While I was on Project Runway I encountered the constant battle of the fellow competitors not understanding who I was or where I came from. Even to the point of not knowing that Native Americans still existed. The judges and the guest judges were not knowledgeable about Natives or anything about my home state of New Mexico and would ask me about it over and over again.
I brought this piece of the unknown into my experience because 29 years before doing Project Runway I had been judged many times as a designer that was Native who didn't know how to do Native designs or as a Native who didn't do enough designing that is Native. A total Catch-22.
Behind the scenes at Project Runway, the comments and choice words that were directed towards me, at times were extremely hurtful. I tried my best to use the Project Runway platform to get my vision across through my work. I also felt it was a wonderful opportunity to give a voice not only to myself but the many other Native artists in the world.
I took advantage of using the critique time on the show to let the judges and guest judges give me advice and to listen and to ask questions. I knew that in reality, I wouldn't have the time to converse with them at this level of attention on my work. It was a part of my mission to utilize every bit of their knowledge to take home to my studio after the show to better myself so I could add to my journey and build upon their constructive critiques of my work.
I never could have afforded the audience that Project Runway provided me. I used it to better myself on so many levels. I prayed every morning and night to be humble and bring back the industry for the future of Native Americans in fashion design. I had to pray so that I could keep my vision straight and did not take on the noise that was irrelevant to getting my name and the understanding of my own vision and stories to share too. I said this to myself every time I was on stage and and in my interviews.
My season on Project Runway was the first one with a “Team Challenge.” Believe me, I’d rather not have dealt with a team challenge but I get it, it makes for good TV. So I did what I do best and transported myself in these challenges to times when my Pueblo had ceremonies. Ceremonies are about a theme and you have a group of dancers to impress and relate to...I just related my working with a family to create for ceremonial outfits as the team challenges began.
I come from a family of dancers and performers so we applaud and support one another for our wins and understood to step up for the looses. I take competition with pride that I can be a part of work that carries me to the next level with grace and integrity. This is the way in which my beautiful talented family was raised, as a part of our being ambassadors for our beautiful Taos Pueblo.
This was the first time television saw someone, a Native American woman like me in a setting like this...as a fashion designer. Midway through Project Runway, I was still there.
Throughout the completion, my two children Mozart & Margeaux both inspired me to be me and not worry about the noise of others during this competition. Their youthful truth gave me the energy to believe in myself where I didn't have that confidence in the past 29 years before doing Project Runway. A little background, I was married to a successful artist whose life and career we focused solely on and when I divorced I finally had my own voice without abuse and unconstructive criticism to my own work.
When I was on Project Runway I saw that I was given challenges that I had control over without anyone whom I loved in my head to hurt me...my sanctuary became my studio, Mood Fabrics, and NYC to visit for challenges/inspiration while being fed and housed. I went inside myself and listened to me while the contestants were being catty, cruel and mean. I could ignore it. I thought of them as children in the romper room and believe me, compared to the things I heard in my married life and growing up... people not knowing about Native culture, this was NOTHING!
I made it to the finale of Project Runway! When Michaels Kors opened the finale critique with, "Thank God Patricia Michaels was one of the final 3 because I have already seen your collections, Stan & Michelle. Patricia's collection is worthy of New York or Paris and that's what you want to do when you show for the first time on the NY Runway." His opening statement was my personal win.
I knew I wasn't going to win the show but with the respect that I have for Michael Kors and his words, made me know that my Project Runway experience was worth its weight in gold. He continued to say much more, we talked for 3 hours, alongside with the other judges. The only person who NEVER talked to me for the final critique was Nina Garcia. I knew that would be the death blow in my win and I'm Ok with that.
Hiedi Klum & Zac Polzen would have many wonderful conversations with me during critiques. I enjoyed their constructive criticism and encouragements they both gave. They could see my vision and backed me up. The other contestants would get upset with me for taking so long on the stage with the judges but I said. "I earned another chance to ask questions we should live for their critiques of us, so if I were all of you I would be asking the professional industry for advice while you can, otherwise there is no way any of us could afford that outside of Project Runway. This way when you go home to your studios you can reflect on what they said."
For the finale, Project Runway host, Tim Gunn came to my famous Taos Pueblo. He ate at my family’s pueblo home where I used to live with my grandparents in high school. He cried at this experience he loved the food so much he had seconds. I was nervous about this visit more than I was while taping in NYC. LOL!
Tim cried while holding my hand saying, he didn't know places like Taos Pueblo still existed in the world. When Tim went to my studio and saw it was a REAL studio, he paused, took my hand, and then looked at me and said, "I didn't know when and where I would meet the designer who touched me deep in my soul who was going to be that real designer that made feel this way. You are that person Patricia! Thank you for letting me be here with you." His words to me were worth their weight in gold and I hold them precious to this day!
It was interesting what happened at the end of Project Runway. Fellow designers and finalists of the season, Stan Hudson and Michelle Lesniak were very apologetic for their words and treatment of me during the show. Michelle said, "I don't understand how you aren't mean back? You don’t have a mean bone in your body. You are going to hate me when you hear what I have to say on TV about you." I simply told her, "There was too much work for me to do and I had bigger fish to fry.”
For the runway finale of the show, Stan, Michelle, and myself went to Lincoln Center in Manhattan, we woke up at 3 a.m. to set up our collections and dress our models.
When the time came for me to talk about my collection I stood in front of the audience and I felt the biggest accomplishment knowing that my two beautiful and strong hearted children where there alongside of my two amazing supportive, loving parents and then I took a look inward at this female fashion designer who just happens to be Native American, and I believed. My runway show was dedicated to my family and my inspiration for the show was, Trees. The Collection was for the world. The ancestors and sacred spirits, were right there with me the whole time and I am honored and grateful to have had the opportunity to be on Project Runway.