one of 16 designers picked to compete for the popular show’s grand prize of $100,000, a fashion spread in Marie Claire magazine, a Lexus, $50,000 worth of technology and the opportunity to sell their collection at Lord & Taylor department stores.
The Taos Pueblo native was the first Native American designer to participate in the history of the show, which is hosted by supermodel Heidi Klum and provides budding designers an opportunity to launch fashion careers while competing in weekly challenges under the watchful guidance of industry insiders.
While many would-be contestants watch the show religiously and apply more than once, Michaels said that in her case, one of the show’s casting agents contacted her and encouraged her to enter after seeing her information on a website for fashion models.
“I hadn’t seen it, but I had heard a few things about it,” said the designer. “So I decided to rent a couple of seasons [to watch] and I was in awe of what the challenges were and the opportunities that could happen.”
The designer—whose work has been featured in French Elle and is in the permanent collection of several museums—said part of the reason she decided to apply was to encourage other Native American designers to break away from showing only in Native-themed events and galleries and expose themselves to more mainstream fashion outlets and influences.
“It’s about time Natives get out of our comfortable spots and go forward to other venues,” she said. “That’s why I took on this challenge, to have a new direction. Because just doing museum shows that people want me to do to draw a crowd really hasn’t gotten me anywhere. It’s important to always evolve. That’s the reason I became a fashion designer, because it’s always changing. It gives you that liberty to change.”
Pueblo fashion designer slated to compete on Project Runway
Comment: For more on Native fashion, see Mohawk Designer on Victoria's Secret and Gong Launches Mockups.