By some mysterious and miraculous twist of fate the second season of Project Runway Canada is again blessed by host Iman, the Somalia-born supermodel, Yves Saint Laurent’s main muse, wife of David Bowie and shape-shifting Martia in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
She knows that there’s talent out in our wheat fields and she’s on a mission to seek out the young impresarios making couture uniforms and revolutionizing rural style in some fishery, lumberyard or Tim Horton’s franchise.
“Canadians are very stylish,” Iman exclaims, “but you should do sportswear. Americans claim to be the kings of outdoor sportswear and you should really take that crown.”
Fourteen would-be designers from all over the country compete in what the show’s website describes as “heart-wrenching, edge-of-your seat excitement.”
Really? Canadians? Edge of your seat? Excitement?
“Canadians are too nice,” Iman confirms when asked about the spirit of the competition. “There is competitive and there is bitchy. New York is bitchy and there is a different sensibility there. Canadians… they are willing to go the distance.”
The Canadian temperament was tested in the first episode when two contestants decided to withdraw. Winnipeg’s Jaclyn Murray, 26, left because of a panic attack brought on by her insomnia, while LaSalle’s Danio Frangella, 33, left because of severe pain in his legs. Heart-wrenching drama, indeed.
Fans of the cut-throat US series know that only one competitor has ever dropped out in all of its five seasons; Jack Mackenroth (a newly-minted gay hero from season four) left abruptly in the fifth episode due to a severe staph infection.
What about Iman, is she competitive? “I am very competitive and sometimes bitchy,” she says.
Is Iman in competition with fellow supermodel and host of the US Project Runway, Heidi Klum? “No! But if we were to meet, you know, mano a mano, she would kick the shit out of me.”
Thankfully, it hasn’t come to that, yet. “I have never been in a competition,” says Iman, “and I would not be in one. I would probably say, ‘I’m too good for that.’ Which just means that I’m afraid of it.”
The show’s competitiveness does seem frightening. Grinding through 15-hour workdays responding to wacky challenges while living in Ottawa (!) with a regularly shrinking group of designer prima donnas — all of whom are striving to be camera-ready — sounds like hell.
“What is truly fair about the show, what I like about it, is that I am judging the contestant’s designs, not their characters.” Iman says. “If someone’s a diva or a bitch, I don’t know about it.”
The bitchy contestants remain undaunted. One of them will win a cover and feature spread in Elle Canada, a professional portfolio photo shoot, a business mentorship and $100,000 to start their own line.
The show’s website is fantastic and offers video clips, designer blogs and images galore. Each contestant is honoured with an “inspiration page” that gives viewers some insight into their design sensibilities and personal tastes.
Brandon Dwyer from Barrie gets a couple of points for knowing that Joan Rivers is the hottest thing on the red carpet; now-departed Frangella isolates “fake shoes” as a fashion pet peeve; and Toronto’s Camille Prins, 28, writes that she likes Zoolander because “he’s hilarious and borderline insecure, which is so human.”
All of the contestants sound fierce, but the one to watch out for is 25-year-old Jessica Biffi from Toronto. On her inspiration page Biffi confesses she recently discovered nail art, painted acrylic nails, as a fashion accessory (hollah!) and she boldly declares that New York is the world’s most fashionable city without ever having been there (although her best friend says it’s where she belongs). On the show she continues to shine with her machine-gun sound effects and sassy remarks.
“What the designers come up with is genius,” Iman says.