CARE Project Profile with Project Runway Finalist Justin LeBlanc

The CARE Project’s Special Guest & Project Runway
Season 12 Finalist Justin LeBlanc / Photo: courtesy of Curtis Brown


For the fourth year, Audiologist Johnnie Sexton is bringing back The CARE Project Gala Fundraiser in celebration of hearing Saturday September 20th at Union Station in Downtown Wilmington. For the third year running, James + Dunne will be greeting guests on the red carpet. One of the guests we are most looking forward to seeing that evening is the CARE Project’s Special Guest, Fashion Designer Justin LeBlanc. If you can recite Tim Gunn’s favorite mantra, chances are you might recognize Justin as one of the finalists on Project Runway’s Season 12. He has a special connection to the CARE Project not only because he lives in Raleigh, NC (where Johnnie is now based) and is a professor at NC State’s College of Design but most importantly, because Justin, 27, is also deaf.

Johnnie says, “Justin LeBlanc is the embodiment of The CARE Project mission demonstrating resilience and perseverance. We are so pleased to be able to partner with him and his family to demonstrate to families of younger children that deafness is NOT a handicap, but just another hurdle to overcome in life.”

Shannon Dunne and Jess James of James + Dunne Styling with
CARE Project Founder Johnnie Sexton at last year’s Gala Fundraiser


While Justin traveled to New York for Fashion Week, he took some time to answer a few of my questions (below) about his internship with the late Alexander McQueen, life after his cochlear implant, Southern Style and his guiltiest pleasure. I hope to see YOU & Justin on the red carpet September 20th!

ff: When / how did you secure a job interning for Alexander McQueen?
“Information about the internship opportunity was given to me by one of my professors at the Art Institute. I applied and was soon on my way to London. It wasn’t a paid internship, and when I landed at Heathrow Airport, I didn’t even have a place to stay. I didn’t care. I was determined to do this. Thankfully, a friend of a friend let me stay at her place for the summer so it all worked out.”


ff: How did this experience motivate you to keep going?
“It was an amazing experience to spend the summer in London and get insight into the fashion business. I learned about the complexities of creating and selling a fashion line. It also taught me to push the boundaries in my designs even further and opened me to new design concepts. To this day I think Alexander McQueen has influenced my work the most. He was a legendary fashion designer, and his line continues to reflect his vision.”


Photo: Kathleen Edwards / Photo: David Grant


ff: When did you receive a cochlear implant and how has it changed your life?
“I was 18 when I received my cochlear implant, the summer before I started college. My parents told me it was my decision. I had been thinking about doing this for a few years and finally decided that it would be the best thing for me. It is certainly not the answer for everyone. It was a life-changing event for me. Before the cochlear implant, I had relied primarily on sign language and lip reading to get information. After the implant, there were so many sounds I heard for the first time. I would continually ask my parents and friends, ‘What’s that sound? What’s that sound?’ I also needed to learn to aurally process spoken language. I went through months of therapy for that. It made me much more independent and opened opportunities to me.”


ff: How did you meet Johnnie Sexton and become acquainted with the CARE Project?
“I have not yet met Johnnie so I am looking forward to meeting him at the Gala! But I feel like I know him already. My parents have told me so much about him and his work. After my time on Project Runway, Johnnie reached out to my former speech therapist, Judy Plymale, who put him in touch with my parents. They were very enthusiastic about the work of the CARE Project since it fills such a critical need, bringing deaf children and their families together so those children can reach their full potential. And I am honored to be invited to the Gala. It is a really great opportunity for the Wilmington community to support a very worthy organization. Please tell your readers to come!”


ff: What is an integral part in providing a “visual experience” through your design work?
“Being deaf, I depend a great deal upon visual information in order to understand and relate to my environment. Visual art has given me the opportunity to communicate and express myself without the barrier of speech or the need to understand spoken language. It is a means of self-expression that I have equal access to. So it is very important that I convey my ideas in a visual form and that my designs tell a story without words so that hopefully others can understand my message.”


