The 20th season of Project Runway came to an emotional close on Thursday, when Bishme Cromartie was crowned the winner based on his grief-inspired final collection.
The all-star season, which included 14 designers plucked from the previous 19 seasons, came down to the final three of Brittany Allen (season 18), Laurence Basse (season 15) and Cromartie, who competed in season 17.
For the finale, each contestant had to design their own collection that best represented them as people and highlighted their style. Allen did an activewear line called “Pop-Gression” while Basse did evening wear called “One Night in Paris.”
The 31-year-old Cromartie also did an evening wear collection called “Powering Through,” which he said was inspired by his process of grieving his sister, Chimére Wall, who died from cancer in 2022.
“I wanted to showcase the good side of things, the not-so-good side when it gets a little rocky, and then when you overpower the darkness and the things that kinda, like, build you to be the stronger version of yourself,” Cromartie told the judging panel.
His collection included different colored pieces, with white representing innocence, red representing rage and black representing darkness. He also had a dress that represented, he said, the anxiety that one must overcome to turn something into a positive.
Show judge and editor-in-chief of Elle magazine, Nina Garcia, was surprised in a good way by Cromartie’s look.
“As an editor, I can see these on the pages of our magazine, on celebrities,” Garcia told him. “Your clothes just have that fashion with a capital F. You have a gift, and I want you to feel confident about it.”
After Cromartie was announced as the winner, he was overcome with emotion while addressing the judges.
“I thank y’all so much for this. I miss my sister so much, and um… before she passed away she told me I was gonna win,” Cromartie said through tears. “All I had to do was just believe it. And this just right here, just showcased to me everything I’ve been fighting for is worth it.”
For winning the competition, the self-taught designer from Baltimore received a mentorship from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), PR representation and $250,000. And he credits all of it to his sister.
“My biggest fan. The first person who didn’t judge me for doing something outside of the norm and she was there to allow me to blossom and fall deeply in love with my creativity,” Cromartie said. “I know my sister is looking down and just happy and smiling from ear to ear.”
The final image of the episode was a picture of Cromartie and his sister, with the words: “In Loving Memory: Chimére Wall.”