The Cast and Promo for Project Runway Season 17 (!) Dropped and We Have What? OPINIONS, Of Course

Posted on January 30, 2019


Kittens the Bravo Project Runway press onslaught has officially launched. The principals are all out there doing press, there’s a new preview, and Bravo dropped bios and glamour shots of the competing designers. Let’s wade through it, shall we? First, the video:



Intriguing! Next, the press release:

The wait is over as the iconic fashion competition series “Project Runway” returns to its original home on Bravo with supersized 90-minute episodes beginning Thursday, March 14 at 8:00pm ET/PT. This season, as the fashion industry evolves, so does our runway with a new design aesthetic and additions to the judging panel: supermodel and entrepreneur Karlie Kloss joins as host with former “Project Runway” champion and celebrated CFDA fashion designer Christian Siriano as the mentor. ELLE Editor-in-Chief Nina Garcia returns as a judge, along with famed fashion designer Brandon Maxwell and journalist and former Teen Vogue Editor-in-Chief Elaine Welteroth. The new look and feel continues with 16 new designers from across the United States and abroad who will compete for the coveted spot of a lifetime, a chance to show their collection during an exclusive runway show for industry insiders and influencers as well as win the largest cash prize in the show’s history. With an all-new runway and workroom furnished with sewing and embroidery machines by Brother, a glam room for the models outfitted by TRESemmé and Maybelline, along with challenges that embrace the nuances of the fashion industry—including flash sales, fast fashion, the inclusion of plus-size models, Instagram, a special Elton John challenge inspired by Paramount Pictures’ Rocketman, and so much more. The runway game changes forever beginning now.

The wining designer will receive the largest prize in the show’s history— $250,000 furnished by the Pilot’s FriXion Erasable Gel Ink Pen —a feature in ELLE, and his or her own featured role in a Bluprint digital series as well as $50,000 to put toward their own design studio also courtesy of Bluprint. Plus, for the first time ever, “Project Runway” is partnering with one of the most prestigious organizations in fashion, CFDA (The Council of Fashion Designers of America) for a one-on-one mentorship including all the tools and connections to create, grow, and sustain a business in fashion.

Exciting! Now, the glamour shots:



Brandon Maxwell



Karlie Kloss



Christian Siriano



Nina Garcia



Elaine Welteroth

Yes, yes. That’s all well and good. But what about the designers, Bravo? Who did you put in the barrel this time?



Afa Ah Loo – Lotopa, Samoa

Afa Ah Loo was born and raised in the independent country of Samoa in the villages of Lotopa and Falelima. He was first introduced to fashion through his mother, who sewed most of the clothes for him, his three brothers, and his two sisters. In school, Afa was placed in home economics because he was late for class registration. Once he realized he might not be a good fit in the kitchen after nearly burning it down, he took up an interest in sewing. His first project was creating a Sunday dress for his sister, and since then he has never looked back. Afa attended Brigham Young University – Hawaii and currently resides in Utah. As a self-taught designer, he had to overcome his personal fears of failing to just get out there and do what he loves. He continues to be inspired by his mother and his surroundings and has been “officially” designing for five years. Within the past year, Afa was chosen to create a bespoke look for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange, which showcases the power and potential of up-and-coming artisan designers. His piece was created as an ode to his Samoan roots, utilizing Samoan materials. The final look was displayed at Buckingham Palace, in an exhibit curated by Vogue’s Editor-at-Large, Hamish Bowles. His aesthetic of clean and classic, or as he refers to it, “sweetly bold,” continues to grow and evolve along with his courage to embark on his fashion journey.


Rakan Shams Aldeen – Homs, Syria

Rakan Shams Aldeen is a Syrian fashion designer. At the age of five, he developed an interest in fashion and began sketching every dress that his imagination could conceive. Rakan studied architecture at the University of Kalamoon, Syria, and after the civil war in Syria broke out, he moved to Lebanon to follow his dreams and study fashion design and pattern making at l’Ecole Superieure des Arts et Techniques de la Mode in Beirut (EsMod-Beirut). Rakan then moved to Istanbul and graduated from Vakko-EsMod Istanbul in 2015. In 2017, he moved to Chicago to establish his own brand, Rakan, a luxurious modern line dedicated to strong, confident women who desire to be unique. Rakan is a conceptual designer who is inspired by everything around him, especially architecture and history. Everything in his designs has a meaning and a reason, and he always loves to play with different volumes and materials to create unique designs.


Cavanagh Baker – Nashville, TN

Cavanagh Baker created her namesake brand while she was still a student at Savannah College of Art and Design. Growing up, Cavanagh first became interested in fashion at 12 years old by shopping her mother’s closet and admiring her classic way of dressing. This influence of timeless luxury continues to be part of her aesthetic, and she tries to add contemporary twists to her designs through mixing textile selection or strategical applications. Her fashions have been seen on some of the most recognized celebrity faces, including Heidi Klum, Lucy Hale, Camila Mendes, and Miranda Lambert. She designs everyday wear for women who still practice the fine art of dressing, and her fashions can be found at her flagship store in Nashville.


