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Jeffrey Sebelia
declared Project Runway winner

Jeffrey Sebelia
declared Project Runway winner

Heavily tattooed Los Angeles designer Jeffrey Sebelia won Bravo's reality TV show Project Runway in an episode that aired on Wednesday, wowing the breakout hit series' judges with a collection praised for its innovation and cohesiveness.

"We loved what you did," the show's host, supermodel Heidi Klum, told Sebelia, the flamboyant and often ornery designer whose rock-and-roll aesthetic marked his designs during the course of the show's run.

"You have a great style, you're a great designer, and we want to see more of you," Klum added.

Sebelia, 36, who spoke on the show of his troubled past, including once having planned to hang himself as he struggled with drug addiction, seemed genuinely surprised by his win over runner-up Uli Herzner, an East German native who's now a Miami Beach-based stylist.

"Are you kidding me?" said Sebelia, who won $100,000 to start a clothing line as well as a 2007 Saturn and a spread in Elle magazine. "I'm in shock," he later added.

The collection of 12 outfits that Sebelia showed in September during New York's Fashion Week at Bryant Park surprised the judges, who included designer Michael Kors and Elle's Nina Garcia.

Pleated blouses topped youthful, gentle tiered dresses and skirts, and lightweight skirts flowed freely; several outfits seemed geared toward L.A. beach culture. Broad stripes of green and gold appeared in both a tailored jacket and garden party dress.

Herzner, known for her colorful, patterned, beach-themed designs, was praised for producing "a beautiful collection that every woman would want to wear." But Sebelia's range, paired with his vision and focus, clinched the win for the Cosa Nostra label founder who has designed for rock stars such as Madonna.

Finalists Laura Bennett, a Manhattan architect and mother of five with a sixth on the way, and fan favorite Michael Knight, a self-employed Atlanta designer, were eliminated before Herzner.

Sixteen aspiring designers competed in weekly challenges during the third season of the Emmy-nominated show, which has proved the Bravo network's biggest hit.

Contestants competed in design tasks ranging from creating couture dresses to assembling outfits from materials salvaged from a recycling plant to performing makeovers for the other contestants' mothers--all on tight deadlines. Dogs, Miss USA, and fashion icons such as Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe also inspired the weekly challenges.

Controversies included the ejection of one contestant for possession of pattern-making books, while an eleventh-hour charge by Bennett that Sebelia might not have completed all his sewing himself threatened to derail his Bryant Park show.

Lauded by critics for its inspired connection to the world of high fashion, the show regularly featured its share of reality TV staples such as histrionics, tantrums, and accusations of cheating. (Reuters)

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