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!

Christian Siriano

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!

The designs

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.

Just take a peek:

The Drama

This season has Drama with a capital D. One contestant will be forced to exit by serious health issues, another designer will get an Arctic cold shoulder when he brings up host Karlie Kloss’s Trump Presidency connections via her husband – Joshua Kushner, brother of President Donald Trump's aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner. A home visit in the finale reveals something so gross in one designer’s bathtub that you might never recover from seeing it (or thinking about smelling it), and early in the season a designer who claims to have finished their work one day into a two-day challenge will be seen deliberately dodging a workbench visit and critique from Christian. That’s just the tip of a collar in this head-to-toe fabulous season.

Casting pearls

The S18 cast is Tal.En.Ted. Many of them are already building a name for themselves.

30-year-old Chelsea Carter has sold jackets to the likes of SZA, Chance the Rapper and American singer and actress Erykah Badu.

41-year-old Geoffrey Mac has worked with Lady Gaga, Bjork and Pink, as well as modern drag icons Detox and Sharon Needles.

30-year-old Marquise Foster has dressed and designed for Pose stars Indya Moore and Dominique Jackson.

36-year-old Sergio Guadarrama has not only dressed Kim Kardashian, Amber Rose, and Indya Moore (snap, Marquise!), he gave us an incredible moment with Pose star Billy Porter’s 2019 Tony Awards red carpet showstopper, which was made partly out of the theatre curtain from Billy’s run on Broadway in Kinky Boots.

Production has also taken care to make this one of the most diverse casts we’re ever seen on the show, in every single way including age, race, faith and gender expression. This has resulted in a great deal of variation in points of view and fashion inspiration. They’re also embracing diversity on the runway, which features trans and non-binary models.

Take a sneak peek at everyone’s work (but only if you don’t mind massive, massive spoilers like winners posting the fact that they won and others listing the challenges they excelled in!)

Watch Project Runway S18 from Wednesday, 27 May on 1Magic (DStv 103) at 19:00

Style Minded?

Binge Project Runway All Stars S7 on Catch Up

Binge the entire Sex And The City S1 on Catch Up

Take a vintage break when you watch American Soul S2 on Thursdays from 21 May on BET (DStv 129) at 21:30

And get all your most up-to-the-minute fashion and designer content on Fashion One (DStv 178)

How to watch Project Runway S18 on DStv online

Sign up for DStv Now, a free service for all DStv subscribers. With DStv Now the same channels you watch on your decoder at home are available for you to stream online, or using the DStv Now app on your phone.