By Nicole Crosbie
Three years ago the question, “What are you doing tomorrow?” changed Minnesota designer Christopher Straub’s life forever. Four days earlier, Straub had received a heart-breaking phone call — he had been selected as an alternate contestant on Lifetime Television’s reality design competition, Project Runway, and there was little-to-no chance that he would compete on the show.
As devastated as he was, Straub held out hope and on Saturday afternoon he received the phone call he had been waiting for. The five little words “What are you doing tomorrow?” sent Straub into a whirlwind of action as he prepared to fly to Los Angeles the following morning to compete in season six of Project Runway.
Looking back, Straub says he doesn’t remember having time to be nervous about the show. He laughs thinking about the sewing kit that he had on the show- a huge tackle box that he bought the night before at Wal-Mart because he didn’t have a sewing kit prior to the show.
While Straub was coming onto the show with design experience, his story was by no means typical. His father passed away when Straub was twelve years old and at age fourteen he started working to help pay bills and support his family. It was at age fourteen that Straub also sewed his first garment (he jokily refers to them as clown pants — one half of the pants was purple and the other half was ivory) on a broken sewing machine that he found at his house.
He quickly discovered his passion for sewing and designing and taught himself how to sew in a zipper and to make patterns. Straub continued to sew and design throughout high school, but going to college didn’t make sense to Straub- he wanted to make money instead of paying someone to teach him and he wanted to do things on his own, using his own process. Living in a small town, Straub said there wasn’t much need or desire for clothing designers so he worked sewing home décor to make money.
As an artistic person, Straub thought Project Runway would be a great way to showcase his creativity while being a part of a pop culture piece of history. He put together a portfolio and auditioned for the show.
“Having the background that I have where I didn’t go to school and I didn’t intern for famous design houses, I was at a little bit of a disadvantage,” Straub said. “I thought that something like Project Runway could be a great platform for me to gain notoriety and showcase what my design style is on television.”
His time on Project Runway was somewhat of a roller coaster. Winning the first challenge made Straub an immediate hit. Viewers could relate to Straub, the struggling artist trying to make it big with no schooling or formal training, and he had a growing fan following.
Fans were surprised when, after being successful in the first six challenges, Straub placed in the bottom for six consecutive challenges. People would ask Straub, “What happened?” and he would tell them that it wasn’t his decision to be in the bottom. The judges were either going to love or hate his looks, but he was going to stay true to his point of view.
“I just kept doing what I was doing and there was no way that I was going to go home for something that I didn’t believe in,” Straub said. “I wasn’t going to half-ass anything and I wasn’t going to change my design philosophy because I’m an artist. That’s the bottom line.”
Though Straub didn’t win Project Runway (he was eliminated in episode 12), the show changed his life.
“I went from being this obscure, small town designer to having instant credibility,” Straub said. “No one even cared who I was before and now they want me to sit front row at their fashion shows.”
In addition to becoming a local celebrity (Straub gets noticed no matter where he goes, whether it’s a trip to the mall or a gas station), Straub’s success on Project Runway allowed him to start his own business. He has a handbag and accessories collection that is available on his website, and in boutiques across the country.
He has an apparel and accessories collection for Maurices in the works that will be available in stores later this year and he is working on a solo runway show in the Twin Cities that will benefit the Child Neurology Foundation. While Straub couldn’t share much about his collection for Maurices (he did say that there would be a few fun surprises) and his November solo runway collection is still in the works, Straub did share a few thoughts on his runway style in general.
Straub said that he loves to create runway couture pieces and he wants people to experience what an artistic fashion show is like.
“If I could do anything it would be to have more of these grand artistic shows where it’s really art for the sake of art,” Straub said. “I don’t care if things can step off the runway and into an event, they’re meant to be on the runway and that’s what my goal is.”
Viewers saw some of his avant-garde, artistic looks on Project Runway and he hopes to continue to create special occasion pieces. No matter what he creates, Straub’s looks are inspired by nature or architecture. Pattern, repetition, texture and an artistic, art-based theme are all central to Straub’s collections.
As Straub looks back at his design career so far, he says that he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I have no regrets,” Straub said. “Things happen for a reason and if it’s bad, it always could have been worse. I would never relive anything because I’m so happy where I am right now and if anything got me off course, I might not have gotten to this place.”
And although he wouldn’t change the path that he took, he advises aspiring designers to go to school and get an education.
“Take the normal path- go to school and learn all of the things that you can because what happened to me is not typical,” Straub said. “Don’t expect that your path is going to start on Project Runway. For my situation, personality and life, it made sense, but it’s a one-in-a-million opportunity. You’re going to have more stability and likelihood of success if you go to school.”
And what about his small town Minnesota roots? Straub is proud to say that he is from Minnesota and will continue to be involved in the local fashion scene.
“I love saying that I’m a Twin Cities designer,” Straub said. “There’s a lot of talent here and if I can bring just a little more attention to it (the Twin Cities fashion scene) so people are exposed to these other designers, then I’ve done my job.”
Nicole Crosbie loves fashion and shopping, she has lived in Minnesota her whole life and loves finding new places to shop, eat and explore in the Twin Cities. She has degrees in public relations and psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.