In anticipation of the new season of Project Runway, which premieres Thursday night on Lifetime, Heidi Klum did a conference call with journalists about what to expect this time out, and who is her personal favorite of the designers. (Hint! He’s gay!) Here’s an excerpted version of the interview.
Question: Who can we expect to see as guest judges [this season]? Klum: Obviously I can never give too many guest judges away, but some people that I was allowed to mention was Patricia Field. She’s very well known for doing Sex in the City, The Devil Wears Prada. She does a lot of full movies and television. For our very first challenge that we did in Times Square we also had Lauren Graham. I can give her away. A lot of people did see her when she was out with us here in Times Square. Hayden Panettiere has been one of our guest judges. Also Krysten Ritter, and I think I’m not allowed to give anymore away.
What’s it been like being back for the tenth season for you, as the host and judge? It’s been amazing. It’s been ten years and we all would’ve never thought that we would make it this far. Michael always says that we’re on longer than I Love Lucy, which we always laugh about and I can’t believe it. Ten seasons is a milestone. It’s a long time. And I have to tell you even though we’ve been doing it for ten seasons I still love coming to work every season. I love being with Michael and I love being with Nina and Tim. They’re all so much fun, and we have become a family. It is always exciting to see these new designers, to see their story. They all have a different story to tell and they’re all passionate.
Can you tell us how you think this group of designers compares to past groups, in terms of talent level? It’s always hard to compare because I never like to say that this season we have more talented designers than previous seasons because they were all always talented. And each year fashion evolves and fashion becomes different and so do our designers. I think we have some on this season that are not that talented and we quickly see that. We have some that are really amazing that have come up with new things where we sit there and we’re like, “Wow, we haven’t seen anything like that,” or, “You have a different technique.”
How would you say that they compare in terms of temperament? Some seasons are more dramatic than others. Is this one more dramatic or more low key? It’s also mixed. Our show is based on talent. It’s not based on having characters on. I feel like there are so many shows out there that just put people on because they look a certain way or they talk in a certain way or they’re goofy and funny or they do a lot for show or they do a lot for TV. Obviously, when things happen, we do show some of it, but this is not what our show is based on. Our show is based on fashion and I think people appreciate that and I think that’s why we have been out for so long.
Are there any particular fashions that stand out? Any finished products as being just your absolute favorites or maybe something that was just the worst thing in ten years that you saw? I personally always love the pieces that actually get to go out there in the real world. We’ve done things for example with Banana Republic where people could buy things or where they created something for Barbie to wear. I mean obviously I love the challenges where they have to use unconventional materials and yes, those pieces do stand out for me.
We had, for example, a challenge with a car where they had to use materials that were part of the car. Someone made a beautiful trench coat out of seatbelts or the mirror of the car and broke it and made jewelry out of it or it was part of the dress. They get really creative when they don’t actually have fabrics and I always love that. The same with Austin Scarlett and his very first challenge, which was also a big thing for us, was Project Runway going to work or not when we did the challenge where they had to go to the grocery store and Austin Scarlett made this cornhusk dress. So I love those, too.
I like the pieces that actually go out there for people to buy, because our designers are so proud when people can actually buy their pieces. They’ve designed things for me for my New Balance line before and people can buy this and they can say, “Oh yes, this is one of the Project Runway designers.” Or for example, this season the designers get to design a new outfit for the Rockettes.
If you had to choose any designer right now to make you a red carpet dress, can you possibly say who? Yes, I have to say Christian Siriano because we’ve become friendly over the years. He’s a little Jack Russell. He does not give up. He’s the kind of person that jumps up and down on you and then makes it happen. He’s not someone that falls asleep somewhere in his Lazy. He’s definitely someone, and you have to be like that.
The squeaky wheel gets — what is it? Gets the grease? He squeaks all the time. He’s like, “I got new things. Klum I have to send you things. Oh, my God, this is fabulous.” And he then also comes up with the goods. He makes beautiful clothes.
So I like his personality. I like that he hustles, because that’s what you have to do. It’s a very competitive world out there and there are many great designers. Yes, I can get big designer names. So last year for the Emmy’s I wore a Christian Siriano and I’m proud to wear his clothes. He worked to the last second to make it special and I love that about him. So I would pick him, I’ve worn many of his outfits over the years.
Is there one memory that stands out in your mind from the first day or from the first season that you knew that you had something special on your hands? Yes. I always say it was after the very first challenge. The very first challenge I gave the designers $50 and one day and they had to go to the grocery store. I was so worried about this. The producers and I were all sitting together before — because we had other more normal challenges also, but we thought … unconventional material challenge. That will either set the tone and either showcase the designer’s talent or we will just tank because it will all look like arts and crafts projects.
So we were a little bit worried about it, but at the same time we jumped in the cold water and we just gave it a shot. I just have to say afterwards I’m so happy that we did because the very first episode set the tone of what the show’s all about. It’s about creativity, innovation; people who have great talents and can really make clothes out of anything. We wanted to make sure of that.
Not every piece of clothing that they made was supposed to be worn; each challenge is a different challenge. I loved that about the show and I still do. We rack our brains every year to come up with new challenges to surprise the audience, to surprise even our designers.
I don’t want them to sit in front of me and they’re like, ‘Oh okay, she gives us a few hints. That’s means we’re going to do that.’ We don’t want that. So every time we really think about coming up with new things. It is difficult after so many years, but I feel like we still do.
