Story by Samantha Shriber
Photos Courtesy of Isabella Kostrzewa
Even as a young child, Mount Pleasant resident Isabella Kostrzewa had hopes of becoming a distinguished fashion designer.
“I remember in kindergarten always drawing pictures in a sketchbook, [especially] drawing dresses,” 16-year-old Kostrzewa said.
“There was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to be a fashion designer.”
Kostrzewa spent this past summer competing in the Lifetime television series “Project Runway Junior”. The season aired Dec. 22.
The series is a spin off of “Project Runway,” but instead of adults completing assignments under time regulations and set obstacles, tasks are done by young teens. The equation remains the same, though – gifted, passionate designers compete to be the best and for a chance at limitless success.
“Upon reflection, it was probably the most fun thing I have ever done in my entire life. Everyone was so artistic and creative,” the Sacred Heart Academy junior said.
Becoming a Designer
At age 10, Kostrzewa started taking an introductory sewing course at Mount Pleasant’s Dream Key Design Academy. In the beginning, Kostrzewa learned how to make pillow cases, pajama pants and puppets. Eventually she began taking private lessons through the academy to have a more advanced approach to sewing and creating.
“They really took me under their wing and gave me private instruction. They were so incredibly helpful in so many ways,” Kostrzewa said.
At 14, Kostrzewa branched away from the institute to become a more independent designer and learner.
“Instruction is nice, but once you can improve on your own, I think it is such an interesting time,” she said.
Another creative influencer in her life is her mother, professional painter Lily Kostrzewa. Currently, her mother’s masterpieces are showcased in the likes of Spain, Germany and New York.
“She’s really given me the [roots] to grow as a person in the field of arts,” Kostrzewa said.
An Opportunity of a Lifetime
Only a short distance from Central Michigan University’s campus, Kostrzewa sat in her bedroom, completing the official “Project Runway Junior” season two application.
“It was very vague at the time and I kept asking myself, ‘is this even real? Is this even the real “Project Runway Junior”?’” Kostrzewa said.
After watching the premiere season of the series at her aunt’s home in 2015, Kostrzewa was instantly inspired to go forward with applying for the following season.
The application consisted of approximately 20 questions and a three-minute video portion.
During this “surreal” process, Kostrzewa had to showcase her identity as a designer and fashion enthusiast. Questions included asking who her favorite professional designers were, how long she had been sewing and why she aspired to participate in the television show.
In May 2015, Kostrzewa received a phone call from official “Project Runway Junior” representatives. After a successful Skype interview, the Mount Pleasant teen flew out to New York to compete in the series’ semi-finals.
In an intimidating process that lasted through June, she competed with many other young designers, each with similar ambitions and creative skills.
“That was really scary,” Kostrzewa said.
Despite the stress before the show even began, Kostrzewa found herself taking up a temporary residence in Brooklyn, New York. There, she competed as an official contestant of the teen fashion series. Her designs were subjected to the input of series’ mentor and fashion icon, Tim Gunn, along with judges Kelly Osbourne, Christian Siriano and Aya Kenai.
Life in New York
Attending a small private school, Kostrzewa always felt limited achieving her full potential as a “fashion teen”.
“I go to a Catholic school, so no one can really relate to me at all,” Kostrzewa said. “I always break the dress code and I always get in trouble.”
Outside of competing, she enjoyed exploring the city and shopping on Bedford Avenue with her fellow competitors.
“Just shopping with them was one of the [most fun] experiences ever. We went to Urban Outfitters and these crazy [cultural] shops. They were so fun and creative and outgoing, they really helped me become out of myself and become who I really want to be as a person.”
Back in Mount Pleasant
Kostrzewa described her classmates as nothing but supportive of her success. She said that many of them watch the show weekly and are comfortable to ask her questions and tease her.
“I really like when people make of fun of me and I don’t know why, I just think it’s really funny and it helps me keep my ego down,” Kostrzewa said. “I don’t really feel that life is any different, I just feel that it is more fun.”
Cultivating Her Craft
Although Kostrzewa is still only “testing the waters” as a designer, she enjoys using bright colors and believes “the weirder the better” in terms of designing.
When she graduates from Sacred Heart Academy in 2018, Kostrzewa hopes to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York before pursuing a full time career in the fashion industry.
“Always be confident in yourself. Own yourself because people won’t start liking you until you love yourself,” Kostrzewa said.
To see how Kostrzewa finished in the series, watch season two of “Project Runway Junior” every Thursday at 9 p.m. on Lifetime.
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