Project Runway is a fashion design Reality Show hosted by Heidi Klum, originally on Bravo but now airing on Lifetime "in search of the next great fashion designer." Twelve to sixteen or so designers compete in weekly design challenges, and in each episode, one designer is knocked off until reaching the final three (or four, in two seasons). These last three then get $8000 and twelve weeks to go home and make a twelve-piece collection, which they then show at Bryant Park during New York Fashion Week. After this, the winner is selected and receives prizes that vary from season to season, but always include $100,000 to help kickstart their own line.The challenges are very diverse, testing different aspects of a designer's aesthetic and abilities. There is usually one challenge featuring unusual materials — such as plants, edibles, apartment furnishings, and recycled goods — per season. Occasionally, the designers must create an outfit for a celebrity (or quasi-celebrity), including Miss USA Tara O'Connor, actress Brooke Shields, entertainment reporter Nancy O'Dell, and figure skater Sasha Cohen. Most of the other challenges fall into one of three categories: provide new pieces for an already existing line (like Sarah Jessica Parker's "Bitten" or Diane von Furstenberg), work around a given theme (such as bridal, cocktail, or prom), or "Inspiration" basically either sending the designers out with cameras or assigning them a style icon, and having that be the inspiration for their designs.Each challenge lasts 1-2 days; the first two-thirds of the show show the behind-the-scenes work the actual construction, the catfights and visits by Tim Gunn, who is unbelievably badass awesome for an old gay guy in a suit. The latter third of the show is devoted to the runway show. Host Heidi Klum, designer Michael Kors, and fashion magazine editor Nina Garcia make up the panel of regular judges, and there is typically a guest judge each week, generally a celebrity, designer, or fashion insider. The judges deem six (until there are six or fewer contestants left) designers "their favorites and least favorites" and question them more closely about their design. In the end, there is one winner and one designer gets sent home, with an "Auf Wiedersehen" and cheek-kiss from Heidi.The show has had twelve seasons and two All Stars seasons made of eliminated designers from other seasons. Previous winners are Jay Mc Carroll, Chloe Dao, Jeffrey Sebelia, Christian Siriano, Leanne Marshall, Irina Shabayeva, Seth Aaron Henderson, Gretchen Jones, Anya Ayoung-Chee, Dmitry Sholokhov, Michelle Lesniak Franklin and Dom Streater. Mondo Guerra won the first All Stars season, while Anthony Ryan Auld won the second and Seth Aaron Henderson won the 3rd season.
Michael Kors tends toward hilarious descriptions such as "she looks like a pole dancer in Dubai" or "this looks like a Handi-Wipe gone wrong". Nina Garcia is prone to similar descriptions, but without the humor.
The judges generally fall into this mode when judging the last challenge to amplify the drama going into the finals.
Asexual: Though he defines his romantic orientation as "homoromantic", Tim Gunn is a self-identified Asexual. He hasn't been in a relationship since the early 1980s and says he has no interest in being in another one.
April Johnston more often than not sent her models down the runway in architectural black clothes with messy buns and dark makeup...similar to how she dressed and styled herself,possibly bordering Author Avatar, remarked upon once or twice by the judges.
Althea Harper from Season 6 also styled her models' hair in a bun and with a headband- just like her own!
And Joshua M from Season 9 had this memorable exchange with Tim Gunn:
Tim Gunn: [The zipper on these men's pants]... it really draws your eye to the crotch.
Josh M. might be the first male designer to blatantly tell the hair and makeup stylists to make his model look like him.
Tim Gunn also offered this as the reason why both Michael Kors and Nina Garcia broke for Gretchen to win Season 8.
“Oh, boy. I’m going to get in trouble for this. Michael [Kors] was campaigning for Gretchen. He said, ‘We need a sportswear designer to win one of these seasons.’ “I thought, ‘Well, Mr. Kors, you just want to validate yourself. But do you want to validate yourself with Gretchen?’ I wouldn't. Nina [Garcia] was very much in favor of Mondo, and then Michael nudges her and he says, ‘You know, Gretchen listened to every word of advice that you gave her. Mondo didn't listen to you at all.’ So suddenly, Nina is, like ‘That’s right! He didn’t! I’m going with Gretchen.’ So that’s how it all happened.”
