'Project Runway' Emphasizes Diversity in Bravo Return
The long-running fashion series celebrated its 17th-season premiere in New York with new host Karlie Kloss, judges Elaine Welteroth and Brandon Maxwell and mentor Christian Siriano.
Longtime fans of Project Runway will notice some big changes when the durable fashion design competition — on the air since 2004 — makes its return to the screen and its original home of the Bravo TV network for its 17th season next Thursday night, March 14.
Beyond the slick new catwalk, a roomy loft-like workroom and a new host — six-foot-two model Karlie Kloss towering over the proceedings after Heidi Klum gave her final “auf Wiedersehen” — this iteration feels more like the real world, with a noticeable diversity in the contestants and cast that didn’t exist before. And that was the main reason that editor Elaine Welteroth decided to sign on as one of the new judges, along with fashion designer and former Lady Gaga stylist Brandon Maxwell.
“Being on Project Runway wasn't something that wasn’t on my radar at all, and I really had to think about what would it take for me to be a part of a new rendition of this thing that would make me feel really proud,” said Welteroth, the recently departed editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue and second African American to hold a Conde Nast EIC title (after Keija Minor of Brides), at the premiere party in New York on Thursday night.
“Honestly, making inclusivity and diversity a priority was at the top of my list," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "I was really heartened to find out that that was also a priority for them. We all kind of came into this with similar values, really wanting to move this franchise forward and make it feel like it's a part of the moment that we're actually living in.”
The new class of designer hopefuls range from Syria-born Rakan Shams Aldeen to Ohio native Tessa Clark, Kovid Kapoor of Indian descent and Frankie Lewis from inner-city Louisville. And the model roster includes plus-size strutters as well as the show’s first transgender model, whom a visibly moved Kapoor calls “a goddess” in the premiere episode.
Walking into the weekend like... Leave it to your girl to turn last night’s @projectrunwaybravo premiere party into a soul train line. Couldn’t help myself...! Because NEXT THURSDAY we are bringing the flavor back to Bravo for a whole new kind of #PROJECTRUNWAY. BTW, I blame my fellow judge @brandonmaxwell for this behavior because this dress had me feeling like #Studio54 era @patcleveland!!
“Fashion has always been a mirror that reflects what's happening in the world and that's what this show does, and it's been so much fun!” said Welteroth, clad in a disco-tastic green jumpsuit and '70s curls, and also a producer of the program. “We kind of all held hands and jumped in and had the time of our lives. We all became kind of a little family behind the scenes. Lord, it was a lot of late hours but we had a blast.”
Another addition to the show is fashion designer Christian Siriano, with the size-inclusive fashion industry leader who won the series' fourth season replacing Tim Gunn in the role of mentor to the hopefuls and bringing his own brand of the real world to the franchise.
“I think what's great about it is that I have really tried to treat them like my own team in my office," Siriano told THR. "So we talk about fabrics together, we talk about if something is going to work for the red carpet today. They're getting a designer who's working in the business, and it's a little bit more realistic.”
Designer Maxwell said it was crushing when they had to send a contestant home: “It was incredibly and totally and truly real. The stories that you will see this season are so heartfelt and true, and I understand how hard it is to get there. I went home and cried so many times.”
Project Runway is also returning to its initial home on Bravo after its move to Lifetime in 2009. After shucking off its ties to the now-tarnished Weinstein Company, the series is going back to where it all began with original producer Magical Elves.
Special guests this season include Hollywood stylist Marni Senofonte, known for her work with Beyonce, Harlem-based fashion designer Dapper Dan and the irrepressible musician and style star Cardi B. Not to mention that original judge Nina Garcia is also returning and back at Elle as editor-in chief, where she served as fashion editor during her initial Project Runway stint.
Garcia says the infinite “well of creativity” keeps her coming back: “With the fashion industry changing [and] the New York Fashion Week kind of changing of the guard, the show is needed more than ever,” she said. “There’s such a need to support those youngsters who are coming up. It's very rewarding.”