When "Project Runway" finalist Christopher Palu, 25, of Massapequa was 4, he noticed something amiss with a woman in a doctor's office.
"Mommy, those shoes do not go with that outfit," he loudly announced to the entire waiting room. Says Mom, Joann, "I could have died."
Maybe it was foreshadowing.
Today, his mom and the rest of the Palu family -- dad, Peter, and sisters, Christina, 19, and Katie, 16 -- along with a lot of other folks are dying to know if fashion maven Palu will dodge that famous Heidi Klum elimination line, "Auf Wiedersehen," and emerge as victor on the 10th season of the Lifetime TV hit.
With the field of 16 contestants whittled down to four, and with four challenge wins under his fashionable belt, Palu has a real shot. Will he win it? The answer will be revealed on the show's season finale, slated to air Thursday from 9 to 10:30 p.m.
The spoils of the win for the designer wannabes are rich and include $100,000 from L'Oreal Paris, a fashion spread in Marie Claire, a new Lexus, a $50,000 technology suite by HP and Intel and the opportunity to sell an exclusive collection at Lord & Taylor.
"He's definitely one of the top contenders," says Tom Fitzgerald, half of the popular "Tom & Lorenzo" blog, on which the show is hilariously critiqued each week. "Christopher has shown himself to be a talented, versatile designer, with a sense of what's on trend at the moment," says Fitzgerald. "
Palu has exhibited a big personality all season. "I felt like no one joked around like I did," says Palu. "I got my personality from Long Island. I'm loud, fun and creative and if I grew up anywhere else, I wouldn't be this extrovert."
While he says he wouldn't take back the experience for anything, it hasn't been easy. "You had to get it together sleeping only four hours a night for six weeks straight. You're miked from the minute you woke up to the minute you go to bed, and they don't even turn off the mikes when you go to the bathroom."
The gregarious Palu managed to make great friends on the show. "I have a lot of love and respect overall for most of these people," he says. (Show villainess Elena Silvnyak and nemesis Gunnar Deatherage, not so much.) "But Tim Gunn was my favorite person. When he came to my house and met my whole family, everyone fell in love with him."
Winning personality aside, his winning designs are what kept him on top. Two of them are already for sale -- a blush and black gown featuring his signature fabric feathering technique that he used several times on the show is for sale at Lord & Taylor ($275), and a baby dress with floral appliqué ($29.99) is hanging at Babies "R" Us in Klum's kids' collection, "Truly Scrumptious."
However, his "proudest moment," and win, was the Rockette's challenge, in which he designed an outfit for the leggy dance ensemble. "Ohhh, I loved that challenge," says Palu. "To be able to do that for the Rockettes was so cool." Judge Michael Kors called his silvery New York skyline design "a Bob Mackie moment." As a boy, Palu was a creative type. "He could always draw figures," says his mom, who herself attended the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Kerin Slattery, who taught Palu in third and fourth grade at Charles E. Schwarting Elementary School in Massapequa, remembers Palu as "outgoing, charming and hysterically funny," but not a lover of math or homework. During one lesson about Japanese women and their kimonos, it was clear that Chris wasn't paying attention. "When I asked to see what he was drawing, he showed me his picture of me wearing a kimono." She asked him to sign it, telling him, "When you're rich and famous, I want to be able to say I knew you when."
Some memories of his years at Plainedge Middle School and High School bring back "a bad mindset," says Palu. "There was a lot of name calling. . . . I was bullied for being different and gay. Fifty percent of the people loved me because I was funny. Fifty percent targeted me." Today, he's eager to use "my 15 minutes of fame to work with children who are bullied.
Palu graduated from FIT, then interned at Vera Wang ("mind-boggling," he says). He landed a job at Sam Edelman, where he learned to design shoes and loved it, but got laid off and worked as a receptionist at a Manhattan hair salon where one of the stylists urged him to apply to "Project Runway." He did.
During the course of the show, Palu has attracted loads of fans.
He has more than 7,200 followers on Twitter, many who identify themselves via the hashtag "Palunatics." A window at craft store A.C. Moore in Bethpage, where his mom works, is spray-painted with the words, "Congrats Chris Palu, Go Team Palu."
No matter what happens, Palu's mom says, "I think he'll be an amazing designer." But the question remains, is he "in or out?" Kors says, "Christopher Palu is talented, sophisticated and loves women. From Donna Karan to myself to Christopher, Long Island seems to breed designers who care about women and how they dress for real life." Wow. Foreshadowing? Stay tuned.
LI's season 4 'Runway' finalist
There hasn't been a "Project Runway" finalist from Long Island since season four (2007-08), when Selden's Jillian Lewis came oh-so-close to winning it but ultimately was beaten out by Christian Siriano.
So what's new with Lewis?
A little less than a year ago, she married sweetheart Lewaa Abdulkhalek at a very private ceremony (it was just the two of them) in Hawaii. Of course, she made her own dress -- "kind of like an Alexander McQueen design," she says, "very form-fitting, with a burst of ruffles at the bottom."
She had resigned from her job at Ralph Lauren to appear on "Project Runway" and had her own label for about three years. "Times got a little tough," she says, and when she was offered her job back at the company, she took it. Today, she is the director of womenswear at Ralph Lauren's Rugby division. "It's great," she says. "I'm having a good time and I love it there." Does fashion still run through her veins? "Oh, yes, maybe even more so now." But she doesn't watch "Project Runway" anymore. "We don't have cable."