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A Korto above 

Arkansas designer propelled by ‘Runway.’

'RUNWAY' GIRL: Korto Momolu
  • 'RUNWAY' GIRL: Korto Momolu

Rumor has it that Sarah Palin's shopping spree cost more than the reported $150,000. The babydoll black frock that Sasha Obama wore on election night is being marketed by manufacturer Gerson and Gerson as the “Sasha” style. First Lady to-be Michelle Obama received love-it-or-shove-it reactions to the red-and-black dress she wore in Grant Park; one critic called the Narciso Rodriguez sheath a “lava lamp look.” 

And for one Arkansan, a dream got a little bit closer. Korto Momolu, 33, alumna of reality TV show “Project Runway,” wants to design Michelle Obama's inauguration gown. A tall order — and one a million designers would love to fill. Momolu is not deterred. “I have a few connections,” she said.

No doubt she does; in its five seasons on Bravo, “Project Runway” has created a fashion enthusiasm sensation. People who didn't previously know the difference between chartreuse and teal are now hooked on the show and preach the gospel of “making it work” (designer mentor Tim Gunn's signature advice). When Momolu showed her clothes at September's Harvest Fest in Hillcrest, the crowd packed Kavanaugh Boulevard like they were attending a rock concert. When I asked if my election-obsessed family would be tuning into the “Project Runway” season finale or the third presidential debate, my mom said the choice was easy.

“ ‘Project Runway.' The networks should have known better than to schedule those two at the same time.”

 

The format of “Project Runway” is simple: In each episode, designers complete a timed challenge, the segment ends in a runway show and elimination. The final three designers get three months and $8,000 to create a collection for the Bryant Park tents of New York Fashion Week, and the season finale shows the collections and names a winner. Supermodel Heidi Klum hosts and judges the show, along with fashion editor Nina Garcia, designer Michael Kors and a rotating fourth guest-judge. 

This year, “Project Runway” enthusiasm in Little Rock was high; Momolu, who was born in Liberia and lives in Mabelvale, set herself apart early as a contender for the win. In the first challenge, which required the designers to make outfits from materials found in a grocery store, Momolu made a bright yellow, low-necked kimono-style dress from a tablecloth. The judges loved her embellishment: She topped the design off with a salad — a collar made of kale and brooches of tomatoes.

One of Momolu's most memorable creations of the season was a taupe coat dress constructed from woven Saturn Vue Hybrid seatbelts. The coat fetched $1,026 in the online auction that occurs after every episode of the New York-based show.

“Project Runway” awards its winner a spread in “ELLE” magazine, a Saturn Vue (seatbelts intact) and $100,000 to start his or her own line. It's every fledgling fashion designer's dream.

As diehard fans already know, Momolu was named first runner-up in the Oct. 15 season finale, second to Leanne Marshall, 28, of Portland. Momolu beat out some wacky competitors: the tan guy who loves hot pink, the leather fanatic who designs for “hookers and pimps and whoever is tough enough.”

But she won the $10,000 Fan Favorite prize at Bryant Park for her collection. The 10 pieces — long and short dresses, and one pant and blouse — were in shades of turquoise, tan, green, ivory, and yellow. Many of the models carried circular fans and wore Asian-inspired buns. Large-beaded necklaces provided an African motif. The beads came from the Argenta Bead Company, and most fabrics in the collection were from Cynthia East Fabrics. For serious reality TV fans, a model wearing a short, emerald dress was familiar; she was Little Rock's Danielle Evans, winner of season six of America's Next Top Model. The runway music was from Momolu's African drum teacher in Arkansas.

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