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January 3, 2013

Project Runway's Dark Horse

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"I thought, this [Project Runway audition] is my way out," he says. "This is the way to get noticed. I had done collections before, but I was always behind the scenes, never in the spotlight." That coveted spotlight, he learned, could sometimes cast a harsh glare. MC Fashion Director Nina Garcia questioned whether he was a "one-trick pony" who relied too heavily on severe silhouettes and structured dresses. Michael Kors criticized his final collection for being too matronly, sending him back to edit hours before the runway show. But did he ever think he would get auf'd? "Never."

That's the sort of unflinching confidence, Sholokhov says, that was lacking in his show nemesis, the fiery Ukrainian Elena Slivnyak — or as one of the other PR designers joked, the Natasha to Sholokhov's Boris (think Rocky and Bullwinkle). The friction between the two proved the season's most entertaining drama. "She was just so insecure," says Sholokhov of Slivnyak. "She had a problem with me from the very beginning. Maybe because we come from similar backgrounds? She would talk behind my back, and it would just get into my bones. Eventually she apologized, but I still kept my guard up."

A trash-talking adversary wasn't the only obstacle he faced: He lost 18 pounds from his already slender frame due to stress and was homeless for five months as a result of quitting his job to compete on the show. (He survived by couch-surfing.) "I had no time to focus on real-life issues like paying my bills or eating right." Despite the mental trials and physical tribulations, he came up with a final collection — all architectural lines and leather accents — that eclipsed runner-up Fabio Costa's drapey, ethereal effort. "Before Heidi [Klum] said anything, there was a very long pause — like five minutes. It's not just TV editing!" When she declared Sholokhov the winner, "All I could think was, Thank God! Then I booked a trip to Puerto Rico immediately." And upon his return? He moved into his own one-bedroom apartment in Chelsea.

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