'Fashion Is Not for Sissies': An Oral History of 'Project Runway's' First 10 Years

Heidi Klum, Michael Kors, Nina Garcia, Tim Gunn, Harvey Weinstein and more share memories of the addictive reality show that brings the drama of high fashion to the masses.
'Fashion Is Not for Sissies': An Oral History of 'Project Runway's' First 10 Years
'Fashion Is Not for Sissies': An Oral History of 'Project Runway's' First 10 Years
Miller Mobley

PART 2: Making It Work (2005-2007)

Kors: I was picking up Rolling Stones tickets, and I ran into Rashida Jones. And she said, "I love Project Runway." I said, "Thank you." She said, "My mom loves the show, and my sister loves it." And I said, "Great." Then she said, "My dad likes the show." And I was like, "Quincy Jones watches Project Runway?"

Gunn: I knew it was [a hit] when a construction worker shouted down from scaffolding, "Tim Gunn, you're killing me with that show."

Garcia: Competing magazine editors said, "Can we come to your finale?"

Klum: I would have to leave messages on people's phones, saying "auf Wiedersehen" all the time. Fans would ask, "Can you please record this [as a greeting]?" Someone says something a few times, and it just runs off.

Gunn: How many seasons were we saying, "Don't bore Nina"?

Kors: The next thing you know, people are wearing Don't Bore Nina shirts.

Klum: [Contestant] Christian Siriano would say, "Hot mess." So everyone watching the show was saying, "It's a hot mess." And Tim with, "Make it work." You can't think of those things -- they just happen. Tim speaks different than most of us. There are a lot of times I have no idea what he's saying. I just hope someone fills me in later.

Kors: People who were never interested in clothes suddenly realized, "This came from somewhere." An investment banker could think, "Someone designed the pattern on my tie, the width and the fabric."

STORY: New York Fashion Week: Michael Kors Talks About His Fall 2012 Collection (Q&A)

Garcia: Harvey had a real crash course on fashion. One time he told me: "I thought making movies was difficult. Well, fashion is as difficult."

Kors: He understands what people will be captivated by.

Klum: Before, it was not OK for an A-lister to do anything on television. Everything changed, and Harvey understood that very early on.

Kors: I love when we have actresses [as guest judges]. We had Natalie Portman for the organic challenge. At first she didn't want to be critical, and I said: "You don't have to be critical. You have a point of view." The next thing we knew, she started speaking fluent fashionista.

Rob Sharenow, lifetime executive vp programming: With the pet-store or candy-store challenge [where designers used only the store materials to create an outfit], contestants are going outside their comfort zone and able to translate something difficult into something beautiful.

Klum: These designers can make $50 look like $2,000.

Lipsitz: We're finding the next great designer. It has to be their own design aesthetic. It was important they understood that. With Keith Michael [who was asked to leave for using a pattern book], it was painful. You never want to kick a contestant off, but it was important.

Gunn: The designer who wins and the finalists achieve as much as their ambitions and resources allow them to. Season-two winner Chloe Dao has a hugely successful business in Houston. Is she a household name? No, but she's very happy. Not everyone can be Michael Kors.

Garcia: But also, Michael Kors did not become Michael Kors overnight.

Kors: It takes time. The show finds the talent. Put the light on the talent, and then it's up to them.

Sara Rea, executive producer (Bunim/Murray): After shows like American Idol, I understand where people are coming from, but fashion is very different. Just because they aren't in every mall in America doesn't mean they're not successful. Few people make it to that level in fashion.

Gunn: You need to be a Weeble. If you fall down, bounce right back up.

Kors: Fashion is not for sissies.