Can “Project Runway” exist without Tim Gunn? A legitimate question, as the white-haired, fashion guru-turned mentor’s catchphrase is a staple in the design room each season — and life. If you do not say, “Make it work” at least once a day, tell me your secrets! For the rest of us, Gunn’s motto is a gentle push to recognize your strengths and, well, get your sh*t together.
On March 14, “Project Runway” season 17 premieres, with supermodel Karlie Kloss and “Project Runway” alum — and now high-fashion designer — Christian Siriano as the new leading duo. If you think back to Siriano’s season (he was season four’s winner) — and happen to be an avid viewer like myself — you have hope. The designer is good on TV.
But he is also good in real life. As the head of his own label, he is a beacon of self-acceptance. When singer Bebe Rexha could not find a brand to dress her size-eight body for the Grammys, Siriano offered. His designs can be seen on women of all body types, with plus-size model Ashley Graham as a staple on his runway shows. He is accepting, the type of designer we need in 2019. An acceptance that I can only hope he passes on to all of the contestants this season — there is always one that balks at dressing a model that is not classically skinny. Because as much as it is about the designer, it is also about the models. Throughout 16 seasons, social standards have changed (for the better, thank goodness), a change that the old “Project Runway” started to adapt to, albeit not soon enough. Season 16 saw models of all different shapes and sizes walking the runway — and the model winner, Liris Crosse, was a curve model.
So, while he may not have the gentle wisdom of Gunn (it is too soon to tell), Siriano comes to the table with his own set of tools.
By now you are probably thinking, “Well, can it exist without Heidi Klum and her classic ‘auf wiedersehen?’” The supermodel helped create, and has hosted, “Project Runway” since its inception in 2004. Her witty humor and friendship with Gunn — not to mention her own fashion choices — are top reasons viewers tune in. But unlike Gunn, Klum is not the glue that holds the show together. So, yes, I think it can exist. Obviously, no one can replace the long-legged German, but I imagine it will mirror Michael Kors’ swift departure from the show after season 10. He was replaced by Zac Posen, and new audiences were none the wiser.
It is clear that this is the “Project Runway” of 2019 — one that embraces diversity and inclusion.
But the transition has me pause. Why now? Why rebrand? Perhaps it has to do with demographics. Klum’s “Project Runway” lived on Lifetime for 10 seasons, where 51 percent of viewers are over 50. Kloss’ “Project Runway” is returning to Bravo — the shows original home from season one through five — where 41 percent of viewers are 35-54 and 33 percent are ages 18-34. So, can we conclude the new cast is to hit younger viewers and bring more in? Or was it as simple as contract negotiations? Perhaps it was neither, and that the show had run its course for the two leads — Klum and Gunn are headed to Amazon Prime Video where they will produce a new fashion show.
Thankfully, we do a have one friendly face going into the premiere: Nina Garcia. Elle’s Editor-In-Chief, and one of the harder-to-please judges, is a voice of the old era, merging with the new. One can only hope that Garcia will keep the show rooted in what it is here for: good fashion and good designers. Sometimes, with the pomp and circumstance of reality TV (“Project Runway” included), you can lose the brilliance of a simple, well-tailored black suit. Garcia helps shine a light on these moments.
Joining Garcia in the judge’s chairs are former Teen Vogue Editor-In-Chief Elaine Welteroth and designer Brandon Maxwell, which is insight into how Bravo and “Project Runway” see the landscape of the industry shifting. It is clear that this is the “Project Runway” of 2019 — one that embraces diversity and inclusion, while acknowledging that social media is a key factor for emerging fashion brands (labels like Ganni and Staud soared to popularity thanks to Instagram).
And while change is good — even for someone like me that vehemently hates it — there is trepidation going into the new season. Can it fill the giant shoes Gunn (and Klum) have left behind? Will it live up to expectations? And, perhaps most importantly, what will Swatch do without Gunn’s Mood Fabrics visits?
This new “Project Runway” will just have to make it work — it is a new era, after all.