For anyone watching season 17 of Bravo’s Project Runway, it was no surprise to see Colombian-born Jhoan Sebastian Grey crowned the champion. With his breathtaking designs, humble attitude and ability to design for any body size, the designer wowed the judges weekly. Now, he’s here to share the secrets behind his skills in Fashion Sewing With Jhoan Sebastian Grey .
Before you tune in though, read on to find out why he thinks he won the show, which materials he loves working with most, and where he finds so much inspiration for each clothing collection.
First, we gotta know: how were you cast on Bravo’s Project Runway?
It was never in my mind to be part of the show, but my husband was always putting pressure on me. He saw me sewing all the time at home for my friends, and making pillowcases for him for his wrestling matches. He was always impressed with how quickly I could do things, so he thought I’d be perfect for the show. They need people that are able to do everything in a very short amount of time.
I wasn’t as sure, because at the time my English wasn’t so good and I didn’t know the terminology for a lot of things — I still don’t know. I didn’t want that pressure of people watching me because I was not able to talk in fluent English. But he said, “No, you’re okay. You’re going to do it. This is a great opportunity for you here in this country.” And it was him actually who did the entire application. So I have to thank him.
How did it feel to win season 17?
It was a very surprising moment for me. Because at the end of the season, we were four of the best contestants there. Hester had an amazing collection, Garo had an amazing collection, and I love what Bishme did. So at that moment I was like, “Any one of us can be the winner. We’re all good designers.” So it was very surprising for me.
What do you think set you and your collection apart?
I was true to myself, and was able to connect my emotions and my feelings with my clothes. That is something I had been struggling with a lot, but I was finally able to do it. I think that’s something that sets you apart from other designers because you are transmitting something to the public. People are able to connect with your clothes and have some feelings when they’re wearing it.
What inspired your finale collection?
It was called Reminiscence, and it was inspired by the memories of my life in Colombia when I was doing road trips with my parents to the coastal areas. So going on the buses, we were stopping in different little towns and cities. I was always watching the craftsmanship of the art designs, watching the colors we were passing by, the people. I tried to bring all that energy back to my present and mix it with what I like to do nowadays with more tailored clothes , more fitting clothes.
What was your favorite garment from that collection?
I think it was the leather dress. It was the one that took more work — almost three weeks making it by myself. I’m always trying to bring leather into my collections using different techniques. For this one, I tried to include it for summer because that’s not something very usual. So I made these neat kind of nets in leather. So it’s cool. It’s different. It permits the body to breathe. I’m very, very proud of it.
Why do you always try to work with leather?
Leather is really important to me because it’s the legacy of my father. He has been working with leather his entire life. And my grandfather was a tailor. My grandmother was a very well-known seamstress in my country. And my mother has been working with crafts and stuff with her hands her whole life. All of those elements influence the way I present things to the world. It’s in my blood.
And you started sewing by working with leather?
I think I started sewing when I was probably 12 years old. I started doing some little jackets with the scraps of leather in my dad’s factory. I was doing some Barbie jackets for my cousin. Maybe that’s a cool idea, to make an entire collection in leather. Maybe for winter or summer.
How did you start more seriously working in fashion?
I was lucky to have an amazing teacher who introduced me to the best designers in my country. We were working with them, making clothes for the President and the First Lady. They taught me high-end finishes, how to be careful with the details, the inside of the garments, the best fabrics to work with and how to manipulate the materials. So that’s what I was doing there for almost 10 years, and I started opening my own business.
Eventually, I realized fashion needs a lot of investment because you need something every day — new materials, new supplies, every day you need something extra. So it was very difficult for me to keep my business around. I had to close it and go back to working with the designers. And after a couple years, I decided to move to the United States and start a new beginning.
Where do you find inspiration when designing?
It’s always very different and comes from all over the place — nature, art. Right now I like to dig more into myself and try to connect with the thoughts I have so I can be more honest with my work. I try to put my feelings on paper, in images, so I can start collecting them and begin creating my collections.
What are your favorite fabrics to work with?
Silk , because it’s super soft and is very feminine. And leather, like I said, because it’s the legacy of my family, especially my dad. It gives that kind of armor and strong side that I want to give to not only women, but men too because I’m going to start doing men’s clothes.
What do you love most about fashion?
I love making people happy and like they’re able to do whatever they want when they dress up and go into their day. Life is difficult and it’s hard, so we have to dress to fight back every day. I love giving people that kind of armor, that in-depth energy so they’re able to fight day by day.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Learn More Now
Follow along as Jhoan walks you through the making of a paneled skirt — from drafting to sewing to finishing — in his class, Fashion Sewing With Jhoan Sebastian Grey.