Fashion’s most creative competition returns Thursday to Lifetime, and Project Runway cohost and mentor Tim Gunn shares, “I don’t know when I’ve seen such a diverse group!” With designers hailing from India, China, New Zealand, Belgium and all over the United States, this year’s competition will showcase the global nature of fashion.
This season’s 16 designers must use their talents, creativity and fashion points of view to impress cohost and judge Heidi Klum, judges Nina Garcia and Zac Posen, and a crop of exciting celebrity judges. And once again, Gunn will have an opportunity to save one designer from being eliminated.
This season, Project Runway is once again stretching the minds of talented designers with challenges that push the boundaries of fashion. But while Gunn maintains that the show could “use the same challenges every season because we have different designers with different points of views, different DNA, and they’ll solve the challenges differently,” he admits that much of the show’s fun is seeing new challenges and how the designers adapt to time and creative constraints.
Gunn says that even though the series has aired for over a decade, contestants are still surprised by the “harsh reality” of reality TV. “That’s the big shock for the designers,” he reveals, “they can’t believe that they really have ten hours. What do you mean? It’s ten hours to conceive, to shop, to drape and to draft, to cut and to sew, to fit the model and style the model. It’s ten hours!”
But Gunn reveals that the show’s time constraints mimic the real-life pressure facing fashion designers. “Michael Kors said many seasons ago, ‘Look, I have a show tomorrow. My knits don’t get off the boats from China. What am I supposed to do? Not show thirty looks?’ He said the show goes on and we scramble to get it done.”
That scramble to get things done can best be summed up in Gunn’s signature phrase, “Make It Work.” He explained the phrase’s origin and meaning, which evolved when he was a faculty member at Parsons The New School for Design. “I began using it as a teacher because the studio classes that I taught were all product or object related. There was a product object outcome and I found early on in teaching that when things weren’t going well for a student, their tendency was to abandon it and start all over again. First, I nurtured that and encouraged it and thought, ‘This is all right.’ Then, I became very disturbed by it, I thought, ‘What is really being learned here?’ I began to say, ‘No, you’re not doing that, you’re going to offer up a diagnosis of what’s going wrong with this project and then a prescription for how to make it work.’ The reason I’m insisting upon this is because you’re going to develop resources within you, problem solving resources that you can bring to the next problem to be solved.”
Gunn Continues, “As opposed to just saying, ‘the garment isn’t going well, I’ll leave that and then hope for a success.’ What if the next attempt isn’t a success? Making it work for me is really critically important and I do it myself everyday.”
Gunn figures that if students, or designers, or anyone facing a challenge has to be resourceful and come up with a creative solution to a problem, the outcome may not be your ideal, but it may be genius. “I find that when an individual has an epiphany of sorts about what they can achieve, it’s the most uplifting, confidence boosting experience that they can have and it really propels them forward to whatever the next obstacle may be.” And when he needed to inspire and encourage the designers on the show, Gunn says, “I began saying ‘make it work’ so frequently on Project Runway, because Project Runway is a make it work environment. They’re not getting another challenge if this one isn’t going well; They’re not going back to Mood to buy fabric; they’re not getting additional machines. It’s make it work because they’re not getting additional time!”
In its previous 13 installments, some of the more creative Project Runway challenges have ranged from designing uniforms for the U.S. Postal Service, to creating haute couture gowns on a budget. And when Gunn spoke with us, the contestants were mid-challenge and “working with materials from a corresponding industry that changes as rapidly as fashion does.” After so many seasons, Gunn is still in awe of the tenacity, talent and time management of the show’s nimble-fingered contestants. “The fact that they get anything on the runway, let alone something that’s great, is nothing short of miraculous,” he marvels.
“Do you know what I love about Project Runway?” ponders Gunn. “The viewers have spanned three generations. We have kids, we have their parents and we have their grandparents all watching us.”
In response to that multigenerational appeal, Lifetime and Project Runway have announced the creation of Project Runway Junior, a new series for aspiring designers ages 14-17, which is set to premiere this fall. Gunn will serve as co-host and mentor to the designers and shares, “If it inspires young people to go into the fashion industry that want to be a designer, I couldn’t be happier because it doesn’t paint some wonderful, romantic, bucolic, beautiful story. It’s gritty, it’s hard, it’s daunting, it’s difficult. If it motivates people to want to be part of it, I’m thrilled because that’s really what the industry is about.” Supermodel Hannah Davis will also co-cohost and judge alongside former Project Runway winner Christian Siriano and Aya Kanai, Executive Fashion Editor at Cosmopolitan and Seventeen Magazine, who will also judge.
Project Runway > Lifetime > Thursdays at 9pm ET/ 8pmCT beginning Aug. 6