'Project Runway' Finds the "American Dream" in Winner Sebastian Grey

Barbara Nitke/Bravo
'Project Runway' season 17 winner Sebastian Gray

Native Colombian immigrant bests competition in finale of Bravo design competition "on talent alone."

"Felicitaciones," murmured Elle magazine editor-in-chief Nina García to Sebastian Grey when he was announced as the winner of the rebooted 17th season of Project Runway last night on Bravo. "As a Latina, I am so proud of the story that you have told. You are the personification of the American dream," García told the Colombian émigré-turned-janitor-turned-competition winner. "You came to this country, you worked really hard and you are standing here as a winner on talent alone."

Grey bested finalists Hester Sunshine and Garo Sparo, who proved strong competition, both in the season’s run-up and the finale fashion show. Presenting 10 looks apiece, the three finalists faced off before veteran judge García (the only castmember who remains since the program’s debut in 2004); the new judges, designer Brandon Maxwell and former Teen Vogue editor and author Elaine Welteroth; new host model Karlie Kloss; and, for the finale, guest judge Diane Von Furstenberg.

"It was emotional, I’m getting chills just thinking of it" says Welteroth on the phone to The Hollywood Reporter the day after the wrap-up about as she recounted Grey’s tearful reaction. "You could see how much it meant to him and it was a really special moment with Nina. I loved it."

Grey had led the pack all season with his assured professionalism and accomplished technique, turning out sophisticated clothes that the judges often pointed out seemed already destined for a retail floor. Perhaps that’s why it was surprising that he seemed to doubt himself momentarily in the last episode, even returning to Mood fabrics and contemplating another outfit to augment his collection. But after a steadying visit the trio had with Von Furstenberg, Grey regained his mojo and even remained unflappable when a stain was discovered on a white chiffon gown backstage before the show.

Sparo was also working up until the last minute on one of his signature corseted dresses and his finishing suffered for the effort, though the judges especially admired his fluid white pants ensemble. Sunshine gave Grey the biggest run for his money with her admittedly "bonkers" but charming collection, "Cyber Rococo" — a mashup of Y2K-inflected punk and Marie Antoinette — which found an instant fan in Von Furstenberg. "If she doesn’t win, I’ll hire her," the designer offered.

Emotions also ran high as first-time mentor Christian Siriano thanked the contestants for letting him guide them throughout the season. "Shall we do fashion," he said miming a standoff, "or just hug?" A group hug won out.

For the first time, the winner will receive a one-on-one business mentorship courtesy of the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America.) Gray also took home the biggest cash prize in the show’s history, $250,000 (from Pilot’s FriXion Erasable Gel Ink Pen.) He will also be the subject of a feature in Elle and get his own role in a Bluprint digital series (and nab $50,000 to put toward his own design studio, also courtesy of Bluprint.)

Reflecting on the season as a whole, Welteroth seemed buoyed by the new direction of the show, with the episodes often emphasizing camaraderie over conflict. "I think people responded to way the show is prioritizing being truly inclusive, in a way that feels organic," she says. "It seems like a reflection of what the world really looks like now and I think they like seeing that."