Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City's Bryant Park is one of the most important events in the fashion world. Filthy-rich designers debut collections for the following season, Rachel Zoe earmarks red-carpet dresses for Debra Messing, celebs like Mena Suvari get to play "dress up" and pretend they're tastemakers, careers are launched, blah blah blah. But since I don't know a Badgley Mischka from a Barnaby Jones, the coolest thing to me is that Fashion Week now serves as a high school reunion of sorts for "Project Runway" contestants.
Last week, I had the pleasure of accompanying my favorite person on the planet, Sweet P, to this fall's (technically next spring's) FW. We hit up shows by former contestants, and I got a front-row seat to the beauty that is the "Project Runway" fraternity. No, really. Turns out that as soon as you "graduate" from "Runway," you automatically enter the "Runway" club. (Think of it like a regular frat but with less homoeroticism.) Although she appeared on the show years after, Sweet P is friendly with designers as varied as Jay McCarroll and Kara Janx. There's no bad blood. There are no "they're going to steal my thunder" attitudes. They really are one big happy family. Hey, "Road Rules" cast: Take note.
The night of Elisa Jimenez's runway show (remember her? She was the designer who
spit on "imbibed" her garments) Sweet P texted all her castmates to ask if they were checking it out. Before you could say, "Niiina Garciiiia," the place was swarming with familiar faces. Kevin "I'm Straight" Christiana, Jack "I'm Not" Mackenroth, Kit "I'm Adorable" Pistol, Victorya "I'm Nice in Person ... Really!" Hong and even Carmen "No Comment" Webber popped in to show their support. All the more awesome considering Elisa's show was off-site, far away from the Bryant Park tent, at a funky spot called Country Club.
Not only are the designers all BFFs, but Sweet P and company still keep in touch with the people behind the scenes too. And since "Project Runway" tapes its finale at Bryant Park, it's not hard to find "ProjRun" crew members milling about the tents. Sweet P introduced me to Michael Rucker and Rich Bye, two super-important producers who work on the show. (Their credits include the word "executive" in them. Fancy!) You know "Runway" is running a classy operation if the contestants opt to hang out with the people responsible for editing the show. (You think Whitney invites the "Being Bobby Brown" producers over for dinner? Doubtful.) Next season, "Runway" is moving to Lifetime, where it will be produced by Bunim/Murray (expect a hot tub and a wet bar in the designer's living quarters), so I asked Rich Bye if he was worried that the new network would "eff up" his baby. Bye sincerely said, "Nah, they're still in good hands with the Weinsteins." Like I said, classy.
The other thing I quickly learned while hanging with Sweet P is that she is a Bravo talent magnet. We scored interviews with Nina Garcia, Tim Gunn, Heidi Klum and every other "Runway" superstar with a ridiculous amount of ease, while other media outlets begged to get a few moments with them. In fact, having Sweet P hold the MTV News mic brought in a lot of adorable gossip that I'm not sure I would have nabbed otherwise. So let me unleash my inner Michael Musto and dish the dirt:
· We bumped into Ronnie from Bravo's "Make Me a Supermodel." He recently moved to Brooklyn from Chicago and is ready to find a new straight guy to seduce. (Kidding!) Ben, his old castmate and boy friend (note the space, ahem) is about to have his first baby. And no, it's not Ronnie's.
· Much to the excitement of season-one winner Jay McCarroll, the couple from this season of "Runway," Daniel and Wesley, are still together. In fact, they just bought each other promise rings. (For some reason, I think their rings represent something entirely different from the Jonas Brothers'.) And if you ever wondered why "Runway" never showed their relationship during the series even though they made a big hoopla in the press, it turns out Wesley and Daniel kept it a secret during the production. Sneaky! And no, they weren't bunkmates. (Sweet P asked that priceless question!)
· Season-two designer Nick Verreos scored front-row tickets to the final "Runway" fashion show. How did he secure such sick seats while every other old castmember rotted away in the nosebleed section? "I slept with someone at Saturn," he joked. Talk about integrated marketing! (An insider told us the real reason why Nick was front and center: There was a seating mix-up, and he was accidentally left off the list. Good thing J. Lo didn't show up!)
· Speaking of Saturn, Santino hates me. Dude confronted me about calling him a sellout in my first 60-second recap last year. But when I explained to him that I hadn't realized that every single castmember did one of those silly Saturn commercials, he forgave me, before quipping, "Yeah, and whose f---in' Saturn commercial was the best? MINE!"
· MTV News fave Stella Zotis told us she has two post-"Runway" plans. 1) Launch a fragrance line called — you guessed it — "Leather." And 2) Become a superhero. I don't know what that means exactly, but I endorse that idea 100 percent.
· Jack Mackenroth, who used to date Dale from "Top Chef," has a new reality-show alum on his arm: Martin, the adorable deaf model from "The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency." OK, I'm being unfair here. They're just friends.
And finally, I witnessed plenty of fans interacting with Sweet P. The public adores her. (How could they not?) But I was curious to see whether the world's fashion elite would give her a warm reception, especially since her time in the "Runway" spotlight is long gone.
The answer was a resounding yes. The paparazzi working the Bryant Park tents tripped over themselves to snap her picture. Models sashayed over to ask her if she is working on any new collections. Fashion bloggers and journalists wanted to hear her opinions on the fashion lines she watched under the tents. Aside from being an addictive and immensely entertaining reality-TV competition, "Project Runway" apparently carries a lot of weight in the real world. (And I'm talking the real world, not the "Real World.")
It certainly helps that this particular Fashion Week featured several shows from "Runway" alumni. Malan Breton, Elisa and last season's winner, Christian Siriano, all debuted collections to rave reviews.
But here's the best part about being a "ProjRun" graduate. We didn't have tickets to many shows (other than the "Runway"-related ones), but Sweet P had so many fans working the events that they were happy to give her seats on the spot. At the Badgley Mischka show, we went from being crammed in the standing-room veal pen to being escorted personally to our "VIP" seats.
In the end, it wasn't all VIP treatment, however. The one major designer whose show Sweet P couldn't sweet talk her way into was, ironically, Michael Kors'.