NEW YORK — One of the big prizes of Project Runway is the opportunity for an aspiring designer to show a collection at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. But with only a handful of episodes broadcast thus far in the 11th season of the faded-but-still-popular reality series, producers didn't want to reveal too much about the season finale that was taped in the tents at Lincoln Center Friday.
So what was host Heidi Klum's solution?
Let just about every contestant's collection be shown in front of a large crowd and judges Zac Posen, Nina Garcia and Michael Kors — even though most competitors know they have already been eliminated.
What makes Project Runway work is the contestants' personalities — and there were none on display.
"We can't tell you who is (still) on the show and who's not," Klum told the audience. So this was the plan: Eight or so collections would be shown without attribution, then all 16 contestants would come out and take a group bow, Klum explained. See, everybody's a winner!
(Klum did say she had a favorite, but she didn't say who.)
In the past, I've written about the show's dirty little secret: Even though the season finale makes it look like only the final three contestants show their collections at fashion week, a large number of the designers, in fact, are allowed to parade their collections down the runway.
(The number depends on how many episodes have been broadcast and how many contestants are publicly left.)
But at least at past shows, contestants came out and made charming introductions. This time, however, the collections were anonymously shown in mind-numbing detail. Some were much better than others; applause from the bored crowd was tepid.
What makes Project Runway work is the contestants' personalities — and there were none on display. I'm sure, though, the season finale will have more pizzazz — through the magic of editing.
I was particularly disappointed because I wanted to see the work of Daniel Esquivel, the eccentric and highly talented Austin designer with the odd mustache who is the season's most-intriguing character.
I was particularly disappointed this go-around because I wanted to see the work of Daniel Esquivel, the eccentric and highly talented Austin designer with the odd mustache who is the season's most-intriguing character — and my favorite.
I'm hoping he makes it to the finale because the first collection shown on the runway had traces of Esquivel's fashion DNA in expertly tailored pantsuits and a mix of velour and lace. A ruffled Latin dance dress also seemed to pay a nod to the designer's Hispanic heritage.
But we won't know for sure if that was his work until the season progresses.
In an exclusive interview with CultureMap, Klum assessed Esquivel's talents. "He's quirky. He loves fashion. I like his message. He loves to wear fashion himself, too. I like him a lot. I think he's a good guy," she said.
"In the very beginning, you can't really tell yet who does what because this year on Project Runway they're working in teams, so we have to see as the show goes on how he's going to evolve by himself. When there are so many of them, it's quite hard for us judges to know who's responsible for what."
She admitted the contestants don't like the team concept at all.
"But this season we wanted to change it up a little bit," she said.