Photo: Kathleen Edwards


ff: What is the most rewarding part of your job working as a professor?
“I love teaching. I am constantly inspired by my students. They are why I was able to hold it together on Project Runway Season 12, under incredibly stressful conditions. I constantly told myself that I had to display those qualities of compassion and professionalism that I expected of my students. I was determined to do that. The absolute best thing about teaching is seeing my students grow professionally and creatively. You have these individuals who don’t know what they are capable of. And you see the joy and satisfaction they get as the creative process takes over and they realize the possibilities.”


ff: Have you spent much time in Wilmington? Do you have any special connections here?
“Well, close. As a child my family had a home on Bald Head Island. So we visited the area often. The Brunswick County beaches have always been my family’s ‘go to’ vacation spot and my parents plan to retire in the Wilmington area. But I am looking forward to exploring Wilmington. I think the CARE Project Gala will be a good start!”


ff: How do you see North Carolina’s role in the fashion/garment/retail industry?
“I would love to see the fashion/garment industry in North Carolina expand. The Carolinas have such a strong historical connection to the textile industry. Unfortunately, the drive to reduce garment costs has sent so many designers to produce their garments outside of the United States. But there has been a renewed interest in developing a greater local capacity to not only make fabric in North Carolina but also produce garments. My goal is to produce my garments in North Carolina, if at all possible. I would love to talk to anyone who has ideas about how that can happen.”


ff: Why or how did you decide to make Raleigh your home full-time?
“I grew up in Raleigh, my friends and family live there, and I have a fantastic job! And I am continually inspired and sustained by the fantastic community of artists and visionaries who make Raleigh their home.”


ff: When you say a milkshake with hot fudge if your guiltiest pleasure, which flavor milkshake?
“All of the above, ha. Did you see the episode of PR Season 12 when Tim Gunn visited Raleigh? I told the interviewer if Tim Gunn had not saved me, I would probably be home watching television and eating a bucket of ice cream! I was half serious.”


ff: How was your experience at Charleston Fashion Week? How do you view Southern style and how do you see the industry in the south evolving?

L: Justin’s collection at Charleston Fashion Week (Photo: Leigh Moose)
R: Style Girl LLC’s Juliana Williams with Justin at CFW (Photo: Jess James )

“Charleston Fashion Week was a great experience. Southern style in not all about plaid, I know that (remembering the episode from Season 12 where many of the designers thought that southern women all wear plaid). It is really about being comfortable while being stylish. Lightweight fabrics, feminine lines, color. Garments that reflect the more relaxed and gracious Southern vibe. You should check out my Spring/Summer Collection 2015. Without even realizing it, I created several looks that embody Southern style.”


Southern inspired dress from Justin’s S/S 2015 collection
Photo: Jillan Clark


ff: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given and did you listen? “Wow, that is a tough one. I have been blessed with very supportive friends and family. And followed much of the advice given. This isn’t necessarily advice, but my parents encouraged me to explore and do whatever made me happy. They believed that I could do anything I wanted to, so I never considered that I was limited in any way.
Another circumstance I can think of involves my professor at NCSU, Lope Max Diaz. I was in my fourth year of a five-year Architecture Program. And on a whim, I took a fashion studio with him. I designed a collection for the annual student-run Art2Wear fashion show at NCSU (having never sewn anything in my life, so it was crazy). He told me that I was not an architect, I was a fashion designer. I took his advice!”





If you are in the market to splurge on something authentically Twenties, there’s plenty to drool over at LuminaGem right now. That bracelet is just INCREDIBLE.


Gatsby video by my talented friends at Blueberry Creative




Saying Goodbye to Joan Rivers,
“The Queen of the Overstatement:”

Read how my friend Deirdre of Candy Shop Vintage
traded one of her necklaces for one of Joan’s (pictured at right) on
Joan’s 80th birthday in this charmed tribute – Click HERE





Fashion Editorial


As you know, the 4th annual Great Gatsby Gala is upon us. So basically I am living, dreaming, sleeping, and breathing Gatsby till the evening of September 18th. And, I’m not complaining. It’s safe to say I’m in my element.

Two weeks ago, I joined the incredibly talented Lisa Brown of Bella Rose Photography (her 3rd Gatsby!) and an amazing entourage at The City Club and The Blind Elephant speakesy for our latest installment of our Gatsby fantasy.

After a 14-hour-day shoot day and an 8-hour editing session (2,300 photos – eeks!), I am crossing my fingers that you enjoy the images nearly as much as we enjoyed creating them.

Photography: Lisa Brown of Bella Rose Photography
Wardrobe Styling + Casting: Jess James
Hair: Rozy Bathon of Rockin’ Roller Salon
Makeup: Amy Kennison
Locations: The City Club + The Blind Elephant
Vintage Car: The British Taxi

Gatsby – Clark Dean
Daisy – Adrienne O’Docharty
Tom Buchanan – Troy Widmer
Nick Carraway – Ben Jamieson
Jordan – Josie Evans
Myrtle – Michelle Glauber

Paige LaWall
Jessica Baltos

Nnenne Terzian

David Walen

Big Thank You to
all of you for making our Gatsby
come to life so beautifully!

