Lifetime's Project Runway begins season 11 with teams this time out and 16 new designers. One of them, named Kate Pankoke, makes wedding dresses in Chicago with a southern Florida style. The judges include Heidi Klum, Nina Garcia and newbie Zac Posen added into the mix.
Let's find out how Kate makes it work in The Big Apple and the Windy City.
Windy City Times: Hi. I can't believe we haven't met before. Are you one of those designers that works all the time indoors?
Katelyn Pankoke: I never get out. Have you seen how pale I look in those pictures? [Laughs]
WCT: I saw you wearing the side pony with your hair.
Katelyn Pankoke: It is more pronounced in the promo pictures but I occasionally do rock the side pony.
WCT: You are a ginger?
Katelyn Pankoke: Not naturally. I wish. I don't understand why people that have naturally red hair dye it. To me red hair is beautiful so I will continue to be repping the fake gingers!
WCT: You have to represent Chicago, too. We have had a tough time with our designers on Project Runway in the past.
Katelyn Pankoke: I definitely do that. Even though I wasn't born here I believe in fate and destiny. I wouldn't be where I am without this city.
WCT: You are not from Chicago?
Katelyn Pankoke: No, I was born in Eau Claire, Wis. I don't even know where that is on the map. I lived there for two years and then my dad was transferred to the south Florida office. So I grew up in a tiny suburb called Parkland. It is basically between Boca and Fort Lauderdale. It was beachy and nice but I am really glad that I ended up moving to Chicago. I'm definitely more of a Chicago girl. The move has been fabulous for me and the company.
WCT: Did you study fashion in Florida?
Katelyn Pankoke: Yes, I studied fashion at Florida State University. Their fashion department they had to cancel due to budget cuts while I was still in the program. It was pretty dramatic. Luckily, I was a junior. If they were freshmen then they had to take a crash course and a test to be bumped up to senior status. It was sad but worked for me since I wound up tutoring some of them. Hey, I paid a fabric bill!
WCT: What is your specialty?
Katelyn Pankoke: My specialty is bridal. I have a bridal line based out of Chicago and I have all the gowns made right here. I started it really when I moved to Chicago. Before that I did custom and ready-to-wear evening wear. My fiancÃ© got a job up here and I had never even been to Chicago before. We just picked up and moved. Basically, I was losing my entire client base. It was a make it or break it time for me. I had always wanted to start my own line so it was the right time and place. It has just taken off from there.
WCT: Where did the name of the line come from?
Katelyn Pankoke: The name of the line is Elaya Vaughn Bridal. It is taken from two of my family names. My God given name I don't really like so much because it doesn't have the flow that a bridal line needs. I had a great aunt Elaya, which I thought was a beautiful name. My grandfather's mother's maiden name is Vaughn. It didn't just come out of thin air.
WCT: Is bridal clothing seasonal?
Katelyn Pankoke: It is less seasonal than many other fashion lines. Fashion took a hit from the economy, and people have less money to spring for evening wear or even an $80 T-shirt these days. With bridal people are always getting married no matter what the economy is like. Girls will splurge on their gown so that really helps me because they will invest in nice fabrics and in quality construction. What can be more fun that designing a wedding gown?
WCT: Hopefully, we will have same-sex marriage soon in Illinois and I can wear one of your designs.
Katelyn Pankoke: YesI am all for that. You know where to come! I can whip something up for you.
WCT: I'm sure there are a few gay designers this season on Project Runway. It's sometimes challenging to find a straight one.
Katelyn Pankoke: It really is. Honestly, we don't really get into it. There were several openly gay contestants but I didn't ask everyone. I don't know if there were any straight ones. I guess you guys will have to watch and find out. It might be a confessional camera type of situation.
WCT: How was meeting Tim Gunn?
Katelyn Pankoke: I have been watching the show my whole life. I'm the youngest contestant on our season. Tim and Heidi are idols for me. When Tim walked into that workroom, I just about dropped dead! I felt like I was watching TV in 3D. There he was, talking to me. I was scared because I didn't know what to expect. Would he be stern? Would he just pop in and out? I was pleasantly surprised. He knew all of our names on the first episode. He genuinely cared about each and every one of us and wanted us to succeed. To know he was that invested in each designer was really eye opening. I respect him and his opinions so much. It would have broken my heart if he was not nice. To have him be as amazing as he was literally was a dream come true.
WCT: How was the new guy Zac as a judge?
Katelyn Pankoke: Oh my God, Zac Posen. When I saw him on the judging panel I thought, "Thank the Lord!" I love Zac and his designs. I feel we have very similar esthetics so I was happy to see him there for that reason alone and thought he would respond to my designs. I love Michael Kors but I was worried about being on the other side of some of his metaphors. I'm sure he would have had some choice remarks about some of my pieces.
WCT: It must have been challenging to go from wedding dresses to designing on the show.
Katelyn Pankoke: It really is. For wedding gowns I don't just design for one person. With ready-to-wear it is one specific person. It was such a fun experience for me because I never get to design for myself. I used Project Runway to find myself as a person as opposed to finding out about myself as a designer. Turns out I can accomplish a lot more than I gave myself credit for.
WCT: It is teams this time on the show.
Katelyn Pankoke: Lord have mercy, it is! We already talked about how I don't get out much. For me to work with other people when I just work by myself is not fun. When Tim and Heidi walk out on the runway and announce it would be teams, my heart dropped.
I was scared enough being in a competition where you make things in a day but on top of that I had to fight with other personalities that are just as strong as my own. I've already seen a commercial where I call someone a bitch so this is going to be something to see!
Watch her make it work on Project Runway every Thursday on the Lifetime Channel.