Tessa Clark – Greenville, OH

Ohio native Tessa Clark was raised on fashion. Her mother instilled a love for fashion in her from a young age, and her passion continued to grow into adulthood after she began to collect fashion magazines in junior high school. Tessa received a bachelor’s of science degree in fashion design from DAAP of the University of Cincinnati before embarking on her professional career. Tessa is inspired by her rural Ohio upbringing by her father, a miller, and her mother, a potter. She created her womenswear line Grind and Glaze as an homage to the most influential people in her life. Tessa‘s designs are ethically crafted in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the line embodies a story of creativity, purpose, and imagination. She describes her aesthetic as minimal, elevated casual-wear and unrefined luxury.



Bishme Cromartie – Baltimore, MD

Bishme Cromartie is a self-taught designer from Baltimore, Maryland. At the ripe age of eight, he realized that he was interested in fashion and by nine was already learning how to sew. He loved the feeling that fashion gave him, from sketching to sewing. Bishme received no formal fashion training, only that of his Great-Aunt Faye Dean Lacy, who taught him his initial sewing basics. He credits growing up in a rough neighborhood for finding his love for fashion. He used it as an escape; sketching would bring him to a place that he couldn’t explain but felt right to him. Bishme’s first solo fashion show was in 2007 at 16 years old, and the clothes showcased his chic, edgy, and unexpected fashions. He has grown beyond his local fame in Maryland and has dressed such celebrities as Andra Day, Mel B, and Niecy Nash.



Venny Etienne – Brooklyn, NY

Haitian-American designer Venny Etienne knew he had a desire to be immersed in the fashion industry when he started styling for local fashion shows in his hometown of Brooklyn at the age of 20. He attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and later transferred to Wade College in Dallas. He graduated Salutatorian of his class, receiving a BA in merchandising and design and the Founders Award, the highest award given to a student of the graduating class. However, he credits most of his initial creative expertise to Milan-based designer and pattern maker Shingo Sato. Currently residing in Dallas, Venny credits this move for his evolution as a designer. While many thought leaving New York would be detrimental for his career, he was quickly embraced by the Dallas fashion scene and made a name for himself through networking and local fashion shows. In 2018, Venny won the 2018 Fashion Group International (FGI) Rising Star in Dallas. FGI also gave Venny a full scholarship to attend the Paris American Academy in Paris to further his development. To date, Venny has dressed some of today’s trendiest celebrities, including Cardi B and Michelle Williams. He travels to garner inspiration for his Levenity brand, which is part of recognizable American sportswear. Always sophisticated, with an edge that makes it extremely special.


Jhoan “Sebastian” Grey – Cali, Colombia

Fashion designer Sebastian Grey is no stranger to the high-end market, with 10 years’ experience working with renowned designers like Lina Cantillo and Andres Otalora. Colombian-born Sebastian worked in his family’s leather business while growing up, learning his skillset for detail and precision by listening to what the customer wanted and keeping up with pop-cultural trends. Sebastian was inspired to go into fashion design after attending a ballet performance with his parents and ended up attending Incolballet, a fine arts school two hours from his hometown. It was there that he began paying close attention to the details of the outfits being constructed for the dancers and how the outfits came alive and told stories through expressionism. He also learned the discipline to accomplish his goals that he continues to carry with him to this day. Sebastian attended the Academy of Professional Drawing in Cali, Colombia, where he majored in fashion design. He won a scholarship to attend Instituto Marangoni in Miami, Florida where he continued to develop and define his collections and capabilities as an artist. His collections as a professional designer have been seen all over Colombia, and he has owned and operated stores in Cali and Medellin under his Sebastian brand. Sebastian’s vision and hope is to take the United States and abroad by storm with his sophisticated concepts, unconventional construction methods, and attention to high-end detail.


Renee Hill – Philadelphia, PA

Renee Hill fell into fashion design through her mother, who was a seamstress when she and her four siblings were growing up. Renee did not realize her passion for design until much later, after she raised a blended family of nine children and ended a 20 year marriage. In 2013, she attended Moore College of Art and Design, followed by Made Institute, where Renee studied pattern making and tailoring, inspired by her mother who made beautiful ball and bridal gowns. Renee has been a professional designer for five years, but it was only within the past three years that she started her own brand. She’s a visual designer who is inspired by everything around her, from walking around new cities through her travels to visiting museums.