In Kenley's final collection in Season 5, most (if not all) of the models wore feather hair accessories, like the ones she wore throughout the season.
Bilingual Bonus: During Season 3's challenge where the designers had to design an outfit for the selected designer's mom, Heidi and Uli's mother conversed in German, Heidi asking her if she liked the dress.
Tim Gunn has a number of them. Though out of them, "Make it work!" is most well-known. Christian Siriano also had a habit of describing things he liked as "fierce" and things he disliked as a "hot tranny mess" (which would get him into a spot of trouble with some LGBT groups)
Heidi, before the runway shows: "As you know: in fashion, one week you're in, the next week you're out".
Season 5's Blayne tried his damnedest to make his ever present "-licious" suffix into one of these.
Kara Saun, arguably the first season's favorite, called in a couple of favors from a friend in preparation for the finale. Guess what happened?
Season 3 saw Keith eliminated for having illegal pattern books and Jeffrey facing accusations of cheating while creating his final collection. However, Jeffrey's didn't stick, as his misstep was going over his given budget (and it wasn't a large amount).
Clock Punk: Was attempted in Season 9 by Team Nuts and Bolts. It was not well received.
One extreme moment occurred in season 8, when Gretchen was receiving some negative feedback from the judges. When she was declared safe, Heidi warned her that constructive criticism was not her enemy. But when she went to the back room to tell the others what happened on the runway, she said that Heidi 'Hated everything she did' and that her words weren't constructive criticism but full on trashing.
Anyone who makes a beeline for the most fabric-like textiles during unconventional materials challenges. In later seasons, Heidi and Tim have specifically warned the designers against doing this, though some competitors still ignore their advice. See Reality Show Genre Blindness. This causes Tim to go on a spectacular rant in season 12 when he sees one designer falling into this, and sure enough it's the first thing the judges notice.
Alexandria in season 12 creates a pair of pants for the athletic wear challenge that she claims you can do yoga in — even though they're drop crotch pants. Michael Kors practically facepalms when she says this and points out that there's no way you'd be able to do that in that type of garment.
Many a straight man has commented on the outstanding quality of Tim Gunn's suits, too.
Mondo Guerra once managed to upstage his own model with the particularly creative outfit he himself was wearing.
Crack Defeat: Mondo Guerra's loss to Gretchen in Season 8 is widely regarded as this. Tim Gunn of all people practically invoked the trope by name, having referred to Nina Garcia and Michael Kors as "crack-smoking" based on their support for Gretchen.
Kors and Garcia occasionally do this when a particularly atrocious outfit comes down the runway.
Dmitry pulls a nasty one in episode 9 while the judges are praising Sonjia's look. It quickly disappears when he is named the winner of the challenge.
Dirty Old Woman: The clients in season 11 episode 5 are an entire group of these, including one who implores Kate to "be a slut!" and another who gooses Stanley. For bonus points they get Joan Rivers as one of the judges for that episode and she's her usual raunchy self through the entire thing.
Drag Queen: Chris March, season 4, as well as a design-for-drag-queens challenge
Dude Looks Like a Lady: A lot of them have this going on at some point, but the stand out example is Austin Scarlett from Season 1. According to his fellow designers, the most butch they had ever seen him was when he modeled a mail carrier uniform for women.
The Eeyore: Olivier Green, as highlighted by an exchange with his student partner during the avant-garde challenge.
Epic Fail: Episode 8 of season 11 has the designers make new outfits for the "Thunder Down Under" troupe of male dancers, but the results are so bad that the judges do not declare a winner, and this is the first time this has ever happened on the show.
While everyone stood gaping at Daniel Franco, when he returned in the first episode of Season 2, Chloe immediately stepped forward and gave him a big hug. She remained a class-act during the entire Season, and then into Season 3, when she spoke up to give Mychael Knight the benefit of the doubt.
Season One's Wendy Pepper received two of these. Upon meeting her competitors, she portrayed herself as the Team Mom, spouting off warm, fuzzy platitudes about self-care and togetherness. In one of her first Confession Cam appearances, she admitted her intent to use her team mom status to manipulate her peers because This Is A Competition and she wasn't there to make friends.
