Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Ultimate 7-Point Guide to Winning "Project Runway" for Aspiring Designers Everywhere (Updated Exclusive!)



Are you an aspiring fashion designer from New York, Sydney or as faraway as from Vancouver? You have my deepest respect because you go after your dream! Firstly, I have no interest in being a fashion designer even though I share the same birthday as Giorgio Armani. But that doesn't mean I don't watch Project Runway. I'm a huge fan of Project Runway and have accumulated a keen eye in judging the best runway fashion, thanks largely to the show. I've also accumulated a range of tips that hopefully will help ALL future designers out there who plans to make it at Project Runway. I hope you'll find these tips useful in your journey to winning the grand prize and finally have your own brand. I wish you all the best!

The other reason I wrote this article to help other designers out there is because I see the similarities between them and myself, an artiste. Besides acting, I also writes and the tension a writer feels when his work is being judged is exactly the same as a fashion designer's at Project Runway. So I do put myself in the designers' shoes. It is not easy being a designer! You can go poor for years and years and still not make it. Getting into Project Runway is truly a wonderful opportunity for you. I have starred in reality TV shows before, and I know having a camera on you during the competition is not easy. The most difficult part, I feel is during the judging on the runway - and truly I salute your courage and perseverance to withstand the criticisms and listen to what the judges' have to say. OK, let's get started!

66% polyester, 44% cotton
1. Fabric Choice is Everything
Upon qualified to be in the show, it is already understood that you have the potential to be a great designer. But that is simply not enough in helping you to create the best fashion for the runway. Your fabric choice is everything! That's why knowing which fabric works best for what kind of design is most valuable. You have basically 30 minutes to select your fabric choice, so make good use of that extremely short time for shopping the best fabric you can! It's highly unlikely you'll be given a second chance to go back to Mood (unless it's a Heidi Klum challenge, in which she is really understanding and gives the designers extra cash to re-design her dress in the Klum Challenge episode) So have A LOT of fabric knowledge! When it comes to fabric, you must also know what colours work best and your fabric manipulation skills.

2. Design Fast
The designers will often have either half an hour to an hour to come up with their designs on the initial stage. Really think about your design and whether you can accomplish them with your fabrics. Some designers make a huge mistake of being overly ambitious and comes out in the end with a tardy design that may references to a kitchen apron, flamenco's dress or a pregnant housewife. It's not entirely their fault, but it shows how faulty and gullible their thinking can be. You must also take into consideration the challenge requirements. For the latest season of Project Runway, I have to give kudos to Kini Zamora for really working very fast. In the first half of the season, his designs were really good. But I suspect he lost steam and failed to keep his creative momentum towards the finale. A lesson to be learned from this is you need a balance. No doubt it is important to design fast, but you also have to build your momentum (not kill it with exhaustion) with each design until the finale where you finally blooms with the best runway show collection possible.

3. Never Underestimate the Competition
One of the biggest obstacle all designers faced upon being confirmed for the Project Runway show is EGO. When you put a bunch of designers together, most will talk about their past accomplishments and which celebrities they have designed for. The reason for the ego is very much to differentiate themselves from the competition - which is perfectly understandable and a great entertainment for viewers at home (like myself) to watch how they bragged and then brought down to eat some humble pie when their over-the-moon bragging does not traslate to a great fashion on the runway. One example is Korina Emmerich, whom I thought have the best articulation when on camera - the way she talked was so good and clear, but NOT the way she looked down upon her competition - for example Sandhya Garg. She underestimated her capabilities, but Sandhya won the first challenge. So be humble. If you cannot keep your bragging mouth shut, be like Mondo Guerra. He was so focus and couldn't care less about the competition around him. He just keeps on working quietly and showcases his best works.

My Point of View
"I'm a size 2, baby"
4. Have a Point of View
Stand for something, or you'll fall for anything! This saying is even more relevant in the real-world fashion industry because you simply have to stand out. Take me for example. When I first entered a local Idol-like singing contest, I know I'm not the best singer out there, or even the most good-looking. So what do I do?  I have a point of view! And this doesn't have to be complex - it's actually very, very simple! I put on my now, world-famous Golden Shorts. Same thing with fashion designers. Your point of view have to translate into your designs and believe me - that's what Heidi Klum, Nina Garcia, Zac Posen and Michael Kors are looking for! Your point of view is precious - that is if you even have one. If you don't, then please develop one. The world is full of copycats and mediocrity, and it's easy to drown in the same thing. The wonderful premise Project Runway can offer you is to give you a chance to actually develop a point of view in the course of the competition. Take Sean Kelly for example. I couldn't tell what his point of view was at the beginning of the show. He didn't acknowledge Kini's bulk of the work during their winning team challenge in the Alternative Wedding Dress episode when Sean only did one piece - the pants, when Kini did the rest of the 4-piece in total! Sean was named the winner quite unfairly in my opinion, and not Kini. But when in competition, an open-minded designer would see the cross-pollination of ideas across each others' designs on the floor.

