July 24, 2006

Project Runway - A fantasy design world

Season 3 has started and I have to admit that I like to watch the show. It reminds me so much of my design school experience. In design school you are frequently given similar challenges to design something to fit a certain customer or target market. The work rooms feel familiar too, even some of the personalities.

There are a few things that continue to bug me about the show. The designer this show tries to discover is what I call a fantasy designer. There is a certain segment of the fashion business where a designer works with wealthy customers to create an evening dress or expensive sportswear. Their clientele consists of actors or other celebrities. That particular segment is so small that the continual portrayal as an ideal is an insult to the rest of us in the fashion business. Project Runway completely ignores many product categories, including children.

I am talking about designers that work in the trenches - mass market apparel. Creating something as cheaply as possible while maintaining a certain quality level. Worrying about profit margins and overseas manufacturing. This is the real world. This is the world where most designers work. Working for a large apparel business is gritty, real work. The hours are just as long and as stressful.

Another type of designer is an enterepeneur who has started their own business and sells to ordinary people. This kind of designer is more grounded and realistic about their customer and their product. They have a look that is interesting and sells. They are smart and understand business and fashion. It takes a lot of strength and will power to start a business from the ground-up.

I have to give credit to Jay (Season 1 winner) and Chloe (Season 2). Neither of them went the celebrity designer route you would expect. Jay took his time to figure the business end out before launching his line. Chloe expanded her own existing business. This is so smart.

I wish the show would give challenges to the competitors that are more realistic. One real-world challenge I faced was to design a children's fluffy dress - labor and materials - for under $5. Such a dress would retail for about $15.99 at a big box retailer. Now that is a challenge!

So yes, I would love to see them attempt other product categories. The fashion industry is so diverse. What about an outfit for a 50+ year old woman? Baby boomers are becoming one of the larger customer profiles. How about a maternity outfit? A new print for a scarf, tie, or umbrella? A children's look? I really, really want to see these designers try something other than a silk charmeuse evening gown.

I will probably keep watching this season. I am hooked, I admit it. I just hope the show doesn't spin out of control and become more ridiculous with time.

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