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Riverhead senior makes it to ‘Project Runway: Junior’ finale

Chris Russo

Riverhead High School senior Chris Russo spent nearly every day in August and September working on a clothing collection by redesigning and restructuring pieces. The 17-year-old Calverton native’s task? To create six cohesive looks to be shown during an October runway show at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles.

The assignment was part of a challenge that aired on the season finale of the Lifetime reality series “Project Runway: Junior” — and by that point, Chris was among the remaining four contestants.

Last Thursday, when the episode aired, his friends and family were finally able to learn he had won second place on the show.

“Coming in second was actually really great because I hadn’t even expected to make it past the second episode,” Chris said. “To be runner-up of the competition as a whole was definitely a pleasant surprise.”

His collection consisted of a dress, two pantsuits, a skirt and jacket combination, a vest with a cutout back design and a “negative space hoodie” with a kangaroo pocket. Each design incorporated graphic patterns in line with Chris’ signature style, with the last two earning the most praise from judges.

“I saw myself wearing the ‘negative space hoodie,’ ” actress and judge Kelly Osbourne told him. “It’s such an ingenious idea with the hood. You did show us today that when you don’t rely on the prints, the genius you can make.”

Ms. Osbourne wasn’t the only person impressed by Chris’ work. His father, Neil, said he and his wife, Diane, are “definitely very proud and completely happy” about their son’s accomplishment.

“We’re not disappointed he didn’t win,” said Mr. Russo, who flew to Los Angeles with his wife to watch the show’s finale. “It was more about being able to participate than ‘going for gold.’ ”

“I’m glad he had that platform to show his work,” Chris’ mother added. “It’s amazing to me.”

Making it to the finale was a big accomplishment for Chris, who started the competition with 11 other contestants. He was given nine challenges over the course of 10 episodes.

He said he initially struggled to “get in the groove of things” but began to push himself as he adjusted to the demands of the show.

He took first place on the fifth challenge, which required contestants to create a piece that lights up.

“Winning the challenge was really good because I don’t think the other kids took me seriously,” he said. “So it was like, ‘I’m here to stay.’ Only a couple kids had won challenges at that point — it was only, like, three people even though it was the fifth episode because a couple kids had won multiple — so it put me in an elite group of challenge winners.”

In January, Chris was approached by designers at Lynn Ritchie to collaborate on a piece. Having interned there for two years, he was given the opportunity to create some designs he thought would mesh well with the brand’s style and then work with designers to produce a piece. His creation, a black-and-white patterned long-sleeved shirt, is now being sold at lynnritchie.com.

“Designing with them was really cool,” he said. “I’ve always wanted my goal to be mass production, so to design a piece that’s being mass produced now is kind of what I’ve been working toward. It’s really great to have accomplished that before I even get into college.”

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Photo: Chris Russo, a Riverhead High School senior, finished second on ‘Project Runway: Junior.’ (Credit: Nicole Smith)