Patricia Michaels and 'Project Runway' consultant Tim Gunn.

Finale Tonight! Watch Patricia Michaels on 'Project Runway' One Last Time

Alex Jacobs

Tonight, at 9 PM Eastern/8 Central on Lifetime TV, Patricia Michaels, Taos Pueblo will strive to win the eleventh season of Project Runway. She's down to the final three, and with early favorite Daniel eliminated last week, in part 1 of the finale, she has to like her chances. Throughout the season, she has been a favorite of the judges, and while she's had subpar episodes she has clearly been one of the designers to beat. Michaels' skill with textiles and textures has set her apart from the other designers.

Michaels will watch the episode in a festive environment, surrounded by friends and fans as she has done on previous occasions. This time it's a dinner event held at Legends Gallery in Santa Fe, where she kicked off the season with her very first viewing party.

Santa Fe-based poet and artist Alex Jacobs, who represented ICTMN at that event, attended a viewing party-cum-fashion show held at the Buffalo Thunder Casino Resort for a recent episode. It was all-Michaels, all the time: Her face on the big screen, her aura and charisma filling the room, her designs on models parading to and fro. Here is Jacobs' report about another big night with Native America's ambassador to reality TV-land:

The crowd, A-listers, clients, young fashionistas, curious touristas, purchasing expensive tickets, have almost filled the big ballroom at BTCR. Dinner and wine are part of the package. There’s a runway stage on the left and the right, a big screen in the center, where Patricia Michaels holds court with microphone. Like the earlier event at Legends Gallery, Santefesinos have come out to support local hero Patricia Michaels for her “Water Lily” brand and for putting Santa Fe in the national spot light. These are last year’s designs that got her the Project Runway audition, since she’s been so crazy occupied the last eight weeks and all her new work is now owned by the hit TV show.

Patricia talks like she knows everybody in the room and probably does. She can’t wait to dish to the audience about what they are going to see. The Project Runway folks ask if she’s excited about meeting famous Santa Fe designer Tom Ford -- of course, Patricia already has her own Tom Ford stories to tell, and she does. Patricia talks about “the set-up”, how hard the actual work was, how mad she got, how scenes that showed her side were cut, how drama was elicited, how everything made it so hard to the point where others are essentially stealing or giving away her designs. They did show her cussing at the sewing table, where she needed help the most and wasn’t getting it. At home she depends on her own team to construct her designs, at Project Runway she gets frustrated and mad. She knows it’s all about the drama but she’s wonders aloud about the bad and the good of such competition.

The natural instinct to teach others has to be suppressed on the show. Forget trying to educate everybody, just do your techniques.

There’s never enough time, little sleep, one day off when they do laundry, there are set-up obstacles, difficulties and challenges, and they want to break you. You have to share equipment, which is nerve-wracking. Separation from her family for 8 weeks was the worst of it. Her “strange endurance” as a Native woman kept her going, praying all the time, making the isolation her sanctuary. It was all about focus and work, there were no bills, no issues, no others sucking the energy from her.

Patricia knows textiles and even her competitors admit it, as a Native designer she knows everything about leather; she knows how to construct a base with easy flowing fabrics, not the stiff textiles the others chose. The other designers always fall back on their same silhouettes -- even though they’re good, they don’t change or innovate. She critiques how some set up their work areas, feeling that you need to design and work like real artists, and set up your studio for best use of time and materials.

She's a long way into the competition, and has seen plenty of drama. Her policy is defensive, and shrewd: "I don’t want them to figure me out. Don’t reveal, don’t let them know anything."

She’s one on one with the audience, talking about Taos and Santa Fe. She was born into this -- her mom opened the first Native-owned gallery, and as the story goes she was dancing in her buckskins just before Patricia was born. Patricia recalls living on Canyon Road (the gallery area) and seeing all her friend’s homes turn into galleries. She recalls meeting patrons who wanted to buy traditional clothing, and telling them, "I can make you something contemporary," and how this started her business. Now, her clothing tags explain each piece culturally. "I know my work is really haute-couture and New York is ready-to-wear," she says, "but if I’m going to go out for the last time, then I’m going all out."

It's easy to see why Patricia is where she is -- she has that artist/entrepreneur spirit, and she preaches what she practices. "There’s no room for self-doubt," she advises. "It’s a waste of time. Why be mean and mad and frustrated? It’s a waste of energy. You have to get out there. Don’t doubt yourself."

