“I don’t have the same kind of nervousness about presenting clothing anymore. I guess I can thank Project Runway for that,” says Dom Streater, the reality television series’ most recent winner.
Just days before she returned to Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week to present her first collection since winning, I spoke to a surprisingly calm Streater over the phone. She was in her studio based out of her home in Philadelphia and admittedly staring at a favourite piece from her collection — a floor-length, rose-printed ball gown with carefully hidden pockets.
“I really wanted to explore the option of a printed gown because you don’t see too many of those on the Red Carpet,” explains the 25-year-old designer, often seen on Project Runway in a hot pink D pinned to her lapel.
From a young age, Streater knew she wanted to pursue fashion, often sketching dresses or crafting clothing in an organic way, sewing together and draping pieces of fabric until she found new shapes. At the age of only nine, she fashioned a bell-sleeved, one-shouldered denim patchwork top, out of a few pairs of jeans — which she keeps as “a reminder of how far [her] sewing skills have come.”
Her aspirations changed often throughout her youth: Streater decided she would become an astronaut and marine biologist among a number of things, almost choosing a career path in animal care. But part way through high school, she realized her dreams still lay in pursuing fashion and she went on to graduate in fashion design at Moore College in her hometown.
A world of prints
This season, her collection is inspired by a black-and-white photograph of Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova. Streater felt a kinship with Pavlova’s spirit of rebellion and pursuit of her dreams as she became a world-renowned ballet dancer.
Consisting of bold black-and-white graphic prints, soft rose hues and deep berry tones, Streater’s collection is romantic and feminine. While it’s a change of pace from her last line, which had a futuristic edge and sci-fi influence, Streater’s signature aesthetics that many remember from Project Runway are still very evident — a heavy use of prints and references to retro silhouettes.
“When I design I think about a silhouette first — I don’t even have prints on my mind,” Streater laughs, admitting she has no idea why she is so naturally drawn to prints. “I think about it as a plain white garment and the silhouette I want it to have, and then I add in the prints that work best with that silhouette.”
Catching up with Streater post-fashion week, she describes “a sense of awe and humbling” that she has felt both times at MBFW (first as part of Project Runway, and now for her first personal, standalone show). Adding that she preferred the smaller presentation style she experienced this season, a “polar opposite” to her last experience where she presented a runway show at the Lincoln Center. It was less stressful and allowed her to speak one-on-one with people about their reactions to her work, which she said were overwhelmingly positive.
“I love how quickly you can gauge the reception of your collection from the crowd,” she says. “It’s the best barometer of creativity I’ve ever had.”
However, she did miss the actual runway portion and hopes to incorporate that aspect into a similar presentation style in the future.
Streater adds that her family members, who have been a huge support during every moment of her career so far, are key to keeping her calm, especially leading up to and during fashion week.
“They bring me back down to Earth and ground me,” she says gratefully.
The first thought that ran through her mind after winning was “I can pay my student loans” and then “I can actually pursue my career.” The newly full-time designer says if she hadn’t won, her life would be completely different, and she would likely still be balancing an on-and-off design career with her day job at an animal clinic.
“People are able to recognize my name and what kind of designs they can expect from me,” she says. “I am so content now.”
Opening up, Streater adds she didn’t initially want to apply for Project Runway, but was finally encouraged to sign up by her best friend. She also remembers that the first two times she applied — for season 10 and 11 — she wasn’t cast. However, following season 11 she was asked to apply again for season 12.
In addition to designing her fall/winter collection in the time after Project Runway has finished, Streater designed a line of women’s skirts, dresses and pants exclusive to the department-store chain Belk, and a sapphire gown for Chicago-based classical pianist Claudia Brent.
With her roots in Philadelphia and no plans on relocating anytime soon — combined with her deep respect for the opinions of the New York fashion industry — Streater loves the idea of being able to continue showing her collections simultaneously in both cities. She has hopes of moving the brand into boutiques in the east and west coast one day.
“I am blessed to be able to pursue the first dream I ever had for myself.”
Dom Streater’s latest collection