Season 9's Laura Kathleen Planck, upon hearing Bert and Olivier conversing in Italian: "Are you guys speaking foreign?" This would later set up her portrayal as a bit of a Rich Bitch, although as with the Jeffrey and Santino examples below, it's been suggested she or the editing deliberately played up this angle for television.
Foreign Fanservice: The "Thunder Down Under" dance troupe is a group of extremely muscular men, all from Australia.
Fridge Logic: Seth Aaron stated that his winning collection for Season 7 was inspired by 1930s German and Soviet aesthetics. After a lot of people went "Uhhhh... wait, doesn't that kind of include the Nazis?", he had to hurriedly explain that wasn't what he meant. invoked
Averted for All-Stars 3, where we have 11 contestants: 6 men, 5 women (from which one is a Transsexual).
Genki Boy: Andrae from Season 2, who would generally go through a door twirling and dancing.
Genre Savvy: Joshua M has ridden the "be a drama-causing Jerkass for ratings" reality TV formula all the way to the top four. Lampshaded by Bert of all people, who responded to a Josh hissy fit with "Go back to central casting!"
Gratuitous Spanish: Season 8, where Nina translates a question to Casanova in perfect Spanish pronunciation.
Hard Work Hardly Works: Acknowledged in-show with the mantra "It's Project Runway, not Project Seamstress!" - you can work your fingers to the bone tailoring a garment, but that doesn't automatically make it fashion.
Viktor Luna of Season 9 has been hit hard with this trope. Several episodes in a row, the judges have praised his workhorse ability to create multiple well-tailored garments in the same amount of time it takes his competitors to cobble together one dress... right before they hand the win to somebody else.
Becky Ross of Season 9, attempting to defend an auf-worthy outfit, told the judges she had made and re-made the skirt three times in an attempt to work with the ugly prints her team was stuck with. Michael Kors informed her that if the skirt was so simple she could remake it three times, there was no design in it.
Dmitry Sholokhov of Season 10. The judges have said that he might have the best sewing skills of the lot, and his pieces are always impeccable - but the judges just about always find something else more exciting. And then in the finale it's subverted when he wins the entire season precisely because of his attention to detail and precision.
Mondo Guerra straightforwardly admitting "I was kind of a dick" about Michael Costello, after which they genuinely became friends for the rest of the season. This was in particular contrast to the rest of the designers continuing to gang up on Michael.
Season 10's Elena offered an apology for her often caustic interactions with the other designers just in time for her elimination one episode later.
Heroic Build: The guys from the "Thunder Down Under" dancing troupe all have this body type, which causes problems when the designers, most of whom are used to working with people who are both models and women, have to make clothes that fit them. One designer even comments that these guys' thighs are as large as most of their usual models' waists.
Heroic Fatigue: Laura Bennett was well into the big stages of her pregnancy towards the end of Season 3, so she was allowed to take breaks during work hours.
Hidden Depths: Often revealed when Tim Gunn makes his traditional home visit to the final three/four designers.
Zulema Griffin. This case is particularly noteworthy because otherwise the show massively averts Hide Your Gays; it's extremely common for male designers to call, Skype or sometimes introduce in person their boyfriends/husbands.
Subverted in season 10 with Alicia, where her home video presents her girlfriend.
Hurricane of Excuses: Gretchen Jones' infamous meltdown trying to defend Team Luxe on the runway, first declaring the team was proudly united even if the judges didn't like their work, and then when the judges didn't like their work she promptly started fumbling for reasons to blame everything on teammate Michael Costello.
Major Injury Underreaction: "Well since leaving you only a few hours ago I had an altercation with a set of subway stairs, a trip to the emergency room, and four stitches. But I'm here for you!" Says Tim in his usual Tim Gunn cheerfulness with three deep cuts on his face.
Ven Budhu in particular venomously claimed that his controversial behavior in season 10 episode 6, in which he called his client "plus-size" and "big" and eventually leading her to tears, was subject to this. Tim Gunn, on the other hand, claims what the audience saw of Ven was the "nice version" of his atrocious behavior.
Momma's Boy: Michael Knight of Season 3 made it a point to call his loving mother every day.
