The bad-boy designer takes the top prize on the reality show's finale

By Michelle Tan
Updated October 19, 2006 02:00 AM

Jeffrey Sebelia’s game plan for winning Project Runway was simple: “I wanted people to be mad at me, like, ‘Who is this idiot?’ ” says this season’s bad boy, who walked away with the top-designer title on Wednesday night’s finale of the hugely popular reality series. “Then I wanted to change their minds with the stuff that I made throughout the show.”

Talk about making it work: Sebelia nabbed Runway‘s grand prize with a final collection that showed a softer side to his hard-edged style. (To sound off on the finale, check out our Stylewatch blog.) “He’s like another Vivienne Westwood,” Runway‘s Tim Gunn tells PEOPLE. “He’s adept at taking what’s happening on the street and making it into fashion with a capital F.”

That arc from street to fashion is a journey Sebelia, 36, knows all too well. In and out of drug rehabs since age 17, Sebelia hit bottom in 2001, when his habit left him suicidal. “I was hooking up my belt to this chandelier in my room, crying uncontrollably,” he recalls of his attempt to hang himself. But his roommate came home early and persuaded him to seek help again. The next morning, at an AA meeting, he befriended two men who got him to enroll in an intensive 30-day rehab program in Pasadena. Their goodwill “started to solidify my belief that I could get clean,” says Sebelia.

Around the one-year point of his sobriety, the Mount Washington, Calif.-based Sebelia started taking classes at a local trade school to learn the basic tenets of design. “As soon as I started sewing,” he says, “I realized I was meant to do it.” Today he has a rock-inspired label, Cosa Nostra, and a 21-month-old son, Harrison Detroit (whose name is tattooed across Sebelia’s neck), with girlfriend Melanie Vesey. And now with his Runway win, Sebelia couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the future. In 10 years, he says, “I want to be a real force in fashion.”

Talk about Project Runway on our blog, plus check out Runway alum Nick Verreos’s Top 5 moments from this season.