‘Pro­ject Run­way’ de­sign­ers must fill tall or­der

TV Week - - FRONT PAGE - BY JOHN CROOK

The con­tes­tants on “Pro­ject Run­way” have had to tackle some off-the-wall chal­lenges over the years, but this sea­son’s crop will get an as­sign­ment that’s lit­er­ally a tall or­der: designing gar­ments for mod­els on stilts.

“We’re film­ing it in Bat­tery Park City, and it’s our very first out­door chal­lenge,” says Heidi Klum, who is host, judge and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer on the Life­time com­pet­i­tive re­al­ity se­ries, which re­turns on Thurs­day, July 28. “It’s very ex­cit­ing, but we’re con­stantly try­ing to come up with new ideas to keep the show fresh for the de­sign­ers and in­ter­est­ing for our au­di­ence. This wagon isn’t driv­ing it­self.”

“We had guest mod­els who were stilt walk­ers, so they were el­e­vated 26 inches, which forced the de­sign­ers to de­sign for this elon­gated fig­ure,” adds Tim Gunn, who serves as a men­tor to the de­sign­ers. “I was mak­ing it anal­o­gous to what we see dur­ing Paris Cou­ture Week. Those shows in many ways chal­lenge our sen­si­bil­i­ties and ques­tion what’s real and what isn’t. It was a very in­ter­est­ing set of di­men­sions to de­sign for, and we had some in­ter­est­ing out­comes.”

But first, the 20 de­sign­ers get a slap of re­al­ity from the mo­ment they ar­rive in New York this sea­son, be­cause they have to ap­pear be­fore Klum, Gunn, and judges Michael Kors and Nina Gar­cia to make a case for why they de­serve one of the 16 cov­eted spots on the show.

“That’s just the na­ture of what ‘Pro­ject Run­way’ is,” Klum says. “You al­ways have to show us what you can do is bet­ter than the oth­ers. The de­sign­ers ar­rive think­ing they’ve got it all fig­ured out, but they don’t. Some of them think it’s made up for TV, and when they dis­cover they re­ally have to make an out­fit in a day for $100, they’re in shock. They’re sur­prised how hard it is, and they get very tired re­ally quickly.”

While Gunn em­pathizes with his charges, he thinks that im­me­di­ate chal­lenge was a valu­able wake-up call for the de­sign­ers.

“For those 20 de­sign­ers, I was happy — and I hope this doesn’t sound at all mean-spir­ited — that they were shown this competition was be­gin­ning the very first day. There could be no as­sump­tions made about ‘Oh, I’m on the show’ or ‘Oh, I have a sense of en­ti­tle­ment. I’m one of the cho­sen ones.’ No! You need to com­pete for one of these 16 spaces on the show. It put ev­ery­one on their game, in a man­ner of speak­ing.”

This sea­son the show re­tains the 90-minute for­mat to which it ex­panded last year, and Klum couldn’t be happier about it.

“It just helps us tell the story bet­ter,” she ex­plains. “When our guest judges come on, they’re al­most all sur­prised by how long we de­lib­er­ate, and I mean, like, six hours. You get to see more of that process in a 90-minute episode.”

Some mem­bers of last sea­son’s cast — most no­tably de­sign­ers Ivy Higa, dubbed “Poi­son Ivy” by fans for her toxic per­son­al­ity, and Gretchen Jones, who went on to beat fan fa­vorite Mondo Guerra in the star­tling fi­nale — were widely dis­liked by many view­ers. Even Gunn freely ad­mits he was “com­pletely and to­tally shocked” by Guerra’s loss to Jones.

“Af­ter we did the home visit with Mondo, which was the last one, the crew turned to me and said, ‘Well, this is the eas­i­est de­ci­sion in the world. It’s ob­vi­ous that he has won.’ And that’s what I thought go­ing through the en­tire fi­nale process,” Gunn says. “I was happy for Gretchen, but I was very, very sur­prised. And frankly, I think Gretchen was sur­prised, too, as sur­prised as ev­ery­one else.”

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