August 01, 2013 7:00am PT by Kimberly Nordyke
'Project Runway' Judge Zac Posen on Season 12 Designers, His Dream Challenge and Fan Feedback
Zac Posen is in his second season as a judge on Project Runway -- taking over the seat previously occupied by Michael Kors -- but the designer feels no pressure to offer up the kind of sarcastic barbs for which Kors was so memorable.
Still, Posen told reporters this week in a conference call, he was "nervous" taking over for the longtime judge, who did offer Posen some guidance before he signed on.
"But I also wanted to really stay true to my point of view and how I see fashion," Posen said, adding that he tries to keep things "entertaining while giving critiques."
This week's episode of the fashion-design competition features the second unconventional challenge of the season. The designers are taken to New York's Coney Island, where they must work in teams of two and win their materials by playing carnival games. Posen -- who has made his own share of garments out of unconventional materials like raffia -- says he's a fan of the show's unconventional challenges, revealing that he often wishes he could see some of the garments remade with actual fabric.
"I like how alternative-material challenges push the designers' creativity and pushes them to think abstractly and not have to worry about the wearability in this challenge," he said. "But it still has to be desirable."
As for all the show's changes this season -- including the anonymous runway judging, Tim Gunn's expanded role and his ability to save one designer from elimination -- Posen said he is on board. The designer noted that even last season he wanted the ability to go behind the scenes to help him make a more informed decision while judging the runway.
"I also really enjoy the new change of being able to see the clothing up close, and being able to have that dialogue with Tim," he added. "You know, for me, creativity is as much about process as it is about results."
Posen also revealed that sometimes the judges talk for "about five hours" and lamented that only a very small portion of that gets shown on TV. He said one complaint he frequently hears from fans is that they would like to see more of what goes into the judges' decision, "to know where we're coming from."
Posen also was asked his thoughts on a couple of this season's standout (for better or worse) designers, including returnee Kate Pankoke, whom fans voted to give a second chance on the show, and Timothy Westbrook, the sustainable-material designer who has struggled so far to wow the judges.
Of Pankoke, Posen said she has "transformed immensely" from her previous season.
"She is poised; she is competitive; she is giving her all and has her A-game on," Posen said. "You can just feel how she holds herself and her presence through the experience of being through a season."
Westbrook, meanwhile, has landed in the bottom three in both challenges.
"I'm very disappointed in his ability to materialize his conviction," Posen said, adding: "To make such a strong statement, the work has to be a winner. … When I saw him burning the plastic of the parachute [in the first challenge], I found it infuriating."
Posen also revealed that he has an idea for a challenge that he "desperately" wants to do: the "Zac glamour red-carpet challenge." He said this would entail making a dress that is "photographable, that presents their point of view as a designer but is appropriate for that major red-carpet, superstar moment."
He added that he'd also like to see challenges centered around patternmaking and construction -- for example, one that asks the designers to make a garment out of three or fewer pieces of fabric.
Project Runway fans, meanwhile, are very vocal when they disagree with the judges' decisions, on both the winner and who gets eliminated. While Posen said he never has any regrets about his own decisions, he admitted that often the clothing looks different in person than when he watches the runway shows on TV. But he explained that the judges -- which also include Heidi Klum, Nina Garcia and a different guest judge every week -- frequently disagree with one another about who should be sent home. For example, he said he would have eliminated Westbrook in the first challenge "because I just didn't think there was much there."
"But at the same time, [if] somebody has a strong point of view, you have to be able to give them props," he said. "I'm always more interested in more ideas than no ideas."
Does that mean he thinks it's better to make a boring but well-constructed garment, or take a risk that doesn't turn out quite right?
"I'm more interested in creativity and construction and originality, more than is it a wearable piece and … can it be sold in a store?" Posen said, adding: "I'm always going to be more interested, just from what kind of designer I am, [in] people who are going to push and take the risk. And the reason I come to that is because there’s so much clothing out there in the world -- an excess of wearable clothing at every price point. And so, when you’re having a platform on television, I want to see who's going to push themselves to come up with the next idea."
For example, in the season 12 premiere, Sandro Masmanidi wasn't sent home after his "slutty cat toy" design flopped, in part because he proved he could sew well and because he incorporated some interesting ideas, even if the look didn't quite come together.
"We wanted to give him an opportunity to see if he could take our advice and progress from there," Posen revealed.
He added that he looks for designers who create new trends rather than follow them. His advice to fashionistas echoes that sentiment. Asked if there is a particular look or trend that never goes out of style, Posen replied: "Personal style. Expressing your personal point of view through your style. Being an outsider, you'll never go out of style. If you follow trends, you will follow a road map directly to being out of trend. Express your personality through your dress, and you'll never go out of fashion."
Coming up on Project Runway, Posen teased that "some of the designers start to play with what I call more wearable, sculptural clothing and even elements of simplicity that … we as the design panel really praised. When something is sculptural, wearable and has a level of simplicity to it, and it's just effective, then that's a winner for sales and creativity."
Posen also was asked to sum up the remainder of the season in three words: "Surprising. Intense. Exhilarating." And, he added, "Creative."
Project Runway airs at 9 p.m. Thursdays on Lifetime.