Why Project Runway Hasn't Created A Real, Successful Designer

project-runway-1Photo: Courtesy of LifeTime/Project Runway.
Kelly Clarkson. One Direction. Kim Stolz. Carrie Underwood. Guy Fieri. Analeigh Tipton. Jordin Sparks. Winning a TV competition doesn't necessarily guarantee instant fame and prolonged success, but there have been dozens of stars made through the reality-show machine. However, after 12 seasons on the air (13 premieres tonight), many Emmy nominations, and some of the best industry mentors who hand down substantial, informed critiques, Project Runway hasn't delivered on its promise to give us America's next big-name designer.
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The Washington Post's Robin Givhan explores why the show hasn't produced a cadre of profitable, recognizable fashion designers, save for Christian Siriano, whose eponymous line is well-received among both the industry and the public. What Siriano has that the others didn't (aside from a vocabulary we're still borrowing from — "Ferocia Coutura," anyone?), is a brain for business. Success, for fashion designers, has much less to do with an intangible star quality, or even pure skill, than it does for many other big-break reality-TV contests. In this line of work, a smart business plan is hugely important, but it's not tackled on the show at all (to be fair, while it's the source of high drama in real life, balancing sales sheets doesn't quite make for sexy television).
Additionally, the nature of the clothing industry, former guest judge Teri Agins told Givhan, makes it extremely hard for fans to instantly buy into the success of a winner; they can download a Phillip Phillips song on iTunes for 99 cents in less time than a commercial break. And, the cash windfall of $100,000 is a total tease ("Relatively speaking: it's nothing," Tim Gunn added), and it makes Project Runway more similar to Top Chef — where victors attempt to open viable restaurant businesses with their winnings — than any other talent competition.
As much as we indulge in guilty-pleasure viewing, the television audience is a discerning one. And, ratings have waned as the seasons tick by (in reality-TV years, Project Runway has started wearing leisure suits and orthotics by now). Soon enough, we might be the ones having to say auf Wiedersehen. (Washington Post)


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