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Grand Finale

Editor’s note: This story is from Red and White for Life, the NC State Alumni Association’s blog. For information on how to join the Alumni Association, visit

While Justin LeBlanc didn’t come out on top in the final round of “Project Runway,” he earned a standing ovation Oct. 17 from hundreds of students, faculty and fans who gathered in the Hunt Library auditorium to watch the final episode of the reality show.

LeBlanc, an assistant professor at the College of Design, was one of four contestants who survived from the original 16 to make it to the runway of New York Fashion Week. In the finale broadcast, LeBlanc presented a 10-piece collection that included a stunning, full-length gown made of tiny pipettes (referred to on the show as test tubes) sewn onto mesh fabric, giving it the look of white fur.

LeBlanc’s theme for his collection was his transition from a deaf person to a hearing person (he received a cochlear implant when he was 18), and he used 3D printing to create neckpieces, belts and other accessories that were reminiscent of sound waves.

As Chancellor Randy Woodson congratulated LeBlanc on making it to the finals, he noted the choice of materials. “If it was made with 3D printing and test tubes, it had to be from NC State,” Woodson said.

Lope Max Diaz, a retired professor of art and design, remembers when LeBlanc took his studio class in fashion in 2008. At the time, LeBlanc was a senior in architecture, but when Diaz saw a dress he was designing for Art2Wear, he realized he had to speak up and told him, “Justin, you are a fashion designer.’’

Diaz said he encouraged LeBlanc to finish his architecture degree and then study fashion design. “After I told him that, I was freaked out—here was this senior and I was encouraging him to go into another field,’’ Diaz said at a pre-finale reception celebrating LeBlanc’s success.

At the Hunt Library viewing party, some technical glitches delayed the broadcast. But LeBlanc saved the day, setting up his laptop to Skype a broadcast of the show. “Some friends of mine in Chicago are having a party…..if you’ll be patient, we’ll ‘make it work,’” he told the crowd, borrowing a trademark phrase from the show’s mentor, Tim Gunn.

It did work—with a little ambient noise from the Chicago party (cheers for Justin, a dog barking) thrown in.

No one in the audience but LeBlanc and his family knew the outcome, and when Heidi Klum said the words, “Justin, you’re out,” there were collective sounds of disappointment and “Oh, no’’ from the crowd.

That immediately became applause and a standing ovation. LeBlanc, sitting in the front row with his family, turned around and blew kisses to the crowd.

What’s next? LeBlanc has already designed a tote bag in black and white featuring a stylized version of the American Sign Language sign for “I love you.” It’s available at