The Emmy-nominated series “Project Runway,” which has projected aspiring designers to success in its 14 seasons on Lifetime and Bravo, is giving the same opportunity to 12 emerging young designers in its spin-off series, “Project Runway: Junior.” The group of talented young hopefuls — the youngest of whom is just 13 years old — approach the show and their first challenge with vibrant personalities, imagination and confidence.
The up-and-coming designers have a more clear sense of their personal aesthetics than I do of what my next meal will be. Their self-assuredness reminds us not to underestimate the immense talent teenagers are capable of. It takes more than just the ability to operate a sewing machine to face off in front of judges ranking among fashion’s elite: supermodel and host Hannah Davis, Kelly Osbourne, designer Christian Siriano and Cosmopolitan and Seventeen Magazine executive fashion editor Aya Kanai.
Though Heidi Klum is absent, host Hannah Davis exudes Heidi in every way — from Klum’s elegant yet slightly menacing manner of speaking and intimidating beauty, to her mild playfulness. Davis hosts alongside Tim Gunn, whose forthright guidance serves as the holy grail of mentorship for aspiring designers. Matt, 17, who hails from Manhattan Beach, Calif., wastes no time in getting on Gunn’s good side, gushing “I’m better now that I’m in the presence of a god,” after Gunn approaches him to ask how he’s faring through their first challenge.
As typical with reality competitions, the strongest personalities are given more screen time early on. Matt is among these personalities, which also include Jackson (15, Minneapolis), Zachary (16, Berkeley, Calif.) and Maya (13, Maumee, Ohio). It’s refreshing to see the liberty with which these designers are able to express themselves on the show, which may not necessarily be the case for them back home — as is typically the case with young teens whose confidence and talent rank above average of their peers. And they have the personalities to prove it.
The designers are welcomed to New York atop a high rise overlooking the entire city. As they look around in awe, Samantha (16, Queens) explains that she has lived in New York her whole life and has yet to see a rooftop. The overarching implication of this statement demonstrates how shows like “Project Runway: Junior” give young talent opportunities to get ahead that they may not get otherwise. We soon learn that the magnificent rooftop view is the inspiration for their first challenge in which they must construct a garment inspired by the city itself. Gunn’s declaration that he expects the designers to be “fearless” and “untethered” sets the tone for how audiences are meant to perceive the designers going forward.
Gunn’s awe for the young designers mirrors our own as we watch them navigate the overwhelming amount of fabric and supplies at Mood with just $200 to begin conceptualizing their first challenge pieces. Full of heart, the young designers don’t shy away from designs that may be difficult to execute in limited time and with minimal experience. Amazingly, with Gunn’s expertise, the contestants pull off designs that much older, more experienced designers could only dream of creating; and in doing so, blow away the judges.
Maya’s uncanny replication of the Manhattan skyline using strips of leather on her perfectly tailored jumpsuit negate her initial apprehension over being the youngest and least experienced designer. However, her youth is charmingly entertaining when Gunn gives her a vocab lesson on the word “disinclined,” when she is unsure whether he is admiring or criticizing her garment before the runway show. Samantha’s simple, but bold denim pant and crop top exude NYC street style, standing out among the strongest pieces. When it came time for the runway show, I found it difficult not to get as excited as the designers themselves, seeing what they have accomplished coming down the runway.
Despite the reputation of judges like Zac Posen and Nina Garcia from “Project Runway: Junior” ’s parent show “Project Runway” to tear apart designers in a manner typical of the cutthroat fashion industry — the panel on “Project Runway: Junior” is much more sensitive to their contestants’ ages and limited experience. The judges, while maintaining an air of austerity to infuse the show with dramatic tension, provides the designers with constructive criticism intended to hone their talent and inspire them to surpass the stigma associated with being so young.
This is exactly the show reality television needs. With the contestants’ endearing youthful exuberance and talent, combined with the challenging circumstances and drama typical of the hit “Project Runway” series — it’s difficult not to get hooked after the first episode.