'Project Runway' Winner Burns Bright in Latest Test

In a bustling workroom nestled on 38th Street in New York’s Fashion District just a few days before her runway show, Irina Shabayeva remained cool, calm and focused amid the constant calling of her name, the incessant ringing of her phone and a growing group of models filtering in, waiting to be fitted.

Irina Shabayeva fits one of her ready to wear pieces on her models two days before her runway show in Lincoln Center.
Photo: Oliver Quillia for CNBC
Irina Shabayeva fits one of her ready to wear pieces on her models two days before her runway show in Lincoln Center.

The Season Six ‘Project Runway’winner, who had not slept in more than two days and had black smudges on her arms, carefully pinned a red dress with delicate laser cut snowflake embellishments on one of the models as she neared the end of a grueling marathon to the runway.

“It’s sort of an intense and draining process,” Shabayeva said. “I’m practically exhausted now. It’s something you have to love to do because it takes a lot out of you physically and mentally.”

The process, she explained, began months in advance with her initial sketches, patterns, samples and fabric selection.

Shabayeva, 29 years old, is one of 89 designers who will showcase their fall and winter collections for 2011 at Lincoln Center during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.

“It’s really exciting — it’s a milestone for any designer,” Shabayeva said about her debut at Lincoln Center. “I think it’s a show regardless of where you are showing. The pressure is always on. I’m excited and nervous.”

Showing at Lincoln Center is expensive, according to Shabayeva. Designers either pay a large fee themselves or secure a sponsorship.

“I have a great sponsor,” Shabayeva said about "Edge" magazine, the sponsor of her show.

Her fall and winter collection, which is evocative of a fire and ice motif, made its way down the catwalk Thursday evening to a receptive audience nodding and whispering about the pieces that caught their attention. With this collection, and Shabayeva's other projects, she is hoping to turn the fame she garnered with her "Project Runway" win into an enduring career.

The Fall collection included a bold color pallet, especially with the use of red and pops of cobalt blue. The tailored designs were intricately embellished with laser cutouts, many with Swarovski crystal detailing and accessorized with wearable knits.

Her "Fire and Ice" collection debut might prove this cool-tempered designer when under pressure to be one hottest names showing at Lincoln Center this season.

While showing at Lincoln Center is a milestone for Shabayeva, it’s certainly not the beginning of her success story. She already has a long list of accomplishments under her belt.

The designer recently partnered with Macy’s INC International Concepts where she created 13 ensembles of clothing and footwear. The INC collection is set to appear in 50 Macy’s stores and Macy’s Web siteon February 19th.

Like the Fall 2011 collection, these pieces for the mass market showed Shabayeva is not afraid of vivid colors that are expected to dominate fall wardrobes.

She also has a bridal line among other industry titans such as Oscar de la Renta and Monique Lhuiller at Kleinfeld’s — the New York-based bridal salon from the television show "Say ‘Yes’ to the Dress."

Although this was Shabayeva's first appearance at Lincoln Center during Fashion Week, Shabayeva did an off-site show last year. That show was sponsored by Tupperware and her collection included jewelry and a white-feathered evening gown made with Tupperware.

Her time on "Project Runway" may have helped. The show is known for its challenges that often task designers with incorporating unconventional materials into their designs. Sometimes this can be making a high fashion garment out of a potato sack or from materials one would find in a grocery store.

Recently, she partnered with Campbell’s Soup to raise awareness for heart disease. She designed two one-of-a-kind red dresses featuring the iconic Campbell’s Soup label that were worn on Tuesday by television star Monica Potter of NBC’s "Parenthood" and NFL mom Deborah Johnson.

A model gets her hair and makeup done backstage at the Irina Shabayeva fashion show in New York City's Lincoln Center.
Photo: Oliver Quillia for CNBC.com
A model gets her hair and makeup done backstage at the Irina Shabayeva fashion show in New York City's Lincoln Center.

Throughout her career, Shabayeva’s edgy and detailed designs have garnered the attention of celebrities such as Kelly Ripa, Rutina Wesley and Lady Gaga.

Born in the Republic of Georgia and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Shabayeva developed an appreciation and love for art, especially drawing and photography during her childhood. She eventually attended college for art and design with a strong interest in painting—not fashion design.

“It took me a while to get into the fashion world or be comfortable because I was hesitant,” said Shabayeva.

During her final year at Parsons School of Design, Shabayeva began to realize her talent in fashion. She was honored with the Saga Design Award, which allowed her to study fur design in Denmark.

After graduating in 2003, she worked as the head designer for Adrienne Landauspecializing in luxury accessories. Her experience helped position her to win the Season Six of Project Runway.

"It was a snowball effect from there," said Shabayeva.

In December of 2008, shortly after the onset of the Great Recession, Shabayeva was crowned the winner of Project Runway. The recession has taught her valuable lessons for success.

“The recession teaches you that if people really love something, they’ll still buy it. They don’t buy something they sort of like, so it’s about focusing and figuring out what I want to design and what people want to see from me.”

Thursday’s show resulted in a grinning Shabayeva waving to the applauding crowd.

It’s her love for her work that keeps her going as she looks ahead to another season and another show, she said.

“I think it’s really a passion and love for what I do,” said Shabayeva, “It’s a competitive business and when Fashion Week comes around, before you know it the next one is coming around.”