Raleigh’s Justin LeBlanc competed in the “Project Runway” finale Thursday night, but fell short of grabbing the top spot.
For the finale of the Lifetime series, LeBlanc, a Raleigh native who graduated from and currently teaches fashion and design at N.C. State University, presented a collection at New York Fashion Week inspired by the moment he was first able to hear via a cochlear implant.
“This collection allowed me to visualize and tell my story of being a deaf man, hearing for the first time, and adjusting to a life that includes sound,” he explained. “For me, this is a very emotional and personal story. I hope that I can convey that emotion to others through my collection.”
LeBlanc’s final look – an intricate “unconventional materials” dress made with hundreds of tiny test tubes – drew an audible gasp of delight from the crowd, followed by another round of applause. It was a moment of public validation for LeBlanc, after a tumultuous journey that he credits his fans back home for getting him through.
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At the time of his elimination, host Heidi Klum told him, “We’re so impressed with your collection. And I also know that Tim Gunn is proud of you also.”
“I am forever, forever grateful that I was given this opportunity,” LeBlanc said after his elimination.
His parents were there from Raleigh to greet him after he left the judges. “Your work was beautiful,” Justin’s mother told him. “And you displayed such humility and integrity. The whole world fell in love with you.”
An emotional LeBlanc told the camera: “Just growing up being a deaf person and having people constantly tell me that I’m not capable of doing things I want to do, that’s definitely something that’s scarring. ‘Project Runway’ has given me the opportunity so I can prove these people wrong.”
LeBlanc attended a reception earlier Thursday evening hosted by N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson. Students and alumni gathered at the Hunt Library to watch the show together.
“I know I have said this many times, but I absolutely love Raleigh and my Wolfpack family,” LeBlanc said in an interview with the N&O earlier in the week. “Everyone has been so supportive, and it has given me the energy I needed to keep going. I love this community, and I am sincerely humbled by the opportunity to represent it.”