Project Runway is one of the grande dames of reality talent television. This year is its 16th birthday, since the first episode aired in 2004. And when a reality show reaches a certain age, critics start to whisper about wrinkles and sag, and the spotlight slowly dims or swings to hotter newcomers. But as S18 started airing in the US, it became clear that Project Runway still had legs. We’re talking supermodel, we’re talking career comeback, we’re talking fashion fabulous.
A lot has changed for sure (we’ll never not miss workroom mentor Tim Gunn’s brand of kindly sharpness), but this season the new elements have come together at last to create something that’s greater than the sum of its parts. It’s Runway magic!
Project Runway S4 winner Christian Siriano has made a far bigger name for himself as a Hollywood red carpet designer and celebrity darling than he ever did on the show. So while he cannot replace Tim Gunn, he brings something new to the workroom mentor role – the utter assurance that the competitors can make a success of their post-show careers, combined with up-to-the-minute knowledge of the practicalities of working with A-List clients and impossible deadlines. In his first season, the seams were still visible and there was a thread sticking out here and there, but the second season appears to be the charm, and Christian is hitting his stride in these episodes. His advice is specific and directed at problem solving and at creating a good look. And designers who’re late and loud had better be prepared to get called out.
Fashion Week returns
S17 ended with a special in-house runway presentation and that was that. But this season the finalists will again be aiming to walk their clothes at New York Fashion Week (they squeaked in just under the wire, with the Fall 2020 runway taking place in February 2020). Any designers getting twitchy about how much they had to do in time for the deadline had to be aware that Christian himself was working on a collection for the show. Also showing for the season? Project Runway S18 judge Brandon Maxwell – a Lady Gaga firm favourite. Now that’s competition!
Project Runway treads a tightrope between avantgarde and shop floor ready (many of this season’s leading designs were sold directly to the public in somewhat more production-savvy versions). Designs have to be commercial, but they also have to have that hint of edge. This season delivers thanks to a series of challenges like creating looks inspired by space exploration, outfits inspired by the 2019 movie release of Cats (hilarity itself), remaking charity shop rejects, an artist collaboration with Ashley Longshore, a suit challenge that demands a futuristic spin on the tuxedo (which will be judged by superstar menswear designer Thom Browne) and even a winter holiday-themed unconventional materials challenge that sees designers scrambling to snatch wrapping paper, Christmas tree decorations, garlands and ribbons to make “tasteful” outfits… and good luck with that.