Here’s how Project Runway finales used to go: During New York Fashion Week, amateur designers stepped onto a catwalk to introduce their collections. Through tears of exhaustion and joy, they thanked their moms and proclaimed the Runway experience their greatest ever. The event was emotional and exciting — for both the series’ aspiring couturiers, and for the fans who had followed the contestants’ journey on TV.
Not this year. For the first time in Runway history, the swan song, taped at New York City’s Bryant Park on Feb. 20, took place in a pop culture vacuum. Because of ongoing lawsuits — involving The Weinstein Co., which produces Runway; NBC Universal, parent company to Runway’s old network, Bravo; and Lifetime, which says it owns the rights to Runway’s sixth season — not a single minute of the new season has aired. As a result, this ”finale” was a logistical nightmare. To maintain secrecy, none of the three finalists were permitted to appear on stage — and their collections were sent down the runway anonymously. Andrea Wong, president and CEO of Lifetime Networks, was noticeably absent, perhaps because a New York State court has told Lifetime it cannot promote, broadcast, or even discuss Runway’s upcoming season. As for the collections, critics found them lackluster. ”It’s so depressing,” sighed season 4 winner Christian Siriano after the show. ”There wasn’t the normal energy in the room, where everyone’s sooo excited. The designers must be so depressed backstage. They can’t have fun!”
No one entangled in the Runway debacle is having any fun right now. The fight began last April, when Harvey Weinstein announced he was moving the series from Bravo to Lifetime, starting with season 6, which was to premiere in January. Bravo’s parent company, NBC Universal, immediately sued Weinstein, claiming he had violated the network’s right of first refusal. In the fall, The Weinstein Co. countersued NBC Universal, and then Lifetime jumped in and sued…everyone. While NBC Universal declined to comment, The Weinstein Co.’s VP of television and film production Barbara Schneeweiss says, ”We are very optimistic that this will get resolved,” and in a statement, Lifetime said, ”We continue to look forward to this entire matter being resolved.” But sources close to the situation say a settlement is unlikely anytime soon. (The next court date is scheduled for March 19.) If the case goes to trial, the sixth cycle — which filmed in L.A. last fall and is almost entirely edited and ready for broadcast — could become the lost season of Runway. ”My heart goes out to the designers,” says cycle 5 finalist Korto Momolu. ”People who are in charge need to think about the reason the show was created, which was to give underdogs a chance.” Judge Nina Garcia swears that season 6 is ”fantastic. If it does get to air, everybody’s going to be really excited to see it.”
But what if they’re not? Fashion and entertainment trends change overnight, so it’s possible the sixth season will become as passé as Siriano’s once-ubiquitous catchphrase, ”fierce.” Still, exec producer Jane Cha isn’t worried. ”There’s nothing in the episodes that’s topical or would seem out of place months from now,” she insists. ”It will feel fresh. Call it our own little version of Lost,” she adds. ”We’re playing with time.” Unfortunately, time has a way of running out.
Style on Trial: The Project Runway season 6 finale collections
Who’s the next great American designer? Hard to imagine it’s one of these three anonymous finalists, whose collections ? were polished, but failed to inspire awe like past winners Christian Siriano and Leanne Marshall. Our take on the latest trio of Runway hopefuls.
1. A dramatically oversize cardigan was a rare head-turner in an otherwise dismal parade ? of black, beige, and gray ?L.A. casual. When a sweater is your signature piece, something’s not right.
2. Shimmering fabrics and feminine silhouettes made for a pretty collection. But where was the innovation? The floral garlands smacked of Marchesa, and the draping recalled season 4’s Rami.
3. The edgiest line of the bunch. Slashed trousers, wool-felt centurion hats, and an extravagant gown — nearly all in black — just might be crazy enough to win. If the season ever airs, that is.