Implicit Egoism in Project Runway: Junior - The Objective Standard

Many reality TV shows portray immature adults competing in unattractive ways while arguing unintelligibly about unimportant things. The new reality series Project Runway: Junior is a beautiful exception.

One of several spinoffs from the original Project Runway, which still airs and is cohosted by Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, Project Runway: Junior is cohosted by Hannah Davis and Tim Gunn, with Gunn as executive producer and mentor to the contestants.

Season one of Project Runway: Junior, which concluded in February, begins with twelve budding designers ranging in age from thirteen to seventeen years. Each week, these ambitious teens are presented with a new challenge in which they are to create innovative yet wearable fashions, within the parameters of the specific challenge, and expressive of their own individual style. And each week, they face a panel of judges—and possible elimination from the competition.

Cameras follow the competitors throughout the creative process, from inspiration, conceptualization, and sketching; to the selection of fabrics and textiles; to the construction of their garments; to the fitting of their models. Along the way, the designers are mentored by Tim Gunn, whose benevolence and frankness set the tone for the entire show.

Gunn’s feedback is generally Socratic and always supportive. When he detects something he regards as a problem with a competitor’s design or construction, he typically asks questions that help the designer to consider the matter from his or her own context. He also reminds the designer that he or she has the ability to “make it work”—a phrase Gunn uses liberally when encouraging his charges to push through a difficulty and focus on finding a solution. Gunn conveys immense respect for these young designers, and they clearly are in awe of him. As one competitor says, “I could not imagine life without Tim. I wish he was in my family—like he was my uncle or something—because I want to see him all the time