Kate Pankoke, 'Project Runway' Star, Talks Chicago's 'Underrated' Fashion Scene

When Chicago-based bridal designer Kate Pankoke was eliminated from Lifetime's "Project Runway" on an episode that aired late last month, the shock and disappointment of viewers of the fashion-design reality show nationwide -- not to mention her competitors -- was somehow instantly palpable.

And yet Pankoke -- who was also kicked off the show in a double elimination during the previous season of "Runway" before she was voted back on the show by virtue of winning a viewer vote -- appears to be taking it all in stride.

"It's been such a blessing," Pankoke, who heads up her own bridal design company, Elaya Vaughn, recently told HuffPost over the phone from New York Bridal Week. In addition to her bridal business, she said she's been getting many requests for ready-to-wear and red-carpet designs, which she is addressing on a custom basis. She aspires to ready-to-wear, evening wear and even lingerie lines in the future, too.

For now, though, the focus remains on bridal designs -- including for her own wedding next month. As of Wednesday, she said she still doesn't have a dress.

"I can't find anything I like for me! I'm so good at looking at any other bride and seeing the dress for them," she explained. "But I always say I'm like that little boy in 'The Sixth Sense.' Except I see dresses, not dead people. They just come to me. But mine has not come to me yet."

Meanwhile, she's keeping busy not only working on her own designs in Chicago but also participating in the Chicago Fashion Incubator, which she said opened her eyes to the "underrated" local scene.

"We really do have this fashion scene [in Chicago] but there is kind of this secrecy to it. There isn't this thriving culture here, but I think there is the demand for it and talented designers to fill that need -- we just have to connect the two."

And we couldn't help but ask, could a "Runway" return be in the works, for an "all-star" season or otherwise?

"I think it's probably too soon for me to even say, but who knows where I'll be in a year or two," she said.

What is your age? What is your occupation? 24. Bridal designer.

Where in the city do you live and how long have you lived there? In Lakeview and in our current place for two years in March. But we first moved here just down the street in Lakeview too. We love the area.

What was your first job in Chicago? Working for me, in 2011. And Chicago really helped that be possible because I feel like in any other city, the reception wouldn't have been as welcoming.

Which Chicago "celebrity" -- living or dead, real or fictional -- would you have over for dinner? What would you talk about? I am dying to meet Giuliana Rancic. It is my dream! I keep trying to run into her somehow. Aside from being beautiful, I love the Bright Pink Foundation, what it stands for and how involved she is in it. It's a wonderful organization in how it reaches out to women and helps them deal with these issues before they become a problem. I have a really strong family history of cancer and don't have it myself but it's really scary going into the doctor and asking questions about testing. I think it's amazing that she's such a busy, strong woman but that she takes the time to do outreach.

Where is your favorite place for a nightcap? I've just started going to this place in Lakeview/Lincoln Park called Monkey's Paw. We live near there and walk by on the way to the movies all the time but didn't quite understand the name of it. Then one day we went in and it's really cool. They have wine flights and also scotch flights which is perfect for me and the fiancé, because he loves scotch.

Where is your favorite place to grab a hangover brunch? Down the same street is Fritz Pastry, this little hipster bakery and they have this soul bowl that is to die for. It probably weighs like five pounds and has biscuits, homemade gravy, eggs and I think maybe hash browns all in one bowl. Pour some hot sauce on it and it's your hangover cure.

What are your go-to spots when you have visitors in town? When I have visitors, I always taken them to the Art Institute. It's my favorite place to go by far. I always stop by the studio because people want to see where the gowns get made, so it's always fun to give people a little tour. And then just walking along the lake. I think it's so cool. Most of my friends and family are from Florida and this is a completely different type of beach. It's more of a relaxing feel. You can sit down and have a picnic or read a book because there's not people running or screaming or surfing.

What is the last cultural event you saw in the city? What'd you think? My fiancé and I went to the Flugtag. We'd never been before but we kept seeing commercials and were like, "We need to see this!" It was pretty cool. We ended up not seeing them get launched because the launch time was delayed but the whole culture of the event was really cool. People were all around just sitting and bringing a picnic, eating hot dogs and socializing. The pilots were dressed in coordinated costumes and they all had themes.

If you had to have your last Chicago meal for some tragic reason, where and what would it be? I would say the tasting menu at Home Bistro. It's this Dutch chef and he's amazing and he's always coming up with new dishes. It's a BYOB place but the food is so fancy and the atmosphere is so casual, it's really cool.

Cubs or Sox? Cubs for sure! I go way back with Anthony Rizzo and went to school with him in Florida. It's so crazy that we both ended up in Chicago now when I remember having CCD together with him.

Wicker Park, 1993 or Wicker Park, 2013? I like 2013. I don't get down there often but my fiancé's uncle is part of a theater group called Collaboraction, which does a lot of fun, dark comedies, so I see their plays. I always go to Rodan across the street and that seen is cool. And the cool vintage bookstore is the only place in Chicago that sells Edward Albee plays so I always go there too.

Chicago-style hot dog, Chicago-style pizza or Chicago-style politics? Hot dogs for sure. I like it because it's like a sub and has so many accessories.

What advice would you give to a new Chicago transplant? My advice would probably be that if you lose three pounds in the first week, don't be concerned. When I first moved here, I lost three pounds and thought I was dying -- I'd been the same exact weight since eighth grade. It was just because I was walking more.

What do you miss the most when you're not in Chicago? I miss being able to walk places. Just being able to walk down the street to get a cup of coffee instead of having to drive somewhere. I like the accessibility.

If you could change just one thing about our fair city what would it be? This is random but there is this building on State Street -- the Carson Pirie Scott building -- that is beautiful with black painted wrought iron sculptures where they just put in a new Target. If I could go back in time, Target wouldn't have bought it and I'd buy it and turn it into a Wedding World. They painted the marble pillars!

Describe Chicago in one word. Energetic.

In 1951's "Chicago: City on the Make," Nelson Algren wrote: "Once you've come to be a part of this particular patch, you'll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real." Through My Chicago, HuffPost is discussing what, to this day, makes the patch we call home so lovely and so broken with some of the city's most compelling characters.

"Project Runway" Winners