Project Runway: Preseason Rankings

>> Sunday, November 11, 2007

You might have read that we like Project Runway around here at Gratz Industries. A lot. It's an industrious show, after all, where 15 contestants compete to out cut, out sew, and out design their fellow fashionistas. The new season begins this Wednesday on Bravo, and this year Wendi and I are going to blog about the show as it happens. So why not get started early?

Here now is a preview of this year's contestants. Let's call it our Preseason Rankings, like they do in collegiate sports. And this year there are some seriously experienced candidates to rank. (And, then, some not so experienced.) As I reviewed the contenders, I began to see small groupings in their ranks, which played out in my ranking of them as you'll see below.

Each week we'll amend our opinions and predictions as we see the designers in action. For now, the rankings are based on nothing more than the bios provided at

Alan's Preseason Project Runway Contestant Rankings

Group the First: The Clear Cut Favorites

1] Rami: After much consideration, this is the designer I would bet on to win before seeing a single episode. Born in Jerusalem and raised in Ramallah, as a young man Rami was often commissioned by local town socialites to design their ensembles. In 1996 Rami came to America to study at Brooks College in California, then quit to work in retail, eventually as a buyer. Later, after years of self-education on sewing and piecing techniques, he created his own collection that was picked up by many notable LA boutiques. Since then he's had a number of runway shows, and designed red-carpet gowns worn by the likes of Jessica Alba, Fergie, Tyra Banks, Lucy Lui, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Penelope Cruz. His work has appeared in In Style, Flaunt, Vogue, Lucky, Elle, Angelino, Interview, People and Us Weekly, and in 2005 he was commissioned to design the costumes for a national America’s Next Top Model ad campaign. I think he's easily the most dangerous contestant, and the one who's starting closer to breakout success than anyone else.

2] Jillian: Wendi's preseason favorite, Jillian is a Parson's Design School graduate who has since worked as a concept designer and illustrator at Rugby by Ralph Lauren and as a designer at Searle. At Searle, she says she experienced "the old-fashioned way of tailoring," and at Rugby she became "an expert at conceptualizing a full and balanced collection," two things that could get her to the final three. She's young, she's hip, and she's already intent on making an impact on the industry. The $100,000 prize for winning Project Runway could be the thing that helps her get to the next level.

3] Elisa: A mixed-media installation and performance artist who has found self-described "accidental" success in fashion. Vogue named her a top-ten independent designer, and her designs have appeared in the pages of many prominent fashion magazines and on many prominent singers and actresses. Elisa appears to have the experience and talent she'll need to impress Nina and Michael, if she can produce on demand.

Group the Second: The Contenders

4] Carmen: Savannah College of Art and Design grad who was named top fashion designer in her class, then interned in Paris and is now head designer for Lacoste. Co-author of "T-Shirt Makeovers: 20 Transformations For Fabulous Fashion." Will her terrific pedigree translate to success in the high-pressure, often frustrating, always constricting world of Project Runway?

5] Christian: The youngest contestant at just 21 years of age, Christian has studied in London and even had his own show at London Fashion Week. He's now a freelance designer who travels between New York City and Los Angeles, working with designer Rosetta Getty. Tim Gunn said of Christian in an Entertainment Weekly preview that this kid is enormously talented. Unfortunately, he appears to have an ego to match. "I'm kind of a big deal," he tells us earnestly on his introductory Bravo commercial spots. We've seen arrogance take designers to the final three (Santino, anyone?) and he may really be a wunderkind, but will he be insufferable? Will he be as unyielding as Austin Scarlett, or prove to be as versatile as Daniel Vosovic? Despite the preseason raves from Tim Gunn, I worry that he'll crash out before his time.

6] Kit (Christina): Designer of her own line, "Kit Pistol," Kit attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and graduated with honors before living in Florence, Italy and attending the Polimoda Institute of Fashion Design and Marketing, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.F.A. in Fashion design. Her eponymous line emphasizes "feminine strength and wiles." Will her distinctive personal style mean a strong, consistent look, or will she butt heads with the judges while trying to fit a square peg into a round hole?

7] Victorya: Born in Seoul, Korea and raised in Virginia, Victorya grew up with a fashion-minded mother from whom she learned to design and sew. After graduating from the University of Chicago, she went to Paris, where she spent six years as a journalist. In 2002 she returned to America to pursue fashion design at Parsons in New York City, and since then has worked at a number of major companies before beginning her own clothing line. She's got the sewing and designing pedigree of a competitor, but she's a relative newcomer to design training despite her thirty-something age. She's a bit of an enigma, but I have a good feeling about her. Besides, how can you bet against a girl who has "victory" in her name?

Group the Third: The Professionals

8] Jack: All-American swimmer, male fashion model, and openly HIV-positive since 1990, Jack comes in with a double degree in Fine Art and Sociology from Cal Berkeley and a design degree from Parsons, the home workroom of Project Runway. He's worked for Tommy Hilfiger and Levi's, and for the past five years has been the Design Director at Weatherproof Active Wear. Jack's a guy I already like, personality-wise, from his promo spots on Bravo. You gotta love a guy who answers the question, "What's your fashion must?" with, "A sugar daddy." I think he'll be a fun contestant to root for, and he has real-world design experience. But will he be innovative enough to be America's next great designer?

9] Kevin: A first-generation Italian-American whose Sicilian family includes a number of tailors and seamstresses, Kevin was taught to sew by his Aunt Ida. He studied at New York City's Fashion Institute of Technology, then worked for his cousin, designer Susana Monaco, for six years before branching off to start his own line, which debuted on the cover of the Victoria's Secret Fall 2006 catalogue. Basic sewing skills go a long way in Project Runway, as we've seen many a good designer become unraveled by sewing that, well, comes unraveled.

10] Ricky: A lingerie designer from Escondido, California, Ricky began creating clothes when he was nine but didn't receive formal training until he moved to New York City to become a dancer and began designing dance clothes. He's worked for the Valentino and Oscar de la Renta lingerie lines, and later headed the launch of the Vera Wang lingerie line before setting out to establish a collection of his own, "Lizalde" (his last name), which is sold at Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and lingerie specialty boutiques throughout the country. Like Kevin above, Ricky's life-long sewing skills make him a contender, but I worry that his specialization in lingerie may put him a step behind his fellow designers in terms of developing full dresses and ensembles.

Group the Fourth: The Dark Horses

11] Marion: Another Parson's grad, where Marion earned the silver and gold thimble awards. (I don't know what that means, exactly, but it sounds good.) Marion has shown his collection for several seasons in New York City and his clothing has been featured in Bazaar and Cosmopolitan, and he recently opened his own retail store in Dallas. Based on his accolades and experience, I should probably have him a little higher, but there is something about him that makes me leery. Maybe it's that he says if he was a fabric, he'd be chain maille. Or that his favorite color is "flesh."

12] Simone: Possibly the hardest contestant to peg, Simone studied at Parson's in Paris and then returned to the US where she forged a career of freelance design, and personal styling for select clientele. In 2006 she was commissioned to create a custom collection in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, while exploring traditional craft and production techniques throughout the region, and she is currently living in Los Angeles, where she is designing a collection of women's wear using organic and surplus fabrics. I could be completely off base by ranking her this low, but she just doesn't sound like she has the experience--working or training--of the people I've ranked ahead of her. Her work with traditional production techniques and organic and surplus fabrics could make her the most flexible, and thus the most dangerous, designer in the group; or she could be too funky to make it out of the first episode.

Group the Fifth: The Long Shots

13] Sweet P (Kathleen): At 46, she's the oldest of this season's contestants, though only by a couple of years. While attending Los Angeles Trade Technical College, Sweet P began designing and selling "clubbing outfits," which eventually morphed into retro design. Later she worked for Bebe, and then as a sleepwear designer. She is now working on a new, non-sleepwear, collection. The nickname? She got it while riding with the Hells Belles motorcycle club. But for her professional experience, I'd have her lower; she sounds unfocused, and I'm afraid her work is going to be too strange.

14] Chris: A freelance Costume Designer in New York City with a client list that includes Cirque du Soleil, Madonna and Thierry Mugler. Costume designers often do not fare well with the judges, who are quick to hop on costumey designs with both spiked heels and dig in. I gotta say too, anybody who wears a Fred Flintstone-looking outfit to have his official Project Runway picture taken is already starting off on the wrong foot. Yabba-dabba-don't!

15] Steven: Steven's only formal training is a year at Chicago's Columbia College for fashion design, and he currently works in the Exhibits and Collections Department at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. He's traveled abroad, is inspired by the work of Yves St. Laurent, and has the noble (and humble) ambition to rid the fashion world of non-natural fabrics and design day dresses with natural fabrics that "bring a simple, yet elegant, perspective to women's day wear." In his Q&A he says he's shy, and number five on his list of "fashion essentials" is "a briefcase." Sorry, Steven. You seem like a really nice guy, and I hope I'm wrong about you, but barring a fashion disaster from someone else in episode one, I think you'll be the first to go.

There you have it. Have I relied too heavily on education and experience? Undoubtedly. There's a certain tenacity a designer has to have to survive Project Runway that eventually supersedes even the greatest talent, and there's no way to know who among this group have that, and who do not. As I've blogged here before, there is a certain point at which each contest must survive what I call his or her own personal "Waterloo," the episode that will make them or break them. At that point, no amount of degrees or accolades or magazine articles or celebrity endorsements will matter. And every designer we've ever watched on this show has a bad design day--sometimes coupled with a Waterloo, sometimes not. In such cases there's luck involved too: your design may stink, but does someone else's design that day stinketh worse? You may still skate by.

So I gamely offer up these bold predictions:

First to go: Steven
Most entertaining: Jack
Most annoying: Christian
Villain: Marion
Favorite I'll hate to see go: Kevin
Final Three: Rami, Jillian, Elisa
Winner: Rami

Stay tuned to watch me eat crow . . .


Laura K November 12, 2007 at 10:57 AM  

This is great! I hope it's okay for me to link you to BPR.

Please join our "fantasy runway" league. You can win a trip to the finale party. :)

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