Tom (far right):
Ike Behar Parker black tux from Cape Fear Formalwear


Vintage white drop waist dress $145 from Style Girl Collection, Silver mesh headpiece with feather $125, Deco teardrop rhinestone earrings $125 – All from aMuse. Statement silver necklace with pendant and fringe chain $65 from A Second Time Around, Aquamarine and diamond ring $10,000 from Lumina Gem.
Tan Suit by Perry Ellis, White rapture necktie and Genoa espresso lace-up shoes. All from Cape Fear Formalwear.


Sheer beaded dress w/ wrap $130, Green slip $30, 1920’s beaded fringe necklace $125, Bronze boa $114, Gold wire beaded headpiece $50, Long gold chain with amber colored stones $40 – All from aMuse. Gold and amber statement earrings, vintage compact $35 and beaded gold clutch $75 – All from A Second Time Around. Shoes, stylist’s own.

After Six Riviera navy suit from Cape Fear Formalwear. Tie, stylist’s own.


“Violet” (Daisy’s Mom):
Pat Kusek of Kusek Financial Group, our beautiful presenting sponsor, wearing her new flapper dress with jewelry and handmade headpiece from aMuse

Ralph Lauren 1930’s inspired silver halter gown (size 14 – pinned) and authentic 1920‘s beaded bag $110 from A Second Time Around, Blue velvet and rhinestone headpiece $85, Mesh and rhinestone statement necklace $95, Rhinestone cluster earrings $150, Gray square stone bracelet $105, Rhinestone bracelet with 3 center stones $125 – All from aMuse. Sapphire and diamond bracelet $22,000, Aquamarine and diamond ring $10,000 both from Lumina Gem.


Gatsby & Daisy take a #selfie.

White tux from Cape Fear Formalwear

Wide gold and pearl fringe bracelet $65,
Deco teardrop dangle earrings $125 – both from aMuse,
Vintage kimono, shoes and scarf, stylist’s own.


Jessica McClintock red/orange dress size 2-4 $85, Chandelier earrings $25 and Starburst clip-on earrings (worn as dress clips) from Lumina Gem, Copper snake belt as necklace $40 and Bracelet with gold nuggets $48 from aMuse.

Vintage Cache aqua beaded gown, Snake rhinestone necklace $25, White fur stole, Blue rhinestone drop earrings $30 – All from A Second Time Around. Gold medallion necklace with aqua stone $95, Long gold chain with purple stone pendant $55, Wide gold and pearl fringe bracelet $65, Aqua beaded fringe headpiece $75 – All from aMuse.



Vintage white drop waist dress $145 from Style Girl Collection. Silver headpiece $125, Deco teardrop dangle earring $125 – All from aMuse. Statement silver necklace with pendant and fringe chain $65 from A Second Time Around, Aquamarine and diamond ring $10,000 from Lumina Gem. Shoes, model’s own.


Vintage 1920’s embroidered shawl and mink stole, both from A Second Time Around.

Jessica (dancer):
Beaded bralette $58 from A Second Time Around, Black feathered headpiece $125 from aMuse. Beaded shorts, stylist’s own.

1960’s pink beaded fringe top $95, Silver tiered dress, Rhinestone shoe clips $50 from A Second Time Around, Rhinestone tie choker by Kramer $120, Deco teardrop dangle earrings $125, Rhinestone bracelet with 3 center stones $125, Rhinestone bracelet with center marquise $95, Long crystal necklace $115 – All from aMuse. Pink feather fan and silver headpiece, stylist’s own.

Paige & Porcelain (dancers):
own clothing. Headpiece, stylist’s own.


Tan Suit by Perry Ellis, White rapture necktie and Genoa espresso lace-up shoes. All from Cape Fear Formalwear. Gold deco tie clip from A Second Time Around.

Vintage 1970‘s white tiered dress (size small) $98, Vintage white heels – Both from A Second Time Around, Gold lace headpiece $125 from aMuse, Diamond and opal pendant $1,695, Switch gold filled chain $123, Pearl and diamond cuff $2,995, Tiffany and Co. 18kt yellow gold and ruby $1,395 – All from Lumina Gem. Gloves, stylist’s own.



This just might be my favorite photo from the entire shoot.
(Baz Luhrmann inspired)

Nnenne (Jazz Singer):
1970’s satin peach two piece, size small $58 from A Second Time Around, Long rhinestone necklace with emeralds (worn down back) $350, Gold deco earrings $120, Peach beaded headpiece $99, Oval plate bracelet with multi-stones $68 – All from aMuse.

Vintage print fringe scarf $38 from A Second Time Around Jean Yves black tux from Cape Fear Formalwear



The fabulous Porcelain, our burlesque dancer from the last two Gatsby Galas. The beautiful Paige, dancer/hooper Porcelain is passing the baton to in anticipation of Porcelain’s move to Seattle.