Cross-Pollinate Ideas
I was truly appalled again when the judges select Amanda Valentine's fringe-like dress as the winner in the "Going to the Movies" episode. It's an Unconventional Materials and Group challenge. I suspect Sean got inspired by her hippie fringe dress that instant and decided it's a safe bet to put the fringe design ALL OUT for his winning runway collection at the finale. Smart guy with a definite winning point of view. I have to give credit to him because he picks up ideas from other designers too and store them for future challenges. Like during the Samsung Rainway Challenge, Sean really shows his mettle with a white dress with color dye inside. So when the model walks in the Rainway (meaning runway with showers of water on it), the water would cause the dye to open its color on the dress, creating a pretty transformation from white to a colorful dress. He won again for that challenge, even though the dress is not avant garde. I suspect he mirrors his Caesar's idea from Amanda's Cleopatra idea from that same challenge into the finale. But don't cheat, because audience at home with a keen eye like me can spot. And it might not be good for your image in the future when the person you failed to acknowledge his contribution like what Sean did to Kini in the team challenge- failed in the end. I cried when Kini's aunt hugged and sang a traditional Hawaiian chant to him as a form of comforting closure for him after he lost in the finale. Simply heart-wrenching. I wished I have someone to sing and comfort me too when I failed - which was a lot!

Accessories and Styling matters too
5. Every Challenge Counts 
In Project Runway, I know it's not easy to have one challenge after another coming your way. You might think - should I just get through in the first half of all the challenges, then truly go all out on the second half to ultimately get into Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week? From my experience, I believe you should not be extreme in that sense, but balance yourself out by making each challenge counts. You may excel in the Unconventional Materials challenge, and so you wait to show your best until then. But why? You may not even be here when that particular challenge comes! Don't be foolish and be selective of which challenge you want to excel in. Each challenge is an opportunity for you to showcase your BEST and put your name out there. Take into account too the non-designers field of expertise like styling of your model's hair and make-up, accessories and the way the clothes would move on the runway. All that would accentuate the look of your designs and make it even better. Like Heidi Klum said "One day you're in, the next day you're out". So take every challenge like it's your last and stop bitching.

6. Have a Theme with Scope of a Story
This tip is when you finally got into the Final Three of Project Runway, and going to create your 10-look collection. In all the winning designers' collection, I discover almost all of them have one thing in common - a theme. A theme for your collection is not merely a one-word description or some frivolous untangible concept. The theme needs to have a scope that covers depth and with meat you can actually chew! Your theme is what inspires you to create the 10-look collection. Take this year's winner Sean Kelly. He has the best theme out of the others - "The Betrayal of Caesar" His whole collection's design is pretty simple. His signature fringe look is apparent in all his 10-look. But the showmanship of his collection was exceptionally outstanding! There's a STORY you can follow through his collection - firstly the all white fringe dress to show Caeser's ascension into power, then in the middle a touch of red fringe to signify his assasination and finally a grand ending of an all-orange fringe dress. Another great example was Seth Aaron's finale show titled "German-Russian Military" where each piece was a show-stopper with influences of the military in the form of leather, strong construction and never-before-seen silhouettes. (I would wear his designs) When you're standing in front of the judges to explain your designs, some great articulation skills can go a long way - but at the same time your clothes must be able to stand on its own and speaks for itself. Try to stay away from any ethnic-based themes like Native American or Southeast Asian. Remember Patricia Michaels, finalist Season 11 and Andy South, finalist Season 8?

Listen and Learn
7. Listen to Judges and Mentor
Listen to your clients especially in a client-specific challenge. Listen to the judges and mentor too. Always remember the judges and mentor in Project Runway are there to help you. Somehow I still love the American-produced Project Runway series because of such warmth and care exuded by the mentor Tim Gunn and the host Heidi Klum. Compared to the Australian and Canadian-version of Project Runway, there still lacks some connection to me because of how distant it feels (at least to me) between the mentors and the designers. But I do love the first season's opening montage of Project Runway Canada when Iman shows her acting skills by monologuing "Tempers will flare. Hemlines will fly. Because fashion isn't always pretty".  If you have the chance to enter between Canada and US, go for the US one because the judges there really appreciates risk-taking and new ideas. New York is still the fashion capital of the world - and having Nina Garcia, Michael Kors or Zac Posen giving you critiques would truly help in advancing your design process. Still, I find Zac Posen a little too pale and twinkish-looks on screen, and that sometimes make me want to giggle more than actually sit up and be serious in listening to what he has to say. Compares to the other judges like Michael Kors and Nina Garcia with their tanned, seasoned and beautiful skins, I tend to listen to them more seriously. I never see the judges saying mean things to the designers except only on their design creations. I noticed how sharp Nina Garcia's critiques can be, but it was done only in the Close Looks section (where the judges touch and feel up-close the design creations) when all the other designers are sitting in the lounge. Though I may be wrong because I'm only a viewer at home, but basically the judges and especially the mentor have mutual respect for the designers. Tim Gunn is the oldest cast member of the show and truly one of the most valuable asset because his feedback to help better the designers' creations is a great source of inspiration. I hope he'll be around for many more seasons of Project Runway. I enjoyed his motivational quotes to the designers like "Persevere" and "You have a Make-it-Work moment". And Heidi Klum too, with her great body and high-pitch cheery voice each time she appeared on the runway to present an intro of new challenge to the designers always perks me up (and some other places too).

There you go, future aspiring fashion designers - 7 ultimate tips in helping you make it to the top of the fashion industry! I wish you all the best and maybe one day I get to fly to New York and buy one of your creations.

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