Sabrina Spanta confirms that, yes, she’s the one crying in the premiere of “Project Runway,” the Bravo fashion design contest that returns Thursday with a new season.
She can’t reveal what upset her. But according to her, the 16 candidates went through a lot of emotions taking up the challenge of reality TV, especially after coming out of a year of COVID-19 quarantine.
And don’t mistake these tears for weakness.
“It’s a show not just about the competition. It’s about building resilience, building character,” said Spanta, 29, who grew up partly in Bloomfield Hills and now lives there. “Every tear you see falling is me building my character. I’m the one who gets stronger. It’s me who comes out of the show stronger, to be honest with you.
Michigan has had a pretty successful long run with “Project Runway” since the series began in 2004. Season two runner-up Daniel Vosovic was born and raised in western Michigan. Joe Faris, of Detroit, reached sixth place in season five, while Melissa Fleis, of Rogers City, came third in season 10.
A 2014 fan favorite, Charketa Glover of Detroit finished fourth in Season 13 and got a save from then-mentor Tim Gunn. And who can forget Grand Ledge twins Claire and Shawn Buitendorp, who provided the drama (Claire was disqualified; Shawn voluntarily left) while finishing ninth and 10th in season 16.
Spanta has one of the most compelling stories of any Michigan contestant or anyone who has been on the show recently.
She was just a small child when her family left war-torn Afghanistan in the mid-1990s. “We fled in the middle of the night,” she says. “Then on the way to Pakistan my birth mother passed away.”
While living as a refugee in Pakistan, her great-aunt devoted years to the complicated process of adopting Spanta and her sister. In 2000, Spanta finally moved to the United States to live in Bloomfield Hills with her great aunt, who is now referred to and considered by her as “mom”.
Seeing thousands of Afghan citizens desperately trying to leave the country during the chaotic evacuation of the United States in August was all too familiar, according to Spanta.
“It’s like having déjà vu,” she said. “Exactly what is happening to thousands of families now. I went through exactly the same scenario in 1995.”
She remains in frequent contact with her two young sisters in Afghanistan, born after her father remarried. In a report from mid-August unrelated to “Project Runway”, she told WDIV-TV / Local 4 Newsthat the city where they live was taken by the Taliban.
Spanta says it’s heartbreaking to know what they’re going through. She says it is her responsibility now to speak out for themselves and other women in her homeland.
I was given a second chance in life to come and study here. … I feel that every woman and girl in Afghanistan deserves a chance to enjoy the basic human right to education. It’s like my mother was passing the baton on to me. And now it’s my job and my duty to pass the baton on to another woman and more women, not just one.
Spanta adds: My long term goal as a human being is to continue helping women.
Fashion has always been of interest to Spanta. In his biography “Project Runway” it is said that his “eye for design flourished during his time in Afghanistan watching his biological father work as a tailor”.
Growing up in Oakland County, she learned to knit and crochet from a young age. “In fourth grade, I was already sewing in the basement, making stuff,” she laughs. While attending Andover High School, Spanta said she designed a collection of dresses for her advanced art class.
After graduating from Andover, she studied fashion at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, where she juggled school and after-class jobs while designing her own fashion line, which was featured during regional fashion shows.
Since graduating from SCAD in 2016, Spanta has worked in design for several supermarkets, including White House, Black Market and Chicos. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020 and the fashion market suffered a huge financial blow, she sold her goods and moved to Bloomfield Hills.
“It was very hard. I went through a depression. It was extremely difficult after years of independence and taking charge of myself,” she admits. It was around this time that she started applying for “Project Runway” and eventually won one of her 16 spots for emerging designers.
Filming took place earlier this year. Christian Siriano returns in his role as mentor, as do Nina Garcia, Brandon Maxwell and Elaine Welteroth as judges. There will be appearances from Taraji P. Henson, Gigi Hadid, Jason Wu, Billy Porter, Andy Cohen, and some of the Bravo Network’s real housewives.
Although the results of the competition are top-secret, Spanta seems to have been a positive experience. She says her look has a contemporary twist, but with nods to Afghan traditions and textiles. In her official show photo, she wears a vibrant outfit she designed that mixes hot pink pants and a blue jacket with a croptop made of intricately patterned fabric.
Spanta is launching its own brand, designed and manufactured in Detroit, called Sabrina Spanta. The plan is to launch its website Thursday on a date scheduled for the “Project Runway” season premiere.
If it hadn’t been for Project Runway, I wouldn’t have this belief in myself that I have now, ”she says.
Spanta’s message to young women around the world is to stay optimistic no matter what challenges they face.
“What really helped me is to never stop dreaming and keep following your dreams,” she says.
I know that for my sisters in Afghanistan and for the millions of women who are struggling now, there seems to be no hope. But there is hope. There is always an angel who will come to save you, because my mother was that angel for me.
Contact Detroit Free Press pop culture critic Julie Hinds at [email protected]
Premiere of the “Project Runway” season
9 p.m. Thursday
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