Project Runway has gone through many alterations since its 2004 debut. Season 17 of the long-running show, which premieres March 14 on Bravo, marks the show’s return to its original network with an almost entirely new lineup of stars and a lot to prove after a bumpy ride behind the scenes.
Project Runway was on Bravo for its first five seasons before moving to Lifetime. The transition to Lifetime was messy, to say the least, as producers and networks sued each other and eventually settled out of court. The Weinstein Company was one of Project Runway’s original production companies. Then the Harvey Weinstein scandal hit in late 2017 and the company imploded into bankruptcy leaving Project Runway in disarray again.
Project Runway reunited with its original production company Magical Elves and original TV network Bravo, but then executive producers and Emmy-winning co-hosts Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn bounced in 2018.
Now that you're caught up on the drama, here’s the scoop on what’s new and good from the reinvented Project Runway based on my viewing of an advance screener from Bravo.
Supermodel Karlie Kloss hosts. Season 4 winner Christian Siriano mentors. Fashion designer Brandon Maxwell and fashion journalist Elaine Welteroth judge. Nina Garcia, Elle’s editor-in-chief, remains.
Kloss is perfectly pleasant, but a little on the generic side. She’s no Klum, who had a twinkle in her eye and charming self-confidence, but to be fair, Klum was fairly stiff when she started out, but eventually let more of her personality shine through over time. Kloss is going to have do something to distinguish herself as a unique TV personality in order to make a big impression with Runway fans like myself.
When Siriano was a contestant, his sassy confidence/arrogance and occasional diva fits made him controversial at the time, but he was and is always memorable for his personality and talent. He’s mellowed a lot since then. As a mentor, he's more of a relaxed and caring brother instead of a know-it-all bad boy. As time goes on, maybe Siriano will show more “tough love” with contestants, but in the Season 17 premiere episode, he keeps on the kid gloves.
Maxwell is the personality to watch on the show. The rising fashion designer is like a younger, funnier Michael Kors. He's opinionated, but not mean-spirited.
Garcia is the same as previous seasons, and she remains the toughest judge.
Welteroth, former editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, is somewhat of a mystery since she’s the least-known to the general public. Not enough of her personality was shown in the Season 17 premiere, but kudos to the show for finally having a black person as a permanent judge on the show.
Designer contestant Kovid Kapoor
This season's designer most likely to be a fan fave is Kovid Kapoor. The wide-eyed Brooklyn-based 29-year-old from India has the right mix of cheerful personality and emotional gravitas—he and his longtime boyfriend had the police called on them and were nearly arrested for their relationship in India, where homosexuality was illegal until it became decriminalized in September 2018.
Kapoor is among the diverse group of immigrants who appear this season, including Afa Ah Loo, who is from Lotopa, Samoa; Rakan Shams Aldeen from Homs, Syria; and Jhoan “Sebastian” Grey from Cali, Colombia.
Every talent contest has someone with the attitude of “I didn’t come here to make friends,” and for this season that would be Cavanagh Baker, a snooty blonde from Nashville. Baker loves to complain: She complains about the bed. She complains about having to use a phone to take social-media photos because she only uses “professionally shot pictures” for social media. And she complains when another contestant gets sewing help from other contestants.
What hasn’t changed about Runway is the limited time and budget available to complete the challenges. The ways contestants are judged and eliminated also remain the same. What’s different this time around is that the winning design chosen by judges and the fan-voted design will be made by Nineteenth Amendment and sold on Bravotv.com.
The fashions of Elton John will be a theme for an upcoming episode, no doubt timed to the May release of Rocketman.
For the first time, Project Runway has a transgender model: an Asian beauty named Mimi. She’s paired with Kapoor for the first challenge, and their emotional bonding will bring tears to viewers’ eyes. The models for this season are a diverse mix of races and body types.
The show has increased its grand prize to its largest cash payout so far: $250,000, plus $50,000 toward a design studio. The winner will also get a mentorship from the Council of Fashion Designers of America and a feature in Elle and a Bluprint digital series.
The Guest Stars
Cardi B, Orange Is the New Black's Danielle Brooks, designer Dapper Dan, Gotham's Morena Baccarin, and stylist Marni Senofonte (who's worked with Kendall Jenner and Beyoncé) make guest appearances this season.
Project Runway is here to stay, and audiences can judge if the show’s reinvention is “in” or “out" Thursdays on Bravo at 8pm ET/PT.