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Designer Jeffrey Sebelia on the runway at the Project Runway Spring 2007 during Olympus Fashion Week in New York City, Friday, September 15, 2006.
Designer Jeffrey Sebelia on the runway at the Project Runway Spring 2007 during Olympus Fashion Week in New York City, Friday, September 15, 2006. (Gregorio Binuya/Abaca Press/MCT)

Jeffrey goes from worst to first on 'Runway'

If Jeffrey Sebelia had any room left on his neck, he might get a tattoo that says "redemption."

The former-junkie-turned-designer-to-the-rock-stars, accused at the last minute of outsourcing his sewing, took away the top prize on "Project Runway" last night. It was proof that life's fortunes can truly change. And proof, after a season when you sometimes had to wonder, that the judges really were focused on the clothes.

Who else but Jeffrey, after all, would base a fashion collection on Japanese ghost stories? Who else on earth could make red polka dots look hip? Who else could bring the third "Runway" season to a sentimental end, embracing his upper-crust mother, his mohawked girlfriend, and his toddler son?

Jeffrey's win, it's clear, will be trumpeted as the triumph of the bad boy. Really, it isn't that simple. Yes, he was the grumpiest contestant by far, and his enormous neck tattoo was a constant distraction (though when it turned out to be his son's name in cursive, most was forgiven). Yes, he made a portly Midwestern woman cry, in a brilliant midseason episode that had the designers dressing each other's mothers.

But come on; when you're on deadline, a little grumpiness is allowed. And beneath the Bryant Park tents at Fashion Week, Jeffrey's clothes were a marvel, layered and inventive. Besides, he deserved some good karma after last week's twist, when a rival contestant, Laura ``The Devil Wears Prada" Bennett, accused him of cheating -- based on no more than a hunch.

You knew, from the teases at the end of last week's episode, that Jeffrey, 36, would get to stay. ``Project Runway" producers are masters at bait-and-switch, so when they previewed a clip of him crying, they had to be tears of joy. Indeed, last night's episode felt, on the whole, like a bit of an anticlimax. After a season of nasty squabbles, the rah-rah mood at Bryant Park seemed out of focus.

And to a barely-stylish observer, this wasn't much of a contest. Uli's outfits were fun, but her clothes left an overwhelming impression of beige. Laura's beaded dresses were elegant, but typically sedate. And while Michael Knight announced that his theme was ``street safari," his clothes looked like they were made for a Disney theme park.

Still, no tears should be shed for the also-rans. Laura will have no trouble fitting her impending sixth child into her fabulous New York apartment, and she'll be back on the cocktail party circuit in no time. Uli seemed to already have buyers for her clothes. And when the executive vice president of Wal-Mart told host Heidi Klum that he might put some ``Runway" fashions in his stores, you know he was thinking about Michael's gold lame.

``It's all just a bunch of vibrations," Sebelia said to the cameras, just before the final credits rolled. And so it goes. Somewhere in the Midwest, a middle-aged mother is shedding a tear. And around New York, the fashion gods are smiling.

Joanna Weiss can be reached at

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