What We Can Learn From: “Project Runway”

Posted By Tracy Thompson on January 14, 2015

Chief among TV’s juiciest allegories is fashion’s longest-running challenge show, “Project Runway.” A show wherein designers compete with one another by sewing garments that interpret each week’s unusual face-off. It’s chock full of catfights and bleeped testimonials for sure, yet lessons unfold before us in every episode–those we can take back to our creative departments and client presentations and internal status meetings like an ethics primer.

The drama queens always flame out
The criers, the screamers, the bastards and the wounded never make it to Fashion Week—this kind of hyperbole only lasts long enough to rack up ratings before some sense of professional integrity leans in and slaps it across the face. Basically, applying exuberance to one’s work—versus the soap operas confounding the hallways surrounding the work—makes for better work. In short: leave the fainting couches at home.

Mindreading the judges leads to the bottom three
When the glammy eveningwear designer abandons his instincts and goes all librarian one week because he thinks the judges want to see something tweed, you know he’s headed for Heidi’s auf wiedersehen. Being true to oneself couldn’t be a more unlikely literary theme to find on a program that edits together villains week by week, but damn if it isn’t a strategy as reliable as Polonius’s own (ill-fated, but still) platitude.

Defensiveness adds 10 pounds
The players who pout through mentor Tim Gunn’s check-ins nearly always get the scoundrel treatment by the producers, i.e. plenty of screen time of their snarkiest comments, every eye roll, all the righteous mutterings. Eventually, they look like poor sports too frightened to learn. Same goes here. Good critiques are always opportunities to make one’s work the best. Those who put their egos far enough aside to hear clear direction often get to their best stuff. 

You’re only as good as your last dress
Despite weeks of wins and top-seed rankings, one miss (in this game: “tight and cheap”) can land you on the chopping block faster than beige bores Nina. The moral is: a blunder can mean irreparable damage to a client relationship, particularly when we should know better. Treating each project with the same vigor and detail as the very first is what keeps client relationships, client relationships. 

Time to start watching the stuff on TV between the commercials.