Less than a year ago, Liris Crosse was ready to walk away from her career as a plus-sized model.
She had paid her dues working in New York City for more than a decade and was tired of being rejected for her size and color —especially in recent years. She was considering a change.
"I felt as though maybe it was time for me to go into a different direction and try something new," said the 34-year-old Randallstown native.
Then things started turning around. First, she appeared on "The Steve Harvey Show" in May. Then she received the Model of the Year Award at Full Figured Fashion Week 2017, which was held in June in New York. And on Memorial Day, she learned that she was booked as a cast member for this season of "Project Runway" as one of the show's first plus-sized models.
In 2015, Crosse appeared in the finale of the fashion design reality show as a model for Ashley Nell Tipton, who was the first designer to specialize in plus-size clothing to win the competition. But this time, as a member of the cast she will appear throughout the season.
"Project Runway" has added an array of models of all body types ranging from size zero to 22. Crosse, who is 5-foot-11, is a size 14.
"This season's designers must show off their skills and ability to make stunning creations, for any size," according to the Emmy-winning show, which debuts Thursday on Lifetime.
Sally Di Marco, director of education at the Maryland Fashion Institute, applauds the addition of plus-sized models by "Project Runway," saying it will have positive effects on the plus-sized modeling and fashion communities.
"It will revitalize the industry and encourage companies to pursue opportunities in that field. Companies will see that it will generate new revenue," she said. "It will be a shot in the arm for the plus-sized industry."
Fallon Sinclair, Crosse's agent for the past two years and agency director of the New York City-based IPM Model MGMT, believes the show will invigorate Crosse's career.
"I think she's closing 2017 with an extraordinary rise in her career," she said.
Crosse, who now lives in Brooklyn, remembers being elated when Sinclair told her the news.
"I just literally said, 'Thank you Jesus,'" she said. "We were both screaming on the phone and excited."
Sinclair called Crosse "a very hard worker" and added, "She really has that tenacity. She doesn't believe in the answer of 'no.' She's very professional in casting and presenting herself."
For close to two decades, Crosse has been among the best plus-sized models in the world. Dubbed the "Naomi Campbell of Plus," she's walked the runways of Europe, and she's appeared in the movie "The Best Man" and the television show "The Night Of." On "The Steve Harvey Show" this year, she talked about her model boot camps to boost women's self-esteem.
But "Project Runway," which is considered among the crème de la crème of the reality television world, is considered a game-changer for Crosse, other plus-sized models and the full-figure fashion industry.
"This is another historic moment with the show and for plus-sized models and women," Crosse said. "I can't believe that this is finally happening. [Co-host] Tim Gunn had been speaking about wanting to do this for a very long time. And it was finally here and I am a part of it."
Crosse hopes that this season will create ripples in the fashion industry.
"I pray that this inspires the new emerging designers — as well as the old — to step outside of their box and create amazing clothes for the plus-sized women," she said. "I hope that the show has a trickle-down effect of more inclusivity for different sizes of straight-size models and plus-sized models. There are a lot of in between in there, too. I also pray that more black plus-sized models get more opportunities."
Whitney, who now lives in New York City, appeared on a fashion segment Friday on the "Today" show after Crosse recommended her for the job.
"I can say that I've learned a great deal from her, including having a business mindset, being positive yet realistic and always giving it your all by staying on your A game," Whitney said.
Whitney, who is African-American, also sees a benefit of featuring models of color on broader platforms like "Project Runway."
"It's a big deal," she said. "Some brands will scream for diversity in size but forget that there is diversity in color. I'm proud that we are seeing more of this in the industry. Inclusiveness of size and color are definitely important — especially when we have women and young girls who desire to see more representations of themselves."
"It was eye-opening to see how some designers view and design for plus-sized women," said Crosse. "I was really surprised at what they think we like and sometimes the enthusiasm or lack thereof to design for us."
Crosse confirmed that she wasn't the only plus-sized model on the show.
"There were quite a few of us," she said. "The show was so well-cased racially, size-wise and shape-wise. It's a cornucopia of goodness."
Season 16 of "Project Runway," which will feature models from size zero to 22 for the first time, will debut at 8 p.m. Thursday on Lifetime. Randallstown native and model Liris Crosse, who appears on this season, discussed some of her famous castmates.
On Heidi Klum: "First of all [she] is stunning in person. She's a model's model. She definitely made us feel appreciated and part of the show."
On Tim Gunn: "He's everything. Tim Gunn is a master mentor. He has a great taste level. He's encouraging without doing the work for you and a consummate gentleman and is a reason why this type of season is even happening. I am forever grateful."
On Nina Garcia: "Nina is who I want to be fashion-wise. I think she's so classy and fly and full of fashion knowledge."
On Zac Posen: "I consider him the scuba diver of fashion. And you will see why once the episodes start to air. When they take a closer look at the designer's design, he will get on the floor and touch it. He's got so much fashion knowledge. He's so fun and smart and beautiful to look at."