'Project Runway All Stars': Isaac Mizrahi on Unconventional Challenges and Advice to Designers

The judge and fashion designer weighs in on new host Alyssa Milano, what competitors need to keep in mind on the runway and how he'd fare as a contestant on the show.
Isaac Mizrahi

Isaac Mizrahi is a fan of unconventional challenges.

The Project Runway All Stars judge says he believes they actually help prepare designers for the real world.

"I think that it's probably the most important challenge because to some extent, the job of the fashion designer is to think outside the box," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "He or she is supposed to know what [trends] are coming, what is going to be chic next, what is going to look fresh.… So I think these really are the kinds of things that designers need to tackle all the time."

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This week's episode of the Lifetime design competition does, in fact, feature an unconventional challenge. The designers visit an elementary school in New York where they have to create garments using only materials found in the classroom. Gabourey Sidibe (American Horror Story: Coven) guest judges.

One feature that the non-All Stars edition of Project Runway introduced this past season was that the judges were allowed an up-close look at the garments that landed in the top three and the bottom three, while mentor Tim Gunn gave insight into some of what went on in the workroom and the designers' thought processes.

Asked if Mizrahi wished All Stars would incorporate that twist, he demurs.

"I don't know," he says. "I have to say, honestly, we're kept out of all that for a reason. But there are moments when I go, I wish I knew what [happened behind the scenes]. But in the end, really, it's all about what looks good coming down the runway. That is how you're judged in the real world."

He says he did realize this season that the way the designers present their creations makes a big difference and says future competitors would do well to keep that in mind. Case in point: Melissa Fleis, who was eliminated in last week's episode. "I hear her talk about [her designs] and think, 'You know what? She's great. She's got me,'" he says. "In her case, I felt like it was an intellectual thing. If we were privy to [more of] her thought process, that would have helped."

Still, Mizrahi admits he likely wouldn't make a good Project Runway competitor himself.

"I'm more methodical, and I can't do things quickly," he says. "That doesn't make me bad because I wouldn't win, and it doesn't make someone better because they win.… If you win a challenge that week, good for you. It doesn't make you better than someone else; it means that everything conspired that week in your favor."

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Mizrahi also is critical of other fashion-design competition series that he believes hype up the drama to draw more viewers. He argues that Project Runway producers maintain a good balance of documenting the creative process along with interesting challenges, while not setting out to make anyone look "foolish."

This season of All Stars introduced Alyssa Milano as host, following on the heels of previous hosts Angela Lindvall (season one) and Carolyn Murphy (season two). Mizrahi says Milano has been a welcome addition to the show, even though the two don't always agree.

"We have a mutual admiration for each other, and I respect her," he says. "When she expresses herself, she's very conscious, loving and caring. I recognize in her a kindred spirit. If we don't agree, it doesn't matter. If anything, it's a source of amusement."

Meanwhile, the designer also promises that viewers will love what's coming up this season: "It's gonna surprise you."

Project Runway All Stars airs on Thursdays at 9 p.m. on Lifetime.