Another season of Project Runway has drawn to a close, with all its usual drama and surprise. But the intricacies of the show remain largely unknown to its viewers—for example, how often are the story lines contrived versus genuine? A talk with Portlander and season nine Runway contestant Becky Ross reveals the behind-the-scenes shenanigans viewers are dying to know.
The perennial question of reality shows is whether story lines are authentic or scripted, and Project Runway in no way escapes the question. Ross herself is suspicious that the production crew manipulates happenings on the show, saying Project Runway host Heidi Klum wears an earpiece so as to be in constant communication with production. Ross is also unsure if story lines influence which contestant is eliminated each episode. She does note, however, the creative liberties production takes with television advertisements, saying it often edits segments that falsely suggest judges criticizing certain contestants. However, Ross contends her clash with fellow designer Joshua McKinley was real, and that he was “really that mean.” About that annoying music that plays between the time Klum says a name on the runway and whether or not said person is still in the competition? “Production adds that music afterwards, and Heidi’s pause is three times longer on the runway.” What’s a reality show if not dramatic?
Why, viewers may wonder, were there no Portland sightings of Ross after her elimination from the show? The answer lies in the fact that Ross, along with all eliminated contestants, was sequestered in New York for the remainder of the six-week show. All eliminated contestants must pretend to still be on the show whenever the surviving contestants venture into public, so people do not know who has been eliminated before television airings. Ross even mentions people who would stand outside fabric store Mood in an attempt to figure out which contestants were still in the running. Eliminated competitors lived in a Project Runway alternate universe, venturing to a separate Parsons workroom each day, where they amused themselves with the actual contestants’ leftover material.
Come Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, Project Runway stages three finale shows at Lincoln Center. The top ten designers—Ross missed out by one elimination spot—created and showed collections. This precaution is taken to eliminate the chances of the public discovering who the final designers are in the time between Fashion Week in September and the airing of the final episodes in October.
Now, about that finale. Ross states that finalist Victor Luna was her favorite designer from the start, and lauds the beauty of the photographic prints in his final collection. She goes on to say, however, that she is not surprised that Anya Ayoung-Chee won the competition. While Luna’s printed clothes were fresh and new, the drab sheer clothes he added right before the showing at Lincoln Center deflated the creativity of the collection. Ross herself acknowledges that Luna may have won had he stuck to his prints. What Luna lacked, however, was Ayoung-Chee’s brandability. Judge Michael Kors himself stated he could visualize an “Anya bag,” “Anya dress” and “Anya shoe.” Ross sums up Ayoung-Chee’s appeal as a “beachy fantasy—who wouldn’t want to be that girl on the beach in a sarong?” Ross is complimentary when saying Ayoung-Chee understood the appeal of her persona and used it to her advantage.
Ross is pleased with her decision to go on the show. Although she admits she “didn’t know what she was getting herself into,” she accedes the “leaps and bounds” the show has afforded her career. Despite this bonus, Ross is unsure she would acquiesce if asked to return for Project Runway All Stars. The stress of the competition, and the fact that she is not allowed to reproduce any styles or elements of any styles she created on the show, are downsides she is hesitant to repeat. Fans will just have to chart Ross’s continued rise in the fashion industry without the aid of the television set.