Michelle Lesniak is a woman after our own heart: a native Portlandian, self-proclaimed, professional rule breaker, two-time Project Runway alum, AND a shining example of female entrepreneurship. So—we think it goes without saying—we are BEYOND excited to team up with this badass lady for our Beauty Bundle! We caught up with Michelle to talk Portland's burgeoning fashion scene, who and what inspires her the most, and—of course—to uncover a few of her beauty secrets.
On female empowerment…
You were self taught as a designer, which is amazing! What is your number one piece of advice to aspiring female entrepreneurs, especially ones that may lack formal training?
Seek out resources such as your public library, books, and online tutorials to learn as much as possible at a low cost. If you don’t have the funds to go to school, you can still find ways to learn. Be a self-starter. Successful people don’t wait for things to come to them. They make it happen.
If you could have dinner and drinks with 3 female artists, icons, politicians, authors, etc., alive today or not, who would they be and why?
Dinner/drinks – First of all, I would say Rosalind Russell, who played my hero in life, Auntie Mame. I wouldn’t limit this list to just women, though. I would love, LOVE to go have dinner with David Bowie, who really inspired me in the movie Labyrinth when I was growing up. Although not a woman by gender, he’s certainly been known to wear a lot of make-up! And Shirley Maclaine. I love a strong, funny woman who doesn’t take herself too seriously and can shoot out a one-liner with sass and glamour.
On living and designing in Portland…
You grew up here in Portland—how have you seen the PDX fashion scene change, and where do you see it going?
Portland has become a hotbed for new designers and local designers. The city itself embraces so many perspectives, which is fantastic because not everyone looks alike. Portland also likes to “keep things weird”, letting individuals express their personal style, not limiting or confining people in their self-expression. The fashion scene here has changed in that it is no longer focused on athletic wear and outdoor gear. People are dressing less for the elements and more for style, or at least incorporating style into dressing for the elements. With the emergence of so many talented local designers, I see more and more designers moving to Portland to express their visions. I think Portland will become a hub of fashion design in the future.
You’ve said time and time again: Portland is your design homebase, and you can’t see yourself ever leaving. What is it about this city that you are so tied to?
First of all, it’s my home. I was born and raised here in Portland. This city has shown nothing but support for me. My family is here. And, being in Portland, I’m able to express myself creatively without falling into the pit of despair that is trends and fads.
As you know, b-glowing is also based in Portland! Do you think there are any hurdles to overcome with being so far away from the standard “fashion capitols”?
We get this question so often about needing to live in the “fashion capitals”. I think people that live here already see Portland as a fashion capital. It might be harder to source materials here than in the big cities, and production can sometimes be a problem, but we can also afford bigger studio space, a place to work that isn’t our studio apartment. The cost of living is lower too. The money we save living here in Portland can be used for a trip to Los Angeles to buy fabric at more economical prices. Honestly, I see some of my friends living in the actual “fashion capitals” struggling to grow their businesses or even create separation between their workspace and home.
On creative process and inspiration…
We are so honored you created an original design for our Beauty Bundle. Tell us a little about the inspiration and design of the bag. What’s your creative process look like?
My inspiration was modern Lumber Jill (not to be confused with Lumber Jack). I wanted something that was outdoorsy with a bit of edge. I love working in natural fibers mixed with leather. This beauty bag was a great opportunity to do just that. I thought about fall and winter, my favorite times of the year. I gravitate towards green/earthy color palettes anyway and who doesn’t go mad for plaid?! I bring emotion into my creative process. I like to tell a story with my design and fashion. For this bag, I saw myself in a forest; leaves falling, the fresh scent of pine, earth tones, and pinecones on beds of fallen leaves.
What was your latest collection, PIN ME/PIERCE ME inspired by?
Promises made, promises broken. “PIN ME / PIERCE ME’” is a collection based on the hopes of a promise that is only to be taken away. Inspired by the pinning of a woman by a man as a promise of pre-engagement in the 1950’s & 1960’s, ‘PIN ME / PIERCE ME’ combines romance and heartache; the optimism of being pinned with the devastation of having your heart pierced. Wool, Silk, Leather, Metal, Wood.
Original textile creation is a huge part of your designs. What makes a classic Michelle Lesniak textile?
An odd color palette! I typically don’t use colors that traditionally go together but somehow I make them work. I also like using animal references in my textiles, creating a spirit for each collection.
What instagram accounts inspire you and why?
On Instagram, I like artfido, because it’s like going to a museum without leaving your cell phone. I met streetscoutme while I was doing Vancouver Fashion Week in Canada last year. They’ve done a great job showcasing individuals’ fashion sense. It’s everyday people showing off their personal style and I love it! Finally, I like to follow solestruck. My favorite thing in the world is a new pair of shoes!
On beauty and personal style…
You have a very strong, clear sense of personal style which we LOVE. How was this shaped, and how is it reflected in your designs?
My personal style was shaped by having little money to buy clothing growing up. My outlets to find fashion were second hand and vintage shops. You can see my style in my designs in the form of vintage inspired style lines and silhouettes but with a moody sense to them. I wouldn’t go so far as to say goth, but definitely moody and sometimes a little dark.
We’re in love with your mohawk-inspired hairstyle. We’re dying to know—are your music playlists as rock’n’roll rock as your hair?
Yes and no. I have a really good balance of savory and sweet to my personality. There are times I listen to classical music all day, and then there are times that I rock out with my hock out.
You have such a beautiful (and strong!) signature makeup look, which is so b-glowing. What does your beauty routine look like, and what’s your one “can’t leave the house without it” beauty product?
Make-up routine: 5 days out of 7, I go what I call “full drag”. I travel a ton and work really hard which tends to make me look a little sleepy. The best way to combat bags under your eyes full drag: foundation, concealer, fake lashes, drawn on brows, blush, eyeliner and shadow, lipstick, mascara—and it only takes me about 15 minutes. I won’t leave the house without pressed powder. And I always carry it with me! I have oily skin and use it combat shine throughout the day.
This holiday season, we are all about Taking Care of you at b-glowing. What do you do to refresh and recharge?
Exercise! Whether it’s a walk in the park or a jog around the block, getting fresh air helps my mind, body, and spirit. And then of course, some great chocolate and glass of red wine also don’t hurt the soul!
So we HAVE to ask: you were on Project Runway twice, and ended up winning your regular season. That’s a huge accomplishment! Can you describe that whole experience, and how it helped shape you as a designer? Also, is Tim Gunn really as wonderful as he seems?
PR was completely surreal. It’s changed my life forever. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but by far one of the most rewarding. It really helped me find my aesthetic. Being self-taught, it helped me gain confidence in my abilities. It made me realize that I don’t take shit from anybody. And yes, Tim Gunn is amazing. He’s better than Santa Claus!