PHILADELPHIA — – Dom Streater was mobbed by her fashion-crazed fans all weekend.
This, after the Oct. 17 “Project Runway” finale, when the 24-year-old designer became the first Philadelphian to win since Jay McCarroll cinched the haute honor eight years ago at the end of the show’s inaugural season.
Heidi Klum coolly named a tearful Streater the winner during the Lifetime telecast, instantly catapulting the designer from C-list “Runway” contestant to A-list “Runway” winner.
Streater’s recent speech to the annual leadership conference at her alma mater, Moore College of Art & Design, was a din of flashing lights, oohs, and lots of ahhs. That night, Streater could barely wait on patrons at Silk City Diner, where she still works part time as a hostess. So much gushing.
“I spent the whole night seating people and taking pictures and seating people and taking pictures,” said Streater, who incidentally also is the only African-American contestant in 12 seasons never to hear Klum’s infamously devastating order, “You’re out!”
“I still can’t believe it,” she says.
A hectic limbo
She traveled to New York the Monday following her speech for a Marie Claire photo shoot, and Tuesday night, she was back in New York for the Season 3 premiere of Lifetime’s “Runway” spin-off, “Project Runway All Stars” (telecast last Thursday).
In between, Streater was thinking about the dress she’s designing for actor Samuel L. Jackson’s wife, LaTanya Richardson. After her big win, Jackson reached out to her on Twitter.
“I’m in this weird limbo where I still have to work my normal job, but people really know me,” Streater said. “Right now, nobody’s paying me to be famous.”
Streater knew of her win – including $150,000 in cash to launch her inaugural collection and a 2014 Lexus IS 350 – in early September after a New York Fashion Week presentation.
There, Streater showed her incredibly wearable collection of flowing jumpsuits and sheaths fashioned from prints she drew by hand and scanned into a computer, manipulating the color in Photoshop.
The effect was very Diane von Furstenberg-meets-the-Supremes chic. Kerry Washington, a “Runway” celebrity judge and one of Streater’s idols, was “impressed” with the young designer’s strength in print design.
“I couldn’t believe she was just standing there and she was talking to me,” Streater said.
During the competition, Streater, who won two challenges during the season, became known for her expertise in textiles, which was her specialty as a design major at Moore.
Her theme for the finale was Retro Redux, which Streater defined as the future viewed by artists and writers in the early 1960s.
“It’s all very Judy Jetson-y,” she said.
When “Runway” became the first reality television show to bring the clothing design process into our living rooms, the show, then on Bravo, was known for its catty, ill-behaved designers.
McCarroll, its first winner, debuted his Transport collection to a buzz-filled New York Fashion Week. But then his popularity waned. These days, he is still designing, as well as teaching at Philadelphia University and acting as style ambassador for Hamilton Mall in New Jersey.
But “Runway” has evolved. Designers approach the show more as an incubator, less as a launching pad to instant fame.
The most successful “Runway” alumnus is Christian Siriano, whose company was reportedly worth $5 million in 2012 and includes a line of shoes at Payless Shoe Source.
Streater, who is determined not to be another victim of fame, is just as adorable in person as she is on television. She’s instantly recognizable by her smile and her hair, a thick halo of soft curls. (She straightened it for one show, but producers asked her to keep it kinky for continuity.)
Pinned to her lapel is the same hot pink D – her full name is Dominique – she wore in front of the judges. It’s good luck now, she says.
Streater asked for her first sewing machine from the J.C. Penney catalog when she was about 8 years old. She quickly grew bored with sewing clothes for her Barbies and designed a one-shoulder shirt for herself made of three pairs of jeans.
“You don’t remember,” she said to her mother, Tammy Hartley, with whom she lives with her brother, niece, nephew and pet turtle Guadalupe, “but you were so mad at me for taking those jeans apart.”
Mom just beamed.
Fashion on the side
At first, Streater wanted to be a marine biologist. But there was something about fashion design she couldn’t shake. So after graduating from Bodine High School for International Affairs, she went to Moore and graduated in 2010. (After news of her Oct. 17 win, the school put on display her bicycle-inspired senior collection.)
After graduation, she spent three years looking for a job in fashion, but without any connections, she came up short.
Having worked at the Philadelphia Zoo through high school and college, she eventually took a job in animal care at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, and set up a website – halcyonco.bigcartel.com – where she sold pieces here and there.
A longtime “Project Runway” fan, Streater never thought about entering the design competition until her boyfriend persuaded her to try.
“First I was one of thousands,” she said. “Then about 60 were called to New York, and then I was on the show, and as the show went on, I realized I really wanted to win.”
A beautiful future
Once the craziness dies down a little, Streater hopes to focus on her fall 2014 collection, which she will continue to design from her tiny bedroom, and possibly debut at FBH Philadelphia Fashion Week in February. She also wants to get involved in the city-sponsored Philadelphia Collection event in September.
“There is so much fashion opportunity in Philadelphia,” she said. “There is no reason for me to just up and leave my hometown.”
Streater says she plans to manufacture her clothing locally, and if that isn’t possible, definitely Stateside. She hopes to incorporate racial diversity into her runway, too. Her muse of the moment is Cassie Ventura, a model who is Filipino, African-American and Mexican.
“Beauty can’t be forced,” Streater said. “But when it’s right, it’s beautiful.”