Is Project Runway Bad for the Fashion Industry? Calvin Klein, Fern Mallis and More Weigh In

Former Project Runway contestants always seem to try to distance themselves from the show after they go out into the world on their own. Christian Siriano has been dealing with Project Runway demons for years, and Rami Kashou, who was on the show twice (and most recently ousted on the Project Runway All-Stars season) told us: "But it’s a game show, it’s nothing more to me. It’s produced." And according to fashion industry insiders, if you want a career as a fashion designer, you'd best distance yourself from reality TV fashion, too.
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Former Project Runway contestants always seem to try to distance themselves from the show after they go out into the world on their own. Christian Siriano has been dealing with Project Runway demons for years, and Rami Kashou, who was on the show twice (and most recently ousted on the Project Runway All-Stars season) told us: "But it’s a game show, it’s nothing more to me. It’s produced." And according to fashion industry insiders, if you want a career as a fashion designer, you'd best distance yourself from reality TV fashion, too.
Photo: Getty

Photo: Getty

Former Project Runway contestants always seem to try to distance themselves from the show after they go out into the world on their own. Christian Siriano has been dealing with Project Runway demons for years, and Rami Kashou, who was on the show twice (and most recently ousted on the Project Runway All-Stars season) told us: "But it’s a game show, it’s nothing more to me. It’s produced." And according to fashion industry insiders, if you want a career as a fashion designer, you'd best distance yourself from reality TV fashion, too.

Last night we attended the Pratt Institute student graduate fashion show (more on that later), where Fern Mallis was presented with a Lifetime Achievement award by long-time friend Calvin Klein. Mallis pretty much created New York fashion week as we know it, initiating "the tents" format, and has been in the fashion business forever--many designers count her as a friend and mentor.

We were chatting with her about advice she would give to future designers, and she had some pretty strong words about the bad influence that reality fashion TV is having on the industry. "I hate to fault somebody for being overly ambitious but I think that with the advent of Project Runway and all the reality TV, everybody thinks they can be a designer and have their own label the minute they’re out of school when they sew two pieces of fabric together," she told us. [Update: It should be noted that Fern has appeared on Project Runway, America's Next Top Model, She's Got the Look, and The Fashion Show.]

And if the fashion industry wasn't already hard enough to break into, shows like Project Runway are driving more students to design school and increasing the amount of competition. Which isn't so great either. Jennifer Minnitti, the chair of Pratt's department of fashion design told us that they're graduating more fashion students than ever before, and so are other fashion schools. "[Because of] the proliferation of reality TV shows around fashion...you get a lot of students who just want to participate in this program because they want to be on TV or be a celebrity," she told us. "This is a TOUGH business." Minnitti admitted that the shows are good from the perspective that they make viewers more aware of the industry, but schools are trying to assess students' motives and wean out the ones who aren't there to work. Mallis and Minnitti both agreed that time and a lot of hard work behind-the-scenes is what makes a star designer, not being on a TV show.

And what did Calvin Klein have to say about it? After making a sort of "pffft" sound when we asked him, he said, "A TV show about fashion? That’s a momentary thing."

So future designers, step away from the TV and take these words of Calvin Klein wisdom: "To really have success and to really make it you need staying power. That’s not an accident. Those designers work at it all the time, they never stop."