“Project Runway” arrived on television at the end of 2004, the same year that Mark Zuckerberg created a website called The Facebook at Harvard. In 2007, Apple released the first iPhone. Three years later, when “Project Runway” was in its seventh season, Instagram appeared in the App Store.
That tech-history lesson is to say: 2019 looks a whole lot different from 2004. So when Bravo reacquired the rights to “Project Runway” last year, the network wasted no time in recalibrating the show, which will have its premiere on Thursday.
The most significant of the changes is the cast.
Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum, whose faces have been synonymous with “Project Runway,” announced last September that they would not return to the show and that they are developing a new fashion series with Amazon, where viewers will be able to buy the styles they like through the website. Zac Posen, who replaced the designer Michael Kors, also departed. Nina Garcia, now the editor of Elle, is the only remaining member of the original cast.
“Heidi and Tim were the originals, and I enjoyed working with them,” said Shari Levine, the executive vice president for current production at Bravo. “But this is 15 years later. It’s important that the show evolve and look to the next generation.” Die-hard fans may embrace the new cast or see them as impostors, but Bravo’s picks carry significant credentials.
The new host is the supermodel Karlie Kloss, who is also the founder of Kode With Karlie, a nonprofit that hosts coding camps for girls around the country. Christian Siriano, who won the “Project Runway” competition in its fourth season and made a name for himself as a designer to the stars and a champion for inclusivity, is the new mentor.
Joining Ms. Garcia on the judges’ row are Elaine Welteroth, who is the former editor of Teen Vogue, and the designer Brandon Maxwell, who most recently made a splash dressing Lady Gaga for the Oscars.
Guest judges will include the rapper Cardi B and Dapper Dan, who in the 1980s and ’90s made “knockups” using the Gucci logo without permission and who has recently made a buzzy comeback with a Harlem atelier and an authorized Gucci collaboration.
Bravo is surely counting on these casting choices to help revive the show’s ratings. According to Nielsen, Season 5 drew the most viewers: almost 3.6 million per episode. By Season 16, the last to air, the audience was roughly half that.
Though “Project Runway” was ahead of the curve in some ways — bringing in a designer who incorporated magnets, cameras and other technology into her work, for instance, or asking contestants to make clothing from waste (a Heron Preston move before Heron Preston) — the show also had moments best left in the past. Fans will remember an episode in which Mr. Gunn called a model “zaftig” and then elaborated, saying, “She’s a little large.”
Today Mr. Gunn would be swiftly “canceled” across social media for such a comment. The culture has changed. And one of those changes — the #MeToo movement — is in part the reason the show is back on Bravo.
“Project Runway” was owned by the Weinstein Company, which declared bankruptcy last year after dozens of women accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct that spanned decades. Though the show ran on Bravo for its first five seasons, the Weinstein Company signed a deal in 2008 to move it to Lifetime.
But after allegations against Mr. Weinstein became public in 2017, Lifetime’s parent, A&E Television Networks, accused the Weinstein Company of breaching its contract and ended all of its obligations to the show, including the airing of Seasons 17 and 18.
“It’s been on another network for 10 years, but if you asked a lot of people, they would tell you it’s a show on Bravo,” Ms. Levine said. “We defined it, and it defined us.”
A long-running criticism of “Project Runway” is that over a 14-year run, it produced only one high-profile designer: Mr. Siriano. Many of its contestants opened boutiques or started their own lines, but none reached the mainstream recognition of Mr. Siriano. The show demanded a lot in terms of creativity, but it focused far less on the moneymaking side of fashion.
“A lot of people went to design school and wanted to become designers because of that show,” said Fern Mallis, the industry executive widely credited with organizing New York Fashion Week (and who appeared on “Project Runway” several times as a guest judge). “On the other hand, it falsely created a sense that if you sew two pieces of fabric together, you’re a designer.”
Ms. Mallis added that many of the challenges tested the contestants’ artistic abilities but not their understanding of the business. “Your business still has to manufacture, deliver and price items correctly,” she said.
Some of the changes in the 17th season nod to those concerns. Bravo has increased the prize money to $250,000; thrown in a mentorship with the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which runs the main New York Fashion Week calendar; and added a “flash sale” component to some of the episodes, which will allow viewers to purchase the top looks, as decided by them and the judges.
“One of the disconnects about the previous show was that if you loved it, you couldn’t necessarily buy it,” Mr. Maxwell said in a phone call. The change was both a response to the new culture of consumerism — items are a click away — and a way to engage the audience in real time.
“Everything is changing in retail,” Ms. Kloss said over breakfast at Mercer Kitchen in SoHo in February. “Here we are in SoHo, and there are so many vacant spaces.”
Ms. Welteroth, sitting next to Ms. Kloss, chimed in. “You cannot underestimate the power of the digital revolution,” she said. “Before, there was no dialogue unless you were writing a letter and snail-mailing it in. Now you hear the voices of the people you’re reaching instantly. That gives the consumer or the reader much more power. You can no longer ignore marginalized voices who are saying, ‘Hey, this doesn’t reflect me, this offends me, this doesn’t include me.’”
She added: “You can sell online without ever getting the approval of Vogue.”
Ms. Welteroth, who is credited with reinventing Teen Vogue as a more socially conscious, politically engaged publication, noted that designers have to be conscious of the world around them. “You have to be mindful of what is happening and really conscious in how you create and what stories you’re telling,” she said.
To that end, one of the challenges on the new “Project Runway” will ask each designer to think about and create designs for an issue they want to champion. The new show also strives to reflect a broader swath of experiences.
“I’m really proud we have women of all shapes and sizes and the first transgender model in ‘Project Runway’ history,” Ms. Kloss said. “Fashion should serve everyone.”
The new judges said they adjusted to their roles quickly, each finding a personal rhythm and style. “Brandon would have, like, really funny stuff,” Ms. Welteroth said of Mr. Maxwell’s design notes. “Like, ‘cowgirl goes to SoulCycle.’ Or he would just put a big ‘No.’ One time Nina left early, and we looked at her cards, and we were, like, ‘Wow.’ We saved them. They were so good.”
Ms. Kloss turned to Ms. Welteroth. “Your notes were, like, there was not an ounce of space left on the card,” she said. “I would just have three words.”
For all the changes, some things stay the same, even in the “one day you’re in, one day you’re out” world of fashion. “I felt like all I talked about was fabric,” Mr. Siriano said of his time as a mentor. “The importance of choosing the right fabric,” he said, “will exist till the end of time. Satin doesn’t change.”
And besides, he said, “If you can’t pick one fabric for one challenge, how are you making a collection four times a year for customers around the world?”
Published at Sat, 09 Mar 2019 11:00:01 +0000