Reality TV fashion stars find rough road to runway

NEW YORK Tue Feb 17, 2009 8:37pm EST

Fashion designer Christian Siriano arrives at the 2008 American Music Awards in Los Angeles November 23, 2008. REUTERS/Phil McCarten

Fashion designer Christian Siriano arrives at the 2008 American Music Awards in Los Angeles November 23, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Phil McCarten

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Designer Christian Siriano gained national fame as the youngest winner of the "Project Runway," television show, but that was no guarantee he could break into the tight world of fashion -- or even get past security at New York's Fashion Week.

Siriano, known for his cocky attitude on the reality show, laughed it off when a security guard blocked him from the hall where he was presenting his line of clothes at the semi-annual fashion event.

But the incident illustrates the troubles new designers -- even winners of a hit U.S. television reality show -- have breaking into the elite established fashion world.

The 23-year-old Siriano shows his second collection this week in New York to buyers and editors, and a new documentary "Eleven Minutes" that charts the difficulties of the first winner of "Project Runway," Jay McCarroll, is released Friday.

The film takes a behind-the-scenes look at the months spent creating an 11-minute runway collection -- raising financial backing and selling the line -- but also asks whether a reality show winner can transfer his television success to the real fashion world.

"I had memories of people saying, 'You are America's next great designer' and me actually believing it," McCarroll, 34, said in a recent interview with Reuters. "I still have the same struggles as everyone else does. It's a business."

"You have a very elite stream of people in this inner fashion circle, and you have a bunch of people outside trying to get in it," he said.

"Project Runway" has catapulted its winners, and plenty of its losers, into the fashion spotlight after just a few high-pressure weeks of designing clothes in competition with other contestants.

RUNWAY SHOWS

Siriano, who has a new deal designing low-cost shoes and bags for Payless and has ongoing sponsorship deals, said winning "Project Runway" gave him a kick-start in the industry but left some longtime fashion insiders skeptical of his talents.

"It definitely gave me a platform, but for other young designers I would say, it's not the best way to go if you want to be a real, serious designer," said the winner who was known for his cocky attitude on the show.

Other "Project Runway" contestants have sold clothing in some U.S. stores, and some have had guest television appearances but only a few have held their own runway shows.

Season two's winner Chloe Dao has sold her designs online and television shopping network QVC, season three winner Jeffrey Sebelia designs for his old label and launched a second line and a season four contestant, Victorya Hong, showed in New York last year.

But none has capitalized the "Project Runway" success to become a successful regular on fashion's runways.

Tim Gunn, who acts as mentor for "Project Runway" contestants, said the journey from television to established designer is "only as difficult as each person makes it."

"Why should there be any lack of respect?" Gunn said. "For designers who go on the show, it's free public relations. If you use the opportunity well there should be a million opportunities out there."

Siriano said he has learned it is important to "be respectful to the entire industry."

But McCarroll said after his discouraging experience on the runway, he is unsure he will ever show another collection.

"It's unfortunate there is such a hierarchy and a monopoly on the fashion industry," he said. "It's such a game you have to play."

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Jackie Frank)

FILED UNDER: