Following a decade-long relocation at Lifetime, “Project Runway” returns to Bravo on Thursday. A lot has changed in the world, particularly the technological advances now shaping our lives, since the reality competition first aired in 2004. And the show making its reentry has changed also.
There will be no more “make it work” directives delivered by erudite mentor Tim Gunn, who along with original host Heidi Klum announced last September they would not be returning to the show in order to develop a new, still-under-wraps fashion series for Amazon. Gone too is Zac Posen who replaced Michael Kors on the original judging panel, leaving Elle editor Nina Garcia as the only familiar face to fans who have followed the show over the course of its run.
Seated alongside Garcia on the judging panel in the latest iteration of the show that pits fashion designers against each other are Teen Vogue editor Elaine Welteroth and former Lady Gaga stylist now luxury clothing designer Brandon Maxwell.
While the judging panel has changed over the years the central roles of host and mentor have been rock solid, leaving a big void to be filled by the addition of model Karlie Kloss and designer Christian Siriano as new host and mentor respectively. While Kloss’s visage may be familiar to viewers, it’s Siriano who brings the pop culture recognition thanks to his season four win on “Runway” and recent red-carpet triumphs for celebrities including Leslie Jones and Kelly Clarkson, as well as the lauded tuxedo gown worn by Billie Porter at the recent Academy Awards.
Siriano was 21-years-old when he first appeared on “Runway” and now returns, at 33, as a seasoned industry veteran who parlayed his win into a successful eponymous business empire. “I think this will be the first time the designers have a real designer, a working designer as their mentor,” Siriano told NPR about his new gig. Gunn came to “Runway” via a teaching background. “So, I think if anything, they wanted a young designer that’s in the business right now to hopefully help guide these other younger designers, because that’s really what they need.”
Whether Siriano can fill Gunn’s polished shoes remains to be seen, but if he stays true to himself and doesn’t attempt to ape Gunn’s well-known patter, he has the ability and screen-honed personality to provide in-the-trenches advice to those aiming to replicate his success.
Despite the major cast changes for season 17, Bravo looks to be keeping the focus on what has made the show such a reliable hit: the competitors. Sixteen disparate talents will bring their knowledge and competitive spirit to the new-look runway and workroom—more Brooklyn loft in appearance than the previous no-frills, garment-district vibe of old—and face updated challenges that look to current industry issues such as fast fashion, the influence of social media, and the digital immediacy of see-it-now-buy-it-now clothing.
The season winner will receive $250,000, the largest prize in the show’s history (up from $100,000), as well as $50,000 to put toward their studio, a feature article in Elle and one-on-one mentorship via The Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Former host Klum’s oft-repeated quote that in fashion, “one day you’re in, the next day you’re out,” can’t be applied to “Project Runway” after sixteen seasons. The show has proved it has the lasting appeal of a beautifully tailored black jacket. But Gunn’s “make it work” surely must resonate with Siriano, Kloss and the new cast hoping to put their personal stamp on the series without alienating the already established and devoted fanbase.
"Project Runway" premiers Thursday, Mar. 14 on Bravo.
Bravo is part of the NBC Universal family of companies.