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Hometowner Laura Kathleen Planck made it to top five on Project Runway

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 14, 2011 - Self-pronounced Barbie-with-a-bite, Laura Kathleen Planck, 26, made her debut on Lifetime's Project Runway with bright colors, maxi dresses and plenty of glamour. She made it to the top five and was the last to be eliminated before the remaining designers show in New York fashion week.

Planck is the third St. Louis native to compete on Project Runway, following A.J. Thouvenot and Michael Drummond last season. Although they share the same hometown, the aesthetics of all three designers don't appear to share the same planet, let alone metro area. Thouvenot's playful, party girl dresses and Drummond's deconstructed knitwear are entirely different than Planck's feminine and modern designs.

Planck said there's no one St. Louis style.

"St. Louis style, I'd say, is all over the place. I think it's very much like everywhere else. You can walk around Manhattan and not everyone's wearing couture, I'll tell you that. St. Louis has its different areas and I love it," says Planck. "I know people make fun of it, but we are very categorized by the neighborhoods we live in. I love going around all the different neighborhoods because that kind of classifies the styles there are.... I just really think St. Louis is a great mix of everything."

Updated Glamour

Planck's personal style is all about glamour.

"My personal style is very much what I design," adds Planck. "It's the glamorous, modern woman. So, I take that old Hollywood glam from past decades, because I am in love with vintage silhouettes and retro prints, and I modernize it." (See her tour of her downtown residence.)

In her Project Runway debut, the contestants were awakened, then walked to the studio and asked to design something using only what they wore to bed and a sheet. Luckily, Planck was wearing silk pajamas.

"You know, you always have to be glamorous!" she said, remarking that on the day of the interview she was wearing a vintage '70s maxi dress to run around fabric stores.

She names Balenciaga and Christopher Bailey for Burberry among her favorite designers, and said she admires Betsey Johnson for being so true to her designs and Salvatore Ferragamo for their business practices. She is wearing Betsey Johnson in her Project Runway promotional photos.

In St. Louis, she said she enjoys shopping at the vintage and thrift stores along Cherokee Street and the Loop. She said she has found great pieces at Avalon Exchange, and she also gets many of her most authentic vintage finds from estate sales.

"I like to avoid malls," she said. "Except for -- I will not knock Forever 21. If I just want to get a cute little maxi dress to wear during the day to run around in, I'm totally all about Forever 21, they're only 20 bucks, I mean, why not?

To get her glam look, Planck says her wardrobe staples are maxi dresses, leather boots, a great-fitting pair of jeans, an impeccable blazer and a great leather handbag.

A born designer

The designer got her start early, knowing she wanted to work in fashion from the beginning.

She knew she wanted to become a designer since "I came out of the womb. In kindergarten I dressed up as a fashion designer for career day, and I started sewing when I was 8 years old. It was crazy because I was a tomboy growing up. I was not a girly-girl or anything, but I still wanted to design clothes. It never changed."

Planck graduated from MICDS, has a degree in design, merchandising and textiles from Western Kentucky University and also studied at the Accademia Italiana in Florence, Italy, according to her website. She worked in Nashville and Manhattan before returning to St. Louis to start her own business. She operates a custom label designing one-of-a-kind looks for her clients and puts out a new collection twice a year.

"I do a lot in the St. Louis area, you know we have a large debutante society, which is great because these young girls, with these perfect bodies, need these beautiful gowns, so it's kind of like I have this great form to work with," says Planck. "I do lots of gowns for the Fleur de Lis and the (Veiled Prophet) balls, the two debutante balls in the winter. I do a lot of bridal and (for) women who just need something great for a gala or a party. I have some women who go to me every month because they attend that many events and want an original dress."

Planck is also a teacher, teaching fashion to high schoolers at the Lift for Life Academy, a charter school. The class has an annual fashion show, where the students model all the garments they made. The program is now in its third year and is expanding to four classes.

"They asked two years ago if I wanted to start a fashion program there," she said. "My schedule is getting pretty packed! But I love it, and it's really such a rewarding job, and I know the girls are just thrilled to be able to experience fashion at such a young age."

Project Runway experience

Although only two episodes of Project Runway have been broadcast this season, everything has been filmed except for the Fashion Week finale. The competition's finalists will show their collections on Sept. 9 for the chance to win $100,000 from L'Oreal Paris to start a fashion line, a fashion spread in Marie Claire magazine, a $50,000 technology suite by HP and Intel, according to the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week website.

Planck tried out for Project Runway four times, the first right after she graduated from college. This time, she says, the timing was perfect because it gave her enough time out of college to develop her aesthetic and make her designs wearable.

"Just getting out of college you're not ready yet," she says. "You need to get to know yourself as a professional, and your aesthetic evolves so much from school. It was like, OK, all the hard work paid off and somebody was watching over me to make sure it was at the right time in my life."

In the show's first two episodes, she has stayed "safe" without placing in the bottom three or top three. Her challenges so far have included designing a runway look from what she wore to bed the night before and a look created from supplies from a pet store. (In the third episode - aired after the article was written - Planck was the winner for a flowing, bright red stilt outfit that she designed in partnership with Anthony Ryan.)

She appreciates everyone in St. Louis who is supporting her. Some of that support comes from Drummond, who she says is a close friend of hers.

"Michael is one of my best friends, so within the first couple days I got back, we immediately went out and got a drink, she says. "I'm actually supposed to meet Michael for coffee today, so we're really close, we talk all the time."

As far as her feelings post-Project Runway, Planck takes it all in stride. Drummond has described feeling as if he had PSTD, but she said her experience was different.

"I'm a little more blunt, and I think I can take the harsh and the crazy that Project Runway brings. Did I come back really tired? Absolutely," she said.

For the future, Planck has no intention of Leaving St. Louis. She has a new line coming out for fall.

"Absolutely not!" she says. "I'm staying here; I'm not leaving at all. People are asking me that question, and I'm like 'Why would I leave my hometown?' I went to school away from here, I lived in New York for interning, I lived in Italy for studying, and I'm just in love with St. Louis."

"My goal is to set up shop here," she adds. "I want a handful of drapers and a handful of seamstresses, and I want to operate Laura Kathleen out of St. Louis forever."

Abby Spudich, a student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is a summer intern at the Beacon.

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