Now in its fifth season, the three-time Emmy-nominated reality series Project Runway has continued to attract reality enthusiasts and fashion fanatics alike. It has everything a reality TV show needs: contestants that are opinionated drama queens, critical judges, and a grand prize that ensures the winner fame and fortune.
Project Runway first aired on the Bravo network in December 2004, instantly receiving critical acclaim, an Emmy-nomination, and has since gone on to produce four more seasons, with the current one still in progress. Supermodel Heidi Klum hosts and serves as one of the judges for the show, along with top American designer Michael Kors and editor-at-large for Elle magazine Nina Garcia. Serving as a sort of mentor to the designers is Tim Gunn, who is the Chief Creative Officer at Liz Claiborne, Inc.
Though the number of designers selected and the grand prize has varied slightly throughout the five seasons, the principle is the same. Sixteen designers (there were twelve for Season One) are selected to compete in weekly challenges in which they have to design one (or more) pieces of clothing for a runway show in front of the judges. Each challenge is a one-hour episode and a designer is eliminated at the end of every show. The final three designers have to complete an entire collection of twelve looks that will be shown at New York Fashion Week in Bryant Park. They have twelve weeks and $8,000 to complete the collection at their own homes/studios.
After showing their collection at Bryant Park, the judges select the winning designer. The winner is given $100,000 to start their own line and a spread in Elle magazine. The past couple seasons have also added a new Saturn car for the winner as well. Female models also work with the designers and the model paired with the winning designer also gets a spread in Elle magazine.
Other reality shows such as American Idol and America’s Next Top Model (ANTM) are similar to Project Runway in that contestants are eliminated (usually by judges) after certain tasks are completed and a winner is chosen at the end. What sets Project Runway apart from the others is the artistic talent and vision needed to succeed. While singing and modeling do require talent, designing garments requires more than that. A designer needs more than an ability to sew: they need a vision, an artistic and editing eye, be able to sketch their designs, and their own individual style.
Project Runway does an excellent job of bringing entertainment and talent together. The challenges are creative and oftentimes off-the-wall, and while the designers are often amusing enough in themselves, the challenges make the show worthwhile. Recent challenges in the fifth season have included designing outfits out of materials from a grocery store or car parts, and designing garments for drag queens. Designers also get chances to design for celebrities. Past appearances include Sarah Jessica Parker, Brooke Shields, Diane Von Furstenberg, and Victoria Beckham.
Like any other reality show, elimination can often end in your favorite contestant going home “unjustly,” and there are always the people you love to hate. However, Project Runway does a great job of being fair and smart in their decisions. Many TV watchers often wonder how much reality shows such as American Idol and ANTM actually base their decisions on talent and potential, but Project Runway doesn’t have that problem. When watching it, you know that the worst design almost always amount to that designer going home. This also makes the last challenge even more spectacular because the final contestants truly are the best.