Vintage 1970‘s white tiered dress (size small) $98, Vintage white heels both from A Second Time Around, Gold lace headpiece $125 from aMuse, Diamond and opal pendant $1,695, Switch gold filled chain $123, Pearl and diamond cuff $2,995, Tiffany and Co. 18kt yellow gold and ruby $1,395 all from Lumina Gem. Gloves, stylist’s own



Did you hear our Great Gatsby Gala
is hosting our first-ever official After-Party
at Blind Elephant? Head there at 10:30pm!



Vintage black cab provided by our friends
at The British Taxi – give them a call
to arrive in style the night of the gala!





September 13
Great Gatsby Trunk Show

WHAT: Jess James and Jan Wutkowski, Milliner & owner of aMuse are hosting a joint trunk show featuring 1920’s inspired dresses from Style Girl Vintage and custom flapper headpieces by Jan, along with cases full of Jazz Age jewelry and St. Germain cocktails!

WHEN: Saturday September 13 / 1-4pm

WHERE: aMuse
19 South Second Street
Downtown Wilmington


September 18
4th Annual
Great Gatsby Gala

Pat Kusek of Kusek Financial Group presents the 4th Annual Great Gatsby Gala hosted by Jess James at The City Club inspired by the Great American Novel and the joie de vivre of the Jazz Age glamourized by Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Get ready for some Roaring 20’s reverie! As the City Club’s only event open to the public, there will be an exclusive discount (80% discount!) for membership sign-up on the night of the event only.

“And I like large parties. They’re so intimate.”
– Jordan Baker


* Delicious food, Prohibition era cocktails and 1920‘s music with
Chanteuse Nnenne Terzian and The Justin Lacy Swingtet.

* Jazz Age dancers and Gatsby models in 1920‘s finery with hair by Rockin’ Roller Salon,
makeup by Amy Kennison and enchanted deco decor by Kickstand Events.

* Speakeasy: Members Only Burlesque show with nationally renowned burlesque dancer.
Sign up that night to enter!

* Portraits in the Garden with Artist Kat Christian +
Photo Booth with Bella Rose Photography

* Coveted Charity Raffle Prizes benefiting our local Make A Wish

* “The Bee’s Knees” Wardrobe Contest – Shop Gatsby attire at Gatsby Sponsors aMuse,
A Second Time Around, Lumina Gem & Cape Fear Formal Wear

* Official After Party at The Blind Elephant Speakeasy!

Thursday, September 18th
VIP Hour in The Gardens: 6pm-7pm
Event: 7pm-10pm / After Party starts at 10:30pm at The Blind Elephant


The City Club of Wilmington
23 South 2nd Street

On sale NOW
Click Here!

General Admission: $60 in advance / $75 at door
(includes heavy hors d’eouvres + 2 complimentary drinks)
VIP: $130 in advance / $150 at door
(VIP Cocktail Hour in the Gardens with Master Mixologist + entertainment.
City Club will waive new membership initiation fee for VIP guests!)

1920’s, “old sport!”




September 20
4th Annual
CARE Project Gala

The CARE Project is an official 501c3 public charity.
Hosted by Dr. Johnnie Sexton, Audiologist,
founder and Executive Director of The CARE Project.

Official Partner Hotel:Wilmington Riverside Hilton
Special Celebrity Guest: Project Runway Finalist Justin LeBlanc

Project Runway Finalist Justin LeBlanc with
Style Girl LLC’s Juliana Williams at Charleston Fashion Week


The CARE Project raises money to provide retreat weekend counseling
experiences for families with children who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Musical Entertainment: Jack Jack 180

Featured Chef Stations with:
1. Top Chef Contestant Chef Keith Rhodes/Catch
2. Southern Smoke BBQ/Matthew Register
3. Wilmington Riverside Hilton Carving Station
4. Pine Valley Market

Live Auction Featuring:
* Custom designed gown by Jessie Williams/Edge of Urge: value up to $1,500
* Pig Pickin Beach Music Party for 75 People from Southern Smoke BBQ: value $3,000
* French Crepe Dinner Party – up to 14 people (incl wine + limo)
from SouthnFrance Bonbons: value $2,000
* 2012 Club Car Golf Cart from Meekins Auction House: value $2,500
* Original Bald Head Island Marshscape Oil Painting by Xris Kessler: value $1,700
* Frying Pan Towers B & B Weekend for 2 (incl roundtrip transportation): value $3,000

Saturday, September 20, 2014
6-11 p.m.

Union Station
502 N. Front Street
Downtown Wilmington

Tickets: $45 – To get yours,
Click Here!


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