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"Runway" Sews Up Another Scandal

Tuesday October 3 5:47 PM ET


By Gina Serpe




It's all right there in the tagline: Heidi Klum cuts, the designers sew.


Except, of course, when it seems the designers don't actually sew and instead outsource the production of their garments to hired hands, as is the allegation among contestants heading into Project Runway's third-season finale.


The accusations of cheating are the second demi-scandal to hit the catwalk this season, and were leveled at final four contestant Jeffrey Sebelia by fellow designer Laura Bennett


Last month, the four remaining wannabes--Sebelia, Bennett, Michael Knight and Uli Herzner--showed their collections at New York Fashion Week, at which point Bennett, a red-headed mother of five, accused the rock 'n' roll designer of cheating by obtaining outside help to stitch together his frocks.


According to New York Magazine, the accusations came about after the two designers' mothers became friendly during the months in which the final four were no longer being filmed and instead were working on their collections.


During those months, Parsons School of Design fashion chair, Project Runway designer mentor, and all-around scene-stealer Tim Gunn visited each designer to check up on the progress. It apparently got back to Bennett, via the mother grapevine, that Gunn told Sebelia he "had a lot of work to do."


Three weeks later, the foursome reconvened at Bryant Park, at which point Sebelia's collection was, in Bennett's eyes, suspiciously well made, especially considering his signature deconstructed style and the condensed amount of time he had to turn the collection around, leading her to accuse the 36-year-old of calling in extra hands, a violation of the show's rules that could lead to disqualification if proved true.


"We took the accusation very seriously, and we did a very intense and thorough investigation," Gunn told New York Magazine, declining to reveal the verdict of the so-called scandal and thus potentially spoil the season-ender.


"His collection was very ambitious," he added. "I wasn't born yesterday."


For his part, Sebelia has lashed out at the allegations--and those who reported on them--in a posting to his MySpace page, after a commenter brought up the rumors.


"Thanks for your concern," Sebeilia wrote. "But all I have to say is be careful of what you read and also of what is presented in the press.


"Those people take any information they get (usually unfounded rumors) and just print them in order to bolster their own readership with no regard to the person they might be slandering.


"They are just doing their job as bottom feeding, sludge dredging, no-life having journalists."


We'll take that as a denial.


Should Sebelia, who has run the successful clothing line Cosa Nostra out of Los Angeles for several years, be found guilty of cheating, it would be the second such instance of designer subterfuge this season.


Just a week after the season premiere became the most watched show in Bravo's history, eagle-eyed fans took to Internet message boards, opining on how the designs contestant Keith Michael submitted in order to earn his spot on the show bore a striking resemblance to fashions from established designers' recent collections. And they had the screen grabs to prove it.


The early frontrunner defended the submission as a "a research assignment" and claimed he never presented the designs as his own work. Regardless, it was soon moot as he was kicked off several episodes later for breaking the show's rules by being in possession of design books, a definite no-no.


He got the boot after being ratted out by fellow competitor Kayne Gillespie.


"The kind of sad part is that I never used those books to give myself any unfair advantage," Michael said at the time. "I am disappointed. I would have made it to the end, I'm pretty sure."


Project Runway's reunion special airs this Wednesday, with the two-part finale taking place Oct. 11 and 18.

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