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Project Runway built a following on the glitzy promise that every season, a fashion star would be discovered, polished, and sent down the runway at NYFW. But as the show is about to launch Season 13 (13!), fashion critic Robin Givhan argues that it has yet to deliver on producing an actually successful fashion designer who could truly fill the shoes of American greats like Ralph Lauren or Calvin Klein.
"There is no true-life example of the wondrous fairy tale that has been at the heart of the show's premise since its premiere in 2004," said Givhan. Not that every winner has fallen flat within the industry. Givhan names Christian Siriano, a champion early on in the show's fourth season, as one such designer who has gone on to build a stable business, although his success is much more nuanced. "The first key to being successful is having people wear the clothes season after season," Siriano told Givhan. "It's easy to get a customer once. But to get them coming back . . . you can't have one great season and then have the next season kind of bomb."
Givhan proposed that while Project Runway hasn't delivered a true fashion star yet, the show has been instrumental in defining what success means in the fashion industry. "In its particular failure to produce another Michael Kors, the show has brilliantly illuminated the realities of fashion for the public to see," said Givhan.
It still has yet to generate the kind of success that has marked similar reality shows. American Idol has produced Grammy winners but Project Runway doesn't have the same kind of prestige to show for itself. "One of the reasons it petered was it failed to do what it claimed it would," former guest judge Teri Agins told Givhan. She blamed the fact that while on American Idol, viewers can immediately download music they hear on the show, Project Runway audiences will likely never see the dresses that walk down the runway.
There's also the business side of things. Winning contestants receive $100,000 as part of their prize package, but half of that disappears in taxes and the other half gets eaten up before designers have a chance to get themselves off the ground. "[The money] will blow out of your hands in a nanosecond," show staple Tim Gunn told Givhan. "Relatively speaking, it's nothing." Contestants are also largely self-taught, which presents a steep learning curve on the show.
However, those realities of fashion that Project Runway helped to uncover shouldn't be discounted. "Instead of sussing out the next great American designer," Givhan said, "Project Runway has indirectly posed a more salient question: 'How do you define success in fashion?'"
· 'Project Runway' hasn't launched a real star, but it is a lesson in fashion today [WaPo]
· Zac Posen As a Teen: Exactly What You Think It Looks Like [Racked]
· Tim Gunn Puts His Sass Pants On For New Political Column [Racked]