Are there any other new contestants that we should keep our eye on? Could you point to anyone in particular? I can’t really tell you; otherwise you know already who’s going to stay a little longer. I can tell you another challenge. We had one where they had to make clothes out of candy. I love the unconventional challenge when they get to make clothes out of things that are not fabric.
We have been hearing gossip that a couple of the designers left the show early under unusual circumstances. I wondered if that’s going to be something we’ll see on the show itself and if you could tell us anything about it? Yes, you will definitely see it on the show. This has never happened to us before. I think they just couldn’t make it work. We always say, “Make it work. Make it work.” They just could not make it work and in the morning they were gone. They literally packed up their bags and ran off in the middle of the night when everyone was sleeping. We just couldn’t believe it either. You would think that a grownup would say, “Thanks, but I can’t make it work. I’ve got to go early” or something. This is something that a kid would do, but we were all very surprised. But if people can’t make it work then leave the spot for someone else that wants to make it work.
What do you feel it is about the show in particular that continues to resonate so well with viewers? I think viewers like when they see people who have maybe a job at a completely different place. For example, a bank or some who maybe still go to school for something or a lawyer, and their passion is also design and they’re really good at sewing and coming up with great things and here they are on Project Runway living a dream that is within them too. I think that people like to see that. They like to see people who have a talent with something. I think that’s why it works.
I think also that’s why it’s great to see those shows where people have another talent, like signing for example. Where you see these people who have a completely different job but then they’re on television belting it out. They have this amazing voice, this hidden talent.
I think people enjoy watching that dream of another person, that dream that these people have. You fight for them. You root for them. You want them to do well and you want to see what they can come up with.
I noticed there are a lot of gay competitors on this season. I was going to ask about Gunner. Could you talk about how he didn’t make it last season and what made your decision to have him in this season? We were thinking about Gunner. He came last year and he didn’t make it. He had this dress that confused us. It was kind of this prom-looking gown that he had and it was just not very on trend or fashion forward. It was very Cinderella, old school, and we just did not believe in him that much.
I think he grew in that year and he showed us a lot of great things. He showed us that he evolved as a designer so we wanted to give him a shot. Last year we didn’t give him a shot and this year we wanted to give him a shot. So he made it on the show and he’s a good designer.
We like it when we’re wrong. We like it when they prove us that we’re wrong, that they’re better than expected. He’s fun. He’s a fun guy and he deserves to be here.
What has been your most awkward moment ever when filming Project Runway? Well for me a lot of the times I would make my outfits too short and then I have to sit in the director’s chairs and I literally have to tell the camera man to please keep me from the waist up, because no matter how I cross my legs it’s always too short. Michael is like, “Put your cards on your lap. Put your cards on lap.” But that is for me, personally, one of my awkward moments.
Well speaking of the judging segment, do you ever have moments where you feel sorry for the stressed out and the sleep deprived designers? Of course I do. Sometimes I feel bad. I launch into this whole thing, what I don’t like about this and how I don’t understand why you came up with something like this. The challenge was X, Y and Z and you just gave it away and you’re such a designer. I launch into a whole thing and then afterwards I’m like, “Oh no, now I feel really bad that I said all of that.” I fight for them. I fight for them and I root for them and I sit there and I want them to do good and I don’t understand sometimes why they do these things where I know that they can be so much better because they’ve shown it to me before. And afterwards I sometimes think, “Wow that came out rather harsh.”
How have you and other judges grown relationship wise in the past nine seasons? We know each other so well. We have lunch together almost every day when we’re shooting. We talk about the theater. Michael is really into the theater and he talks about things that he just saw. We just talk. We’re friends. He asks about my kids and what I’m up to. He brings his husband, Lance, and then we all chat. Nina talks about her children.
So we always have a good time together catching up. It’s always a very intense time when we’re together. It’s nice. It’s very comforting to work with people that you know and love and have fun with. We laugh a lot together. It’s not hard for us to do this. We really enjoy what we’re doing.
Who’s been your favorite guest appearance so far and who would you want to come on someday? Favorite guest, it’s hard. We’ve had some great people on. I, for example, personally love Bob Mackie. I’m a huge Barbie collector and I have all of Bob Mackie’s Barbies and all the special Barbies. So when I met him for the first time I was really like, “I love you Bob Mackie.”
For some of the designers maybe it was more like Christina Aguilera or like a Victoria Beckham. I don’t know. Everyone has a different kind of excitement for a certain person. For some people, the bigger the star the more excited they are. Some actresses that have been here that I’m personally friendly with, I obviously love having them here. Debra Messing is a friend of mine. She’s been here in the past. I love having people who I spend personal time with. Having them on here is always fun, too.
For you personally, what do you tend to weigh more heavily on, idea or execution? I mean obviously the best designs on the show are excellent in both, but which do you tend to value more? If it’s one idea that is so amazing, that is so different from anything I’ve ever seen before, then I’m not that strict on execution. Like if the hem is crooked or if it’s something like that. But if it’s a very simple dress and then the execution is bad, then I don’t know why that person is necessarily here.
It’s a design show. It’s about design. So it’s not about making basics. It’s not about making a basic pair of black pants or a basic t-shirt or a basic blouse or a basic dress. It’s a design show. So they have to come up with really innovative, new designs. If there is one that’s really stunning, then I’m not as harsh on them if the hem if off.