- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fashion changes with the seasons, and so does “Project Runway.” The hit reality show, which pits would-be designers against one another will have a new setting (Los Angeles), a new network (Lifetime) and a special-guest judge (Lindsay Lohan) when its sixth season debuts at 10 p.m. Thursday.

Fans with a taste for drama and design are no doubt eager for the return of their weekly fashion fix. Mired for months in a behind-the-scenes legal battle between two networks and producers of the program, “Project Runway” has not had new episodes on TV for nearly a year; reruns have played on Bravo.

“We did shoot the show almost a year ago, and it was in limbo for the longest time,” says host Heidi Klum, fashion-forward in skinny jeans and towering stilettos despite being about seven months pregnant with her fourth child, the third with husband Seal. “We just filmed season seven in New York, which comes out in the beginning of next year - which will be funny because I will have had our baby already by then, but then I’m pregnant [on-screen], so people will be all confused.”

The trouble with “Runway” began in April 2008. The series, which aired for five seasons on Bravo, was caught up in a legal dispute involving NBC Universal, which owns Bravo, the Weinstein Co. and Lifetime. NBC Universal sued Weinstein after the production company made a reported $150 million deal with Lifetime for the reality series.

Meanwhile, Miss Klum, mentor Tim Gunn, judges Michael Kors and Nina Garcia, and a cast of 16 aspiring designers taped the show’s sixth season. It was meant to begin airing in January 2009, and production wrapped in February. However, the legal dealings weren’t resolved until a settlement was announced in April, when NBC Universal said it would be paid by Weinstein for the right to move the show to Lifetime.

Miss Klum remained optimistic throughout and says she is happy that no one revealed the season-six winner during the show’s unexpected hiatus.

Longtime “Runway” producer Barbara Schneeweiss was relieved, too.

“It was a bummer because we had shot season six, and we all knew who the winner was, and this poor person had to wait, wait, wait,” she says. “We got lucky considering all the obstacles. … I feel like the passion is still there and people still want to see it.”

The sixth season brings the show from New York to Los Angeles, where contestants spend time at the city’s Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. The move was meant to inject “a little fresh air to the show,” Miss Klum says, and also pay homage to Hollywood’s influence on modern fashion.

Still, fans can expect the show’s usual dose of drama and designs gone wrong.

“We film the show in a matter of six weeks. It’s really a major pressure cooker,” Miss Klum says. “What other big designers do in 10 days or two weeks, like make a haute-couture gown, they have to do it in one or two days.”

Plus, there’s no respite for the contestants, who live and work together throughout production.

This season’s crop of competitors includes aspiring designers from Yugoslavia, Moscow, the Republic of Georgia and all over the United States. They range in age from 24 to 50. Some are straight out of art school; others are experienced designers. All are vying for the show’s big prize: an editorial feature in Marie Claire magazine, a trip to Paris and a cash prize of $100,000 to start a fashion line.

The tension among them gets fierce, Miss Klum says.

Among the guest judges this season, she says, are Miss Lohan, Christina Aguilera and Bob Mackie. Guest judges sit beside Miss Klum, Mr. Kors and Miss Garcia and offer their opinions on contestants’ designs.

The sixth season also introduces a new companion reality show, “Models of the Runway.” The half-hour program will follow “Project Runway” and focus on the lithe ladies who bring the competitors’ designs to life. Sixteen models will be featured, all hoping to be the last on the runway, wearing the work of the winning designer.

“The models are a muse to the designer,” says Miss Klum, who has expanded her modeling career into that of businesswoman, TV personality and designer. She still appears in commercials and advertisements; serves as executive producer of both “Project Runway” and “Models of the Runway”; hosts “Germany’s Next Top Model” in her homeland; and designs shoes, jewelry and jeans.

The only thing that might indicate that “Runway” took longer than usual to return to the air is Miss Klum’s wardrobe.

“I try to be with the trends because it is a show about fashion,” she says. “If you look close to my shoes, maybe they’ll be from last season.”

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