Mondegreen: A fashion spread in Mary Clair magazine
Men Don't Cry: Enthusiastically averted by Season 4's Ricky Lizalde, who cried in just about every episode (except, ironically, the one when he is eliminated) and Season 8's Michael Costello, not to mention Season 2's Andrae Gonzalo.
Mistaken Nationality: More than one recapper assumed Viktor Luna was from somewhere in Eastern Europe (perhaps due to the spelling of his first name?). He was born in Mexico.
Mr. Fanservice: Logan from season 6. The other designers, male and female alike, often commented on how gorgeous they thought he was, and he did make it surprisingly far in the season considering his designs were frequently in the bottom three.
My Greatest Second Chance: Project Runway: All-Stars. Most of the contestants that season subverted this, though. Except the final three.
A great example was Viktor Luna during Season 9's avant-garde challenge, in which the designers were paired with student artists; in the Confession Cam at the beginning of the episode he expressed reluctance about working with kids, but then proceeded to be good-humored, respectful and patient while his endearingly bossy 12-year-old partner gave him an earful on what he needed to do differently with his design.
And episode 11 of season 10 plays this straight by forcing the designers to take care of baby dolls that cry (the type given to high schoolers in Scare 'Em Straight sex ed classes) while the actual babies are more cooperative, even though Dmitry's falls asleep and has to be carried by his mom while "walking" the runway.
Tim Gunn of course. Also, Rami Kashou from Season 4.
Also Seth Aaron Henderson from Season 7, who may have looked badass and rebellious at first, but turned out to be extremely nice and likable — not to mention very family-oriented.
Anthony Ryan Auld of Season 9 was a fan favorite for this reason, since he even got along with Joshua M and gave Anya $11 that he had leftover when she lost her money envelope in Mood. This continued up to and including his elimination where he remained gracious and positive.
Guest judge Elie Tahari from All Stars Season 2.
Nice Hat: Frequently. The designers also tend to bring their own impressive headgear from home.
Non-Gameplay Elimination: Keith from season 3, Jack from season 4, Maya from season 7, and Cecilia from season 9, Andrea and Kooan from Season 10, not to mention many of the models.
Not Using the Zed Word: Episode 8 of season 11 has the designers make outfits for a group of male dancers who literally rip their clothes off as part of their act. Despite this the word "stripper" is never uttered.
Oh Crap: The universal reaction among the designers whenever the dreaded Button Bag makes an appearance.
One Judge to Rule Them All: Ostensibly averted, but Nina Garcia is widely regarded as the key to the judging panel. It's definitely not Heidi, as evinced by her passionate but ultimately futile advocacy for Mondo Guerra to win Season 8.
Casanova was turning into one for Season 8. Until he got the boot, of course.
Mychael Knight from Season 3, who refused to get dragged into the backbiting that went on in the middle of the season. Laura Bennett also qualifies.
Kimberly Goldson in Season 9, perhaps most notably when she was on the extremely dysfunctional "Team Nuts & Bolts," and basically decided to make the dress she felt like making rather than engage with her teammates' interpersonal drama.
Alicia Hardesty in episode 8 of Season 10, trapped in the middle of Dmitry Sholokhov and Elena Slivnyak, who despise each other and proceed to bitch for the entire episode. Alicia pays for it. Oddly enough, Dmitry played the Only Sane Man in a previous group challenge.
Product Placement: Heidi Klum would like to remind you that you can win a fashion spread in Marie-Clare magazine, that the contestants are using HP products, the hair is being treated with Garnier Hair Salon, various supplies are from Macy's, the makeup is provided by L'Oreal, and much, much more.
There are often challenges that involve designing for a national chain, or even for Barbie dolls, that amount to an episode-length commercial.
Challenges that design for a celebrity often have an element of this, as the outfit may be intended to be worn on another televised show.
This trope was used for good in Season 9, with an episode focused on designs from students at Harlem School of the Arts. The institution had nearly shut down due to financial difficulties the year before.
(Season 9) Designers who helped Anya finish her sewing, seeming to forget that This Is A Competition, and were outlasted by her.
Mondo also showed a touch of this by disregarding Nina Garcia and Michael Kors' suggestions to take the sleeves off his bubble dress for his finale collection (i.e.: not following the direct orders of the people who were deciding the winner).
