Project Runway: In Her Shoes

Season 12 Project Runway contestant Helen Castillo steps out of her comfort zone and designs from the feet first.

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"Don't forget to use the accessories wall, designers!" That phrase has become a familiar Tim Gunn-ism, almost as recognizable as "Make it work." They're his parting words to the Project Runway contestants as they scramble to dress their models before sending them down the runway. But during this season's Marie Claire challenge, his reminder was not needed. The task at hand was to create a look inspired by a pair of shoes, a nod to MC's Shoes First special. "When getting dressed in the morning, for me it starts with the shoes," says MC Creative Director and PR judge Nina Garcia. "It makes putting an outfit together so much easier." Designers were allowed to select a pair only after answering a question correctly from a quiz conducted by MC Editor-in-Chief Anne Fulenwider in the magazine's fashion closet. The questions ranged from "What design school did Marc Jacobs attend?" (answer: Parsons) to "Who invented the contemporary stiletto?" (answer: Salvatore Ferragamo). The challenge winner, 25-year-old Helen Castillo, took home her first solo win, beating runners-up Alexandria von Bromssen and Ken Laurence. "I have never taken inspiration from an accessory," says the Fashion Institute of Technology grad. "More often than not, I don't think about shoes at all." She had her eye on the pair she wanted from the start. "The whole time I was thinking, Please, please, please don't let me get those metallic combat boots," she says. Upon answering the fifth question — "Which singer-actress-designer did Women's Wear Daily coin 'Fashion's Billion Dollar Baby' in 2010?" (answer: Jessica Simpson) — Castillo picked leather Emy Mack booties with silver studs at the tips. With those in mind, she created a wool-rayon-crepe LBD with a matching cape. "I was going for editorial, chic, and classic," she says. "It could have been hit or miss, so I knew I had to execute it perfectly." Her design was a hit even with judge Zac Posen, whose reaction surprised Castillo. "It's surreal to have such a well-known, established designer say that he is impressed by my work. That just pushes me forward." —Jessica Minkoff

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