Sonia Kasparian – Portland, OR

Sonia Kasparian has always been an artist, and as a child growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, she used drawing to escape and express herself. In elementary school, she studied at the Chicago Art Institute on weekends in a program for skilled young artists to learn more about various types of art, from drawing to sculpture. Always curious to learn more about different facets of art and design, she tried various programs within the school, and while she was intrigued by architectural design, she ultimately enrolled in a fashion design program. While her first love was fine art, she graduated from Otis/Parsons in Los Angeles and graduated Designer of the Year with a BFA in fashion design with the plan to work in the corporate world to make money with her designs and eventually move back into fine art. Thirty three years later, Sonia has had stints working at Nike, designing NBA apparel and Team USA Olympic apparel for the men’s and women’s beach volleyball teams, Quicksilver, Roxy, and O’Neil as their Director of Global Branding. Sonia designed OP’s original monokini and created Roxy’s signature board shorts. These days, Sonia creates bespoke couture and bridal pieces instead of working for a larger company, to focus on one of a kind pieces. She continues to pursue her passion for fine art and building homes as time allows.



Kovid Kapoor – Brooklyn, NY

Kovid Kapoor was born in the Indian Himalayan valley town of Dehradun. Growing up in a military family, he moved around to various Indian states with varied cultural identities and traditional art forms that influenced him. He realized that clothing serves a larger purpose than just shielding the human body—it provides representation, identity, and self-expression for everyone. Kovid attended the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Hyderabad, for his BFA in fashion design before moving to the United States and attending the Academy of Art University in San Francisco for his MFA in fashion design. In America, he realized that the language of fashion was very different from what he was used to back home. Overcoming this obstacle has allowed him to balance the two aesthetics from his teachings in both countries for his personal brand. He continues to be inspired by women, either from his childhood or from fantasy and mythological tales, and his designs celebrate these great figures and feminine wisdom.



Frankie Lewis – Louisville, KY

Frankie Lewis is a self-taught fashion designer who gained experience in the fashion world by way of creating costumes for her local theater in inner-city Louisville, Kentucky. She first learned to sew in college and worked as a seamstress and designer making local theater costumes for her theater major at the University of Louisville. Frankie is extremely passionate about her designs and hopes that they will help inspire people to believe in themselves. With her former line, Ann DeEvelyn, and her upcoming line, Frankie Lew, she includes fashions for all types of women, inclusive of plus sized options. She pushes the envelope with sexy, chic pieces up to size 24. Frankie continues to change and evolve as a designer, currently focusing on structural and linear designs, but is open to seeing where the wind blows her next.



Lela Orr – Monroe, LA

A true Southern girl, Lela Orr brings her eco-luxury aesthetic to this season of Project Runway. After graduating from Parsons School of Design, she pursued a career as a designer and has owned her own brand, Ferrah, for the past three years. Lela founded Ferrah on the premise of being eco-luxury, and, as of 2018 the line is cruelty-free with zero waste. Lela has been using all-natural fabrics and dyeing processes since realizing how wasteful the fashion industry can be. She first became interested in fashion after going through international Vogue magazines while growing up with her grandmother. Realizing that fashion is more than clothes and more like wearable art, Lela followed her passion to pursue a life designing. Whether she is listening to Rihanna or Patsy Cline in her studio or drawing inspiration from important women in her life like her grandmother, Lela can’t believe she gets to make a living doing what she loves.



Jamall Osterholm – Cranston, RI

Jamall Osterholm is a Rhode Island native whose designs focus on futurism. Always creating art, Jamall realized that working with fabric and thread as a medium allowed him to connect with his work on a deeper and more personal level. He draws inspiration for his designs from his personal experiences as a queer black man, and it has allowed him to create art that not only is meaningful to him but also inspires others. Since graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design, Jamall has focused on designing futuristic pieces that draw from the past. His designs reinterpret various time periods in which he places himself in a position of power. Recently, Jamall’s third collection opened the Spring 2019 New York Fashion Week in September through a collaboration with the CFDA.


Nadine Ralliford – Stone Mountain, GA

Jamaican-born Nadine Ralliford has always had a love for fashion. Since childhood, Nadine has loved sketching and creating her own ideas from scraps and old clothing. Realizing how creative Nadine was, her mother, Dolce Ralliford Jones, started to involve her more in the arts by sending her to special programs that would enhance her skills. She was inspired by her mother since she would dress for every occasion and loved high fashion. Her mother also made sure that Nadine knew different cultures by allowing her to travel through Asia and Europe. Nadine attended FIT in New York, FIDM in Los Angeles and received her BA from AIU and a degree from MIT. Nadine is now a professor of fashion and has created her own brand, Ralliford Hall Designs, which features a collection that appeals to women of all ethnicities.


