This afternoon, Bravo threw a publicity stunt in support of its lively sewing competition Project Runway, which begins its fourth season next week. It didn’t seem like a dumb idea to go. The big piece about the screenwriters’ strike in the morning’s New York Times had found the president of the producers’ alliance imagining a walkout that lasted for 9 or 10 months. Should that happen, television will become awash in reality programming, and thus there will a boom in PR events for reality programs, and those are really where reality shows are most in their element. They offer a purity of experience—they’re kind of just like TV. They come highly recommended to Tube students of all persuasions.
Thus, we went up to 64th and Broadway. The network, sponging some highbrow credibility off of Lincoln Center, was hosting a fashion show. Each of this season’s 15 contestants was to show three looks; tall girls would clop-clop-clop down the catwalk. It was a very fine pantomime of a fashion show. In the front row, the stars of The Real Housewives of Orange County—Bravo’s hit reality soap, a kind of daffy aunt to MTV’s Laguna Beach—played the role of celebrity socialites. It looked as if all of the Botox parties and shopping sprees depicted on their show had really paid off.
In place of rag-trade businesspeople, there were advertisers. In place of glamour-industry hangers-on, there were radio-contest winners. In place of a crush of photographers at the end of the runway, there was a crush of photographers at the end of the runway. The scale of the pseudo-event was enough to gladden the publicists and to leave the fan bloggers split between bedazzlement and horror. Its appetite was impressive. Soon enough, hostess Heidi Klum took the stage, where she gleamed and thanked the sponsors, encouraged the audience to applaud its own promotional gift bags, and introduced the show.
Can these competing designers be said to share an aesthetic? Who is the Project Runway woman? On the basis of the most striking outfits sent out, she’s got a lot of Holly Golightly and Sally Bowles to her, and has a thing for metallics. She can be a post-apocalyptic pixie (in the hands of contestant Kevin) or a Banana Republic customer (Victorya) or simply an equestrienne so wiped out after a day of show jumping that she’s forgotten to change out of her riding gear before hitting the town (Christian). Contestant Ricky sent out three models in clothes that, though indisputably elegant, were not, in fact, clothes. They ran the gamut from dressing gown to sheet of gauze. Ricky’s sense of theatrical decadence—he dresses himself, for instance, like a train engineer in a Weimar nightclub—is sure to make him a fan favorite, so it’s tempting to believe that his is the true Project Runway muse, a real housewife luxuriating in lingerie in front of the set, watching herself on TV.