On this night, she survives the round even though the team loses and her partner is sent home. The crowd erupts in applause; she’s surrounded with cameras, hugs, tears, and love. I wait until the morning to ask a few questions.

"I’m working and thinking now about the future," she tells me. "For a designer there’s always the next collection. I’ve had options offered to me. ... So, now this puts me in the conversation. The competitors didn’t understand that. That our voices need to go out further. It’s kind of disheartening not to be heard or understood in your own country. It’s sad we always have to educate and explain.”

I ask what she thinks of when she hears the term: performance.

“From the time you wake up, talking to people, giving interviews, on the computer, taking orders, in the studio, it's constant. You've got to be ready, to communicate; your demeanor has to be good to deal with issues and to get the work done. Then there’s performance night; being gracious to patrons, nor treating them as cash machines, even though you have to be somewhat aggressive to have them look, order and buy.  I want to make them feel passion and compassion as people, not just sales as consumers. I want to challenge them, question why they buy things, make them feel something.”

"I remember as a young girl the school uniforms we had to wear," she says. "How girls loved to get a chance to go out and shop and buy clothing downtown. That’s when I said I wanted to be a designer. I earned the money to afford to buy. I loved clothing and creating fashion."

Though she's weighing some big-picture options, her immediate path is crystal clear. "I need to go forward," she says. "I’m going to keep my crew. I need an agent, a manager, a publicist. We have a new collection set for September in New York City. We need money, support, the income to go forward. Even with all this attention and being recognized as a Native designer, it’s like it’s not enough. They call me a pioneer, a leader, but we have to keep re-inventing ourselves. As artists, we have to keep it fresh. Because of all this going on, the creativity suffers. We need help.”

"Sometimes it’s like the patrons and clients don’t have the interest in the new and what’s outside the comfortable," she admits. "Sometimes our own people don’t either. But why do we have to always justify our being contemporary and Native American. I’m creative because I’m creative -- not just Native. If people want brilliant and innovation, then shouldn’t act like we don’t know and can’t accept that. It puts us back into a box; we keep ourselves in an arena everybody knows. Why can’t we be in the Guggenheim, MOMA, and showing overseas?"

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Susan Givens's picture
Susan Givens
Submitted by Susan Givens on
My tears fell when you were not selected. How they could deny your genius is beyond me. You were truly the most creative and thoughtful designer ever on the show. Upward and onward for you my friend.

boujoie's picture
Submitted by boujoie on
What a thrill it has been to travel with you, Patricia, on your 8-week sojourn with Project Runway. My belly would leap with recognition, awed by each new fabric and garment you designed, my beautiful Native longhair sister. Retracing steps with you in your Taos Pueblo. where I had attended a PowWow. was such a treat. Thank you, Patricia, for all you shared with us -- especially your humility, your grace and your serenity. Your Anishinaabe sister, Joie.

Rosey3's picture
Submitted by Rosey3 on
I didn't miss a show! Patricia is marvel & inspiration. I'm a 72 yo w/visions of putting some new twists into jewelry making (using traditional things but using them in the less traditional way). That's why Patricia's work is so inspirational & amazing. It was interesting to watch the judges & other contestants struggle to understand a Tewa woman's worldview of art.

Phoenix's picture
Submitted by Phoenix on
Patricia I was enthralled by your collection and still understand why you were not selected as the winner in the finale. But I am going to be excited to see you grow. I can imagine your designs on the red carpet. No one will compare to you. You will design for all women not just the thin ones. That said, I would love to see your design flatter the woman's figure even more. I would love to see more tailoring for fall and winter. I would love to see real women in your clothes. Designs for every occasion work and play. I am so sure you will be winning Project Runnway All Stars in the future. I also want to see your textiles and designs fine tuned so that others in the fashion industry can easily understand and help you produce your vision. And then wouldn't it be nice if your vision creates a new industry for the Pueblo? A ho Metak Oye Asin.

Debra Rincon Lopez's picture
Debra Rincon Lopez
Submitted by Debra Rincon Lopez on
I watched It Patricia almost WON THE PROJECT Runway this year, But NINA Garcia didn't have enough confidence in her? SO They gave it to MICHELLE from Portland OREGON. I live in Portland OREGON so I was okay with that IF Patricia Couldn't win at least someone from MY HOME DID. Debra Rincon LOPEZ in PORTLAND OREGON USA.

Susan dicosta's picture
Susan dicosta
Submitted by Susan dicosta on
The best I've ever seen you are a great designer looking forward to buying the horse tail design