- Associated Press - Saturday, December 24, 2016

DENVER (AP) - When Molly O’Brien was just 8 years old, she was hand-sewing pillows with her grandmother and making dresses out of newspaper at a fashion camp in Kentucky.

Now, at 17, the Fort Collins high school senior is a contestant on the second season of Lifetime’s “Project Runway Junior,” a show that is notorious for asking contestants to create beautiful, wearable garments out of unconventional materials.

“You just treat (newspaper) like fabric in a lot of terms, doing things like pleating,” O’Brien said. “But a lot of the time you have to use hot glue or hand sewing. It was kind of hard to learn to use those paper materials because you have to work differently.”

Certainly, she knows about working differently: Last year, she created a dress out of book pages for a project at Rocky Mountain High School.

But O’Brien is not just about working with wacky materials: She also has her own clothing line, Molly Elizabeth Designs.

And she gained early acceptance into the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandise (FIDM) in California, reported The Denver Post (https://dpo.st/2hnCHhe).

At such a young age, O’Brien’s resume is impressive: She’s already participated in some major fashion weeks. The first was when she was just a high school freshman in Nebraska, and her sewing teacher recommended she audition for Omaha Fashion Week.

Over the course of four months - in between homework, classes and designing prom dresses for friends and family across the country - O’Brien created a 1970s-inspired, eight-piece collection to show at Omaha and Kansas City fashion weeks, where she was each show’s youngest designer.

“What I wanted to reflect was kind of that late 1960s early 1970s Coachella vibe. I like to design that with a lot of my sketches, it just fit that era,” O’Brien said.

“Suede, lace, fringe, bell bottoms. So I chose that as a cohesive theme, but I still wanted to put a modern twist on it. That’s where a lot of the inspiration for silhouettes and fabrics come from.”

The next year, O’Brien’s family moved to Colorado, and she set her sights on showing at Vancouver Fashion Week. She had already been working on a new collection: Athleisure, black and white, referee-inspired sporty street wear.

“My second collection was probably a little more concrete,” O’Brien said. “Like I planned out everything in advance.”

The next thing she knew, O’Brien found herself applying for “Project Runway Jr.” and stressing out over the rigorous, five-month-long audition process.

“That was almost as hard as being on the show,” O’Brien said. “It definitely trains you for having to go in there and be in that type of environment.”

The Project Runway spinoff for 13- to 17-year-olds follows the same pattern as the original: 12 eclectic, amateur clothing designers hole up in New York City for a month, frantically competing against each other in bizarre and unconventional fashion-design challenges while racing against the clock and enduring harsh evaluations from fashion consultant Tim Gunn and other industry celebrities.

“You just have to think really fast and think on your feet really quick,” O’Brien said. “And you have to make something that represents your design style, something that fits the challenge, but also something that appeals to the judges. Fashion is definitely very subjective.”

Fast-forward to December: Filming for “Project Runway Junior” has wrapped, and a winner has been chosen - but O’Brien can’t reveal much about the series or anything about the challenges (you’ll have to watch for yourself).

But she can say this about the experience: “My favorite part about being on the show was getting to meet all the people. You don’t meet a lot of other kids your age who design, so it’s just really cool.”

“Project Runway Junior” premiered Dec. 22.

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Information from: The Denver Post, https://www.denverpost.com

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