You could hardly be blamed for not realizing that a new season of Project Runway aired last night (for one thing, I didn't tell you, since there's isn't a strong enough Portland connection for me to watch it either—Korina Emmerich did go to Portland's Art Institute, though she wasn't active on the local scene otherwise, and now lives in New York). This great Washington Post article by Robin Givhan articulates the show's most fundamental problem: 13 seasons in it has yet to produce "America’s next big name designer,” while similar reality competitions in the fields of music and cooking have. The closest to it has been Christian Siriano, though even his headway has been relatively modest.
“Project Runway” hasn’t told a story of triumph as much as it has, over time, offered a nuanced tale about what success means in today’s fashion industry, why it is so difficult and why it mostly has nothing to do with having one’s name up in lights — or on the New York Stock Exchange. In its particular failure to produce another Michael Kors, the show has brilliantly illuminated the realities of fashion for the public to see.
Givhens also makes the observation what a career in fashion looks like in modern times is evolving, and "a slower, bumpier journey" than it was even 20 years ago. There's also the point that, "Despite the importance of it, business acumen is minimally discussed." That sentiment has been shared over and over in recent discussions concerning the future viability of fashion design happening here in Portland, too. Moreover, the show's arguably most successful alumni are those who have set their sites more modestly, and grown their businesses in their own communities rather than swinging for the fences, unlike what the hyperbole-drenched marketing of the show would suggest.
It's like it's accidentally uncovered more reality than it intended to, which is interesting for industry watchers, but an increasing bummer for ratings.