NEW YORK — Less than a week after winning “Project Runway All Stars,” Bishme Cromartie unveiled a sea of models draped in green, denim, metallic, black leather and satin ensembles, skirt sets, and avant-garde gowns in front of a capacity audience at Spring Studios in Manhattan.
“I’m Greenmount and 33rd Street, Waverly-area Baltimore,” the self-taught designer from Baltimore said after stepping away from the barrage of photographers and fans eager to steal a few precious moments with him. “I can’t make this up.”
Cromartie was among three Marylanders — designer Christian Siriano and model Liris Crosse — with “Project Runway” ties who participated in the country’s most iconic fashion event, New York Fashion Week.
For Siriano, the first Marylander to ever win the competition, this year’s fashion show marked the 15th anniversary of him having shows at Fashion Week. And he brought out all the star power.
With a diverse front row that included the likes of Janet Jackson, Quinta Brunson, Padma Lakshmi, Laverne Cox and Alicia Silverstone and with Sia singing during the show, the Annapolis native and Baltimore School for the Arts alum showed why he is arguably the biggest name to come out of the “Project Runway” franchise.
Siriano, who dressed all of his celebrity guests, wore an “End Gun Violence” T-shirt to support Everytown for Gun Safety, a national gun violence prevention organization.
Siriano is not new to aligning himself with organizations and causes, having previously supported Planned Parenthood, LGBTQ rights and actress Cynthia Nixon’s unsuccessful bid to be New York’s governor.
Siriano said he looked to his past for inspiration for the anniversary-year collection, which was peppered with avant-garde frocks, metallic moments, androgynous shapes and breathtaking gowns.
“When I was a young boy, I fell in love with the beautiful, dream-like world of ballet. My sister and I were both ballet dancers, and I vividly remember being backstage before a performance watching all of the ballerinas transform from black warmup tights into tulle sugar plum fairy confections that suddenly came to life … just as it’s depicted in a Degas painting,” Siriano said in a written statement. “I wanted to bring that magical fantasy world to the runway this season to inspire our customers to keep dreaming, no matter where they live in the world or what they might be shopping for.”
Siriano added: “I think there is a beautiful balance between the dark and the light side of ballet in this collection — some silhouettes are restricting and hard yet powerful, while others are soft, romantic, and elegant.”
Ever the businessman, Siriano also used the show to debut a partnership with Bombay Sapphire.
Siriano designed a French 75-inspired metallic gold and light blue couture gown for the show, which will be part of a larger capsule collection that will be available in time for the holiday season.
After his show, Siriano said, he was going to switch gears and focus on interior designs. He added that he needed a “break” and a vacation.
Crosse, who won the modeling portion of “Project Runway” in season 16, walked in five shows this past week.
“Recently, when I did the Fashion Bomb Daily show, I ran into quite a few models that were from the DMV area and they expressed how much I have inspired them over the years to pursue their fashion dreams, their modeling dreams,” said Crosse, a Randallstown native who has been a trailblazer in the full figure model world. “And I think it’s because I’m still doing it and I haven’t given it up that it continues to inspire generations behind me. And for that I am thankful. Representation matters.”
“I also think that my continued success is because of the callouts for change in diversity within the industry for size inclusion, racial diversity and even age diversity. So you’re going to see me for a very long time,” Crosse said.
Crosse, who is a member of the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, said she’s further studying the craft of acting during the strikes so that she can return to the industry a better actress.
“I am doing exactly what I was doing during the pandemic. I’m staying in acting class because if you stay ready you don’t have to get ready,” said Crosse, who recently completed a recurring role on NBC’s “Law & Order: Organized Crime.”
She also has appeared in the movie “The Best Man” and HBO’s “The Night Of.”
“I’m going to get back to full business,” she said. “Right now, I am only able to audition for indie projects, commercials, and other SAG low-budget projects that I am still open to. But the most important thing is to keep my mind right. And because I’m not a one-trick pony I’m able to lean back into my modeling even more. I’m literally shooting new headshots, staying in the gym, drinking my water, hitting acting class and minding my business.”
Cromartie, born Bishme Rajiv Patrick Cromartie, dedicated this season of “Project Runway All Stars” to the memory of his older sister, Chimere Faye Didley, who died of cancer last year.
The resilient Cromartie prevailed with consistent head-turning designs and a series of challenge wins.
For those who know him and the story of his Baltimore origins, the win comes as no surprise.
Despite earning high marks at Reginald F. Lewis High School in Hamilton Hills, Cromartie was rejected by the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
It was at his late sister’s home where he sobbed about not getting into the Fashion Institute. He used that time to further home in on the craft of design — looking at issues of Vogue Italia, where his designs were eventually featured.
He already had a bevy of Black celebrities — including Jill Scott, K. Michelle and Eva Marcille — on his roster of notable clients when he participated in the 17th season of “Project Runway.” That season also marked the reappearance of Annapolis native Siriano, who returned to the show in the role of mentor, which was previously held by Tim Gunn.
Even though Cromartie finished fourth, he became a crowd favorite and attracted celebrity fans including Lizzo, Saweetie and Jennifer Hudson. Now based in Los Angeles, he has excelled running a direct-to-consumer e-commerce platform.
With his “Project Runway All Stars” win, Cromartie won $250,000 in prize money, was the subject of a feature in Elle magazine and landed a mentorship with the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Tuesday, Cromartie shared that his win on the show was a pivotal moment for his friends, family, supporters and the industry in general.
“I love diversity. I love showcasing a strong woman of color,” Cromartie said in reference to the bevy of melanated models he used to showcase in his fashion week collection. He said the models reminded him of the Black women in his family.
Siriano attended Cromartie’s show just days after his own. He showered the fellow Marylander with praise.
Siriano could be seen during Cromartie’s show mouthing the phrase “that was amazing” while Cromartie sent out a sea of stunning red carpet ready frocks that had the audience on the edge of their collective seats.
“I’m so proud of Bishme,” Siriano said after Cromartie’s show. “He’s from Baltimore. He’s so cool and talented. I think he will have a successful career.”
Cromartie’s show also brought out some familiar faces.
Former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake dazzled in a shimmering black sequine ensemble.
“I could not be more proud of Bishme’s collection,” said Rawlings-Blake, who is executive director of the National Basketball Players Association Foundation, after the show. “It was edgy fresh, architectural and sexy. It felt like watching the first sighting of a shooting star.”
Wanda Durant, the mother of NBA superstar Kevin Durant, was also seated in the front row. She touted being an early supporter of Cromartie — even wearing a yellow-collared gown to the 2016 ESPY Awards from the burgeoning designer.
After the show Durant said the collection was “spectacular” and “nothing short of Bishme.”
Cromartie also attracted “Project Runway” judges Nina Garcia and Elaine Welteroth. The four hugged after the show and posed for photographs together.
Academy Award-nominated actress Angela Bassett may have been the biggest star at Cromartie’s reception. The fashion designer could barely contain his glee when the actress entered the champagne and caviar soirée.
“I looked up and there you are soaking it all in,” Cromartie said to Bassett.
“Congratulations on all that you do,” Bassett replied as she posed for a series of photographs with the designer.
Cromartie said he was looking forward to further scaling up his business, paying more attention to his e-commerce sales, and relaxing.