Gary “Garo Sparo” Spampinato – Bayshore, NY

After moving from North Carolina to New York in 1995 for a chance to showcase his designs at Absolut Alternative Fashion Week, Garo Sparo has never looked back. He specializes in corsetry, couture, and made-to-order bridal. He also designs and fabricates costumes for a wide variety of performers as well as commercial and film clients requiring sculptural and special effects-based work. As a result of his innovative designs and extreme technical skill, Garo has become known for his conceptual fashion. His designs move forward to explore a more independent future while simultaneously paying homage to the past, combining classical compositions such as 1950s glamour and Victorian silhouettes with contemporary styles. He believes that fashion gathers in crowds, travels when we do, and lives most deeply when worn. The art of fashion is revealed through construction, and his work is sewn with support and respect for the sovereignty of movement. Garo’s fashions can be found in numerous brick and mortar boutiques and celebrities around the world, including Madonna and Daphne Guinness, the former muse of Alexander McQueen who became his exclusive client after McQueen’s passing.


Hester Sunshine – Santa Fe, NM

Hester Sunshine finds inspiration as a designer in everything around her. Hester has been designing her whole life and calls New York City home, after a few stints in Santa Fe, New Mexico during her adolescence and to help take care of her parents who still currently live there. Since she could speak — and demand that her parents dress her in fashionable clothing — Hester began to dress herself and sew with a children’s safety needle to create designs for her dolls. She sold her doll designs to classmates, and by sixth grade, she had graduated to selling her own children’s clothing to friends after trading her safety needle for a real sewing machine. Hester attended Parsons School of Design with a double major through Eugene Lang College. Unfortunately, she was kicked out of Parsons during her junior year and finished her degree abroad at Central Saint Martins in London before returning to complete her major at Eugene Lang. She proudly holds degrees in fashion design, history, and theory. Hester describes her fashions as colorful clown couture with a vintage punk rock edge, and she is influenced by current and past trends as well as art history. While she has been a fashion outsider most of her career, after being kicked out of Parsons and struggling with industry acceptance, Hester is now on the path to finding her place in the fashion world.



Hunh. How about that? Looks like it might actually be an interesting crowd. Granted, we’ve been at the reality TV bitching game for a long time and we know these packages are extremely polished and generally don’t give you much of an idea of how a new season is going to shake out. Having said that, there is a clear change in the energy of the show as compare to its time on Lifetime. Bravo and the Magical Elves are doing exactly what we begged them to do: center the show on the New York fashion scene exclusively. No discount chains or yogurt tie-ins. FASHION with a capital-F. That’s what the show was for its first four seasons, which are almost universally considered its heyday.

On that note, Christian had something to say that some old-school fans of the show might not like:

“What’s really great about this season is that, for the first time, the mentor for the designers gets to be a designer,” Siriano said during the show’s Television Critics Association press day on Tuesday in Pasadena. “Tim was never a designer. He never worked in the business. He was a teacher. When the designers have a red-carpet challenge, I can actually give them real feedback because I’d just dressed people at the Golden Globes the week before. I’m giving them real, fashion-industry feedback that can, hopefully, only help them.”

Is that a little backhanded of Christian? Maybe. Is one word of it wrong? Nope. Not a bit.

Tim Gunn is a very charming and entertaining television personality and we can personally attest that he’s a charming man in real life. But he’s done nothing but dispense concern and hugs for going on a decade now. His days of actually mentoring people on their designs – and having them listen to his advice – are long in the show’s past and it really lost something essential when Tim’s role changed from stern mentor to loving fashion grandpa. This is not a criticism of Tim so much as it is the direction the show took once Lifetime took over. Watching that video, reading those bios and listening to Christian talk about, we’re struck by how much the Lifetime years were about stories and personalities and how little they were about actual fashion. Promo videos of previous seasons hammered home the personality disorders, breakdowns, and horrifyingly bad fashion. This promo is much more devoted to the idea of that you’ll see amazing designs from talented designers. Even better, the much bigger prize and greater focus on mentoring might mean that Project Runway is going to address its greatest and most embarrassing failure: Aside from Christian himself, the show has not managed to find or promote designers who can grab mainstream success and publicity, which is nominally the entire point of the series. When you compare PR’s track record with RuPaul’s Drag Race, Top Chef, America’s Next Top Model or American Idol, the show’s record for promoting its own winners is a miserable one. And the reason for that is because they awarded the prize to a whole string of mediocre designers who made for good stories. They didn’t have anyone to promote. The people they gave the prize to were rarely the kind of designers one could point to as an example of the stringent criteria of your competition and its ability to single out next-level talent. We don’t know if the show is truly going to make the kinds of changes we’ve been begging for going back a decade, but at the very least, the new (old) regime seems keenly aware of where the show lost its way.

Fingers crossed that it’s not all just publicity BS.



Photo Credit: Miller Mobley/Bravo – Video Credit:]

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