Any time the prize involves the winning look being mass-produced for sale online, there are inevitably competitors who don't realize they should probably make something that can be affordably mass produced. Designers who pride themselves on their intricate tailoring skills can get particularly tripped up on this.
Viktor Luna during the print challenge. He designed a beautiful gown with a handmade Rorshach-style print. Keyword: handmade, which probably tanked his chances of winning a challenge designed to showcase HP's awesome computerized print-making products. It's also been suggested that Viktor was penalized on the real women challenge for making his own cute accessory rather than taking one from the Piperlime wall.
Even after more than 10 seasons some designers apparently still haven't caught onto the fact that there's going to be a "real women" challenge at some point. Cue people like S9's Olivier Green and S10's Ven Budhu whining that they aren't used to designing for these types of bodies and it's not fair. Not only is it genre blind not to prepare for the possibility of having to design for a non-model at some point, the designers are often hilariously shocked to discover that bashing normal women's bodies on a Lifetime show is often a one-way ticket to Scrappyville.
And after, again, more than 10 seasons designers go for fabric-like textiles during unconventional materials challenges. In Season 12, Tim Gunn puts into words just how flabbergasting this is.
Tim Gunn: "This makes me sick. We may as well have gone to Mood. [...] Have you ever seen Project Runway? Have you seen the unconventional challenges? Have you seen what the judges do when they're presented with a bunch of fabric?"
Season 12 also averts this since for once none of the designers are seen openly complaining about their client's figures during the real women challenge (besides the obligatory "I've never designed for a woman like this" comments), possibly because the women this time were fans of the show so they were on their best behavior.
Austin Scarlett (Season 1), Shirin Askari (Season 6), and April Johnston (Season 8). Also from Season 8, many consider McKell's elimination as one of these, as fans seem to agree that McKell's dress was not the worst of the bunch and felt she deserved to stay over at least 3 others who were saved. When she had to go, Tim assured her he stood by his statement that he found the dress adorable.
The first season ends with multiple challenge winner Kara Saun being edged out by Jay McCarroll, who often placed high, but never actually won any of the challenges.
Daniel Franco in season 2. He led a team that produced a beautiful set of well-constructed lingerie that was nonetheless felt to be "boring" by the judges, while Santino was guilty of some very poor construction in the other team's taste-challenged and Stripperiffic designs, which the judges felt to be edgier and therefore more interesting.
A retroactive example: Season 7's Jay Nicolas Sario was one of ten designers who showed Fashion Week collections, in an effort to avoid spoiling the outcome of seven episodes that had not yet aired. His collection was very well-received, causing many fashion journalists to peg him as the favorite to win the season. In reality, Jay Nicolas only finished in fourth place. He and fellow designer Mila Hermanovski both got to create collections, with the knowledge that a head-to-head competition would determine which of them would advance to the third spot in the finals. Jay Nicolas came up short, meaning that his collection was one of the seven decoys, and that he was already out of the running before it walked. The audience would not learn this fact until about two months later, when his elimination episode actually aired.
Mondo Guerra's second-place loss to Gretchen Jones in Season 8 was perhaps the most shocking of these.
In season 9 there were manyBig NOs during the Piper Lime challenge, when fan favorite Anthony Ryan was eliminated instead of Smug Snake Joshua M. Twitter practically exploded when that happened.
Viktor Luna placing third in the Season 9 finale caused an uproar.
Rami's elimination in the All-Stars season.
Shut Up, Hannibal!: After Josh M got reamed by the judges for his Epic Fail 1970s outfits, he went on a rant to the other designers that he was suffering unfairly because he hadn't even been alive in the 1970s. (Implying the other designers somehow had it easier.) He went on and on with tension in the room mounting until finally Viktor cut him off, very calmly but bluntly explaining this was a lame excuse because a lot of the other designers were close to Josh in age. When Josh attempted his trademark Wounded Gazelle Gambit by accusing Viktor of being "aggressive," Bert and Kimberly jumped in to cut that off and say that Viktor was right.
Season 1's Alexandra admitted to knocking off one of Michael Kors' own designs for a look she sent down the runway. It didn't work.
One Season 2 challenge involved designing a party dress for Nicky Hilton. After seeing a dossier of looks Hilton has worn in the past, Marla essentially copied one of them and attempted to pass it off as her own design.
Sore Loser: Joshua M of season 9, who was very offended that he lost to Anya in the L'Oreal challenge, mostly because he said he needed the money more. On the After the Runway special following the episode, he got thoroughly chewed out for acting like he was the only one with money problems. On the next episode he seemed very offended that he'd lost to a "beauty queen" with a tone that made it obvious that he did not think that was a good thing.
Heidi Klum, naturally, and most of the models, which sometimes results in amusing height differences between the designers and models (such as season 9's Victor, who comes up to roughly his models' shoulder, and Laura from the same season, who's even shorter next to them) and Kimberly from Season 9 is noticeably taller than most of the other women on the show, standing at about level with her models.
Season 6 runner-up Althea Harper fits this trope to a T.
Stealth Insult: April Johnson infamously compared Gretchen to Hitler in Season 9
April: "Do you really want to hire Hitler? Seriously?"
Stop Being Stereotypical: Some gay men evidently feel this way about Joshua M of Season 9, since he's an extremely stereotypical catty gay guy.
Wendy was also criticized for this over a sheer top in the finale.
Casanova's dress in the Season 8 opener was considered something like this by Michael Kors.
Emilio's metal washer and pink string bikini from season 7.
Also, Zulema's supershort dress from the "Clothes off Your Back" challenge in season 2.
Season 1 Alexandra's itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny green Missoni striped bikini surely qualifies.
Joshua's Christmas-themed green shorts from the Christmas challenge in All-Stars season 2.
Studio Audience: Beginning with Season 8, the designers are miked while the models are walking, allowing for live chatter during the runway show instead of voiceovers.
The Stoner: Most seasons have at least one contestant who comes across as or mentions this.
Some cokeheads, too. Blayne from Season 5 was making such conspicuous snorting noises that they were noted in the closed captioning, and this is the most likely explanation for Morgan's erratic behavior in Season 1.
From Season 2's Garden Party challenge, which required the designers to construct garments out of plants:
Kara: "Now I've got a pile of green. And the only thing I want to do with it is smoke it, to tell you the truth."
Team Pet: Swatch, the infrequently seen canine resident of Mood.
Swatch's agent seems to have negotiated a better deal, as he has now made at least one appearance in every episode of Season 12 to date.
Technician Versus Performer: A perpetual source of tension, both among the designers and judges: do you eliminate the person with interesting ideas who can't execute, or the person who can tailor beautifully but isn't the most "fashion forward"?
Season 9's Viktor (technician) and Anya (performer) are practically a textbook example of the trope.
Third-Person Person: Suede referred to Suede quite frequently in the third person. It's debatable whether this was charming or irritating.
Noted by Michael Kors, who commented that Suede had not yet done anything to justify referring to himself that way.
True Companions: The last half dozen designers or so tend to develop this type of dynamic by the end of the season.
Victoria's Secret Compartment: During Season 9 during the Piper Lime challenge, Anya was wearing a dress with no pockets, so she put her money envelope between the strap of her dress and her skin. When it fell out somewhere in Mood she then had no money, and had to use $11 that Anthony Ryan gave her to get a small amount of fabric to go with the muslin they allowed her to use. invoked
Vindicated by History: Mondo, whose loss to Gretchen in season 8 was followed by him winning the All Stars season. For similar reasons, Anthony Ryan winning the second after he was eliminated over Joshua M in his season. invoked
War for Fun and Profit: The "After The Runway" special is ostensibly to "clear the air" between designers, but it's really for this.
We Work Well Together: Surprisingly, Casanova and Ivy from All-Stars season 2. Until Casanova gets eliminated. Even after that she's seen Skyping with him as he tries to cheer her up.
Olivier Green's accent from Season 9, which causes a lot of debate among viewers as to whether or not it's fake. If his statement from After the Runway is anything to go by, it's apparently because he moved around a lot to very different places, from Ohio to Taiwan to New York, so it seems to fluctuate with his mood.
Season 3's Malan Breton also fell into this category.