How to Be Successful on Project Runway

I have watched every season of Project Runway. I have participated from home for 5 seasons. I have participated in person for one episode. Here is what I can tell you.

How to be successful on Project Runway.

From the minute you get picked, you will be busy.

1. Start sketching. You can use a note book with the figures already in there, but start sketching. Don’t come on the show and let me hear you say, “Sketching is not part of my process.” You HAVE to be able to sell your ideas in more than one way. Everyone has decided that is with a sketch and by answering the questions ,”Who is this woman and where is she going?”

2. Go to a store or a school that has Brother Machines. Sit there until you learn how to thread and sew on all of them. Learn how to work the serger model AND the conventional model.

3.a. Watch EVERY episode of PR ever taped. Write down every challenge and think through what you would have done.It is not likely that they will repeat the challenge exactly, but they have done similar things.
3.b. There will be a challenge where you need to design your own print. Try this on your own at home. AND, the fabric comes on what looks like cotton. So think through some looks that will be successful in cotton. This is going to be a tough challenge. It has taken out many a worthy designer.

4.a. Take all of the catalogs out of your bathroom. Make a dress. Go to your recycling bin, make a dress out of what is there. Chew gum. Make a dress out of the gum and the wrapper. You think I’m kidding? No. They have been to the dump and made looks from there.

Laura, season 3, in the recycling plant.

This is no joke. If I hear one more designer come on and say “these are not the materials I work with” “these do not speak to my aesthetic…” I will flip!
4.b. When you are standing in the big box hardware store for the unusual materials challenge, do not pick the drop cloths and the plastic sheeting and make a dress. The judges will say that you did not embrace the challenge. And you will risk going home. Worse than that, you will risk losing Tim’s respect. When Sue started working with a black table cloth for one challenge, Tim came in for the critique and lost it. (Really, I have not seen Tim get that angry on camera before.) He looked at her and said threateningly “Have you ever SEEN Project Runway before!?!?!?” It was ugly.
5. a. Learn how to piece, and make patterns. Learn how to use muslin. Learn how to WORK in muslin and make the mistakes in muslin.
5.b Go to the local theater, and visit the costume department. There have been some gowns that were constructed to STAND UP and BE NOTICED. You should have some knowledge of “BIG” construction before you go.

Chris March and Christian Siriano Collaboration.

6. This is a big giant job interview. Win or lose, millions of viewers will see your designs. AND YOU. Behave like you are on the worlds longest job interview. Because you are.

7. Design some looks for size 12 – 18. The average woman in America is 5’2″ and weighs 150. When someone that does not look like a model comes in front of you, embrace the opportunity. That is your market. The more you sneer, the worse you look. (see #6) Figure out what would be flattering on a woman with a big bust, or a big rear, or a little tummy. Think about the model and what shape would flatter her figure. It could be the difference between the top and the bottom.

8. Get your social media all ironed out before you go. Set up a twitter, FB and web site. People will be looking. And talking. You want to SHINE when they find you.

Future designers: you are welcome.
What do you fans say? Did I miss anything?

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20 Comments to How to Be Successful on Project Runway
    • sher
    • One other thing. Learn to be comfortable with men’s wear. Have at least a theoretical knowledge of what to look out for.

      • Susi
      • OH! Good one! I TOTALLY forgot that one! They don’t do that every season. But EVERY time they do, it is a complete fiasco from top to bottom. Learn how to sew a collared shirt. (and I am giving the designers a lot of rope here, because they do the WHOLE thing without a pattern, and usually on rather oddly shaped men. And that would be HARD.)

    • Ros
    • “6. This is a big giant job interview. Win or lose, millions of viewers will see your designs. AND YOU. Behave like you are on the worlds longest job interview. Because you are.”

      Play this one carefully though. If you are too boring and reliable, you may get kicked out in favour of the drama queen. Make sure there’s something interesting and unique about your personality that viewers can hook on to.

      • Susi
      • Ros, Good point. I think the “answer” there is be sure to comment honestly in your confessional. Say your opinion. But handle conflict and stress in the workroom diplomatically.

    • Gin
    • Nice list. You would think that designers would have a game plan going in, but it seems that so many are so naive about the nature of competition.

      One addition: Don’t forget the styling aspect — that trips up a lot of looks that could otherwise pass muster. Study the hair and makeup and accessories in very recent fashion magazines (yes, I mean Marie Claire) and very recent fashion shows (yes, I mean Zac Posen and Michael Kors).

      Oh, and for the sake of all that is Tim Gunn, practice making pants before you arrive.

      • Susi
      • Mary Liz, You make TWO good points. 1. PANTS! and 2. “I haven’t made ________ since _______” Don’t say it. And don’t experiment “now”. Add Pants to your pre-work. And add anything else you havent done in a while.

    • Josie
    • Designers, please erase “fashion is my life” and “I want this so much” from your vocabulary.

      Learn how to sew an invisible zipper, set a sleeve and keep in mind that interfacing is your friend. Sheesh, these are basics!

      Huge yes to #6. Remember, the film editors can’t create footage; if you don’t want the world to see it in a few months, don’t say it.

      • Susi
      • Josie,
        I am laughing! “I want this so much” ! Or can we add “I have so much more to show you!” I hope you do! If you don’t have so much more, I can show you the door.
        The simple skills are shocking when they come out. Every time.
        # 6 is just huge. I hear so much about how scripted the show is. And I can confirm for you that no one told us what to say. If you don’t say it, they cannot show it.

    • DrRuss
    • How about–work on as many different fabrics as you can BEFORE you audition. Have already worked on suede, denim, leather, jersey, knits, satin/sateen, silk and most importantly–LYCRA. How many sportswear challenges have been ruined due to lack of working with Lycra. Remember the year they had to make lingerie?

      Also, know how to make accessories like necklaces, headbands, bangles, etc. The judges always seem impressed when the designers make things other than clothes. If you plan on making it to the finals and plan on winning, you need to at least design, if not make, accessories.

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