The clock, so prominent in the sewing room on “Project Runway,” looms large. It’s 5:03 p.m., four hours before Season 10’s first fashion show, in Times Square.
That fashion show, shot on a steamy June Friday, will be the centerpiece of Lifetime’s returning hit Thursday, July 19. Lifetime granted Zap2it unprecedented access backstage at Parsons School of Design, where 16 contestants move purposefully, knowing this moment could launch their careers. That’s the impact “Project Runway” has, though initially no one expected it to last.
“The first few years, I didn’t, but by Season 3 or 4, I did,” Heidi Klum, producer, host and judge, says in a hotel suite.
“The first year I thought we would be this independent phenomenon,” designer and judge Michael Kors says. “I didn’t think we would have more seasons than ‘I Love Lucy.’ “
At that moment, judge and Marie Claire fashion director Nina Garcia, in a sepia-colored, jewel-accented Dolce & Gabbana lace dress, joins them. The judges hug; they haven’t seen one another in months. The three settle in for an exclusive interview.
“We went from begging people to come on to people wanting to be on the show,” Klum says.
“People didn’t know what to expect” when “Project Runway” began, Garcia says. “What I think is wonderful about this show and what sets it apart is I feel like you see the process of what the designers go through. It touches into the soul of the designers.”
Before this, people would slip on a favorite outfit but not think much about how it came to be. “A lot of people have things in their closet and you don’t know the back story,” Kors says. “Fashion is like baking. How do sugar, flour and eggs become a cake?”
On this late afternoon, the creative process for the first challenge is in its final stages. Their backs to that clock, the last few designers hunch over machines, furiously sewing. They look just a little too hip to be part of a sweatshop, but with the sewing tables so close to one another, no windows and scraps of material on the floor, it has that feel.
A few feet away, what is normally Parsons’ auditorium has been transformed into its famous setting — the catwalk and judges’ deliberation area for the show. Along one side, makeup tables have been set up. The hands of hairstylists and makeup artists flutter over models. In the workroom, designers make their final adjustments, never looking up; needles move with tremendous precision, and models stand rock still as designers drape clothes.
The catwalk is about to be moved a few blocks uptown and set up at the triangle of 46th Street, Broadway and Seventh Avenue. Logistically, this is the stuff of nightmares.
Eventually the crowd is about 20 deep as people jockey for space and photographers begin tussles; the heat hangs heavy over everyone.
Klum, exquisite in a form-hugging green satin dress, takes the stage in Times Square. She allows herself a moment to glance up at the huge screens, the neon and one special billboard, with huge, glittery scissors and the message “Makeitwork.”
That, of course, is Tim Gunn‘s mantra, and the show’s mentor says later that he has been saying that forever. Wearing a navy blue suit with light blue pinstripes, Gunn welcomes the crowd to the anniversary show’s first catwalk of the season and says, “What better place to do it than Times Square, the fashion capital of the world?”
Patricia Field, “Sex and the City” costume designer and this show’s first guest judge, and Lauren Graham (“Parenthood”) move into their black director’s chairs with the other judges.
The 16 designers were told to bring one outfit that expresses who they are. On deadline, they had to create another that complements the first.
Throbbing techno music begins, and 32 models strut in quick succession. A few define elegance. Ven Budhu‘s white pleated palazzo pants outfit with matching jacket and magenta bustier is timeless, sexy and classy. Nathan McDonald‘s hot pink gown billows even though the air doesn’t move. It could make gossamer look as heavy as tweed.
Then there was Kooan Kosuke‘s jumpsuit of short shorts with huge polka dots and hot pink plastic fasteners. Somewhere a baby clown runs naked in search of his clothes.
After the fashion show, Gunn returns to Parsons. He relaxes in the designers’ new lounge, where huge black and white photos from past seasons grace the walls. Between teaching at Parsons and mentoring “Project Runway” designers, one would think Gunn has seen it all, yet he keeps an open mind.
“For the same reason why as a teacher I was thoroughly engaged every year for 29 years, there is a new crop of students every year,” he says. “What’s so compelling is I don’t know what they will produce.”
Gunn admits, “I never expected it would go to [Season] 2. Not to denigrate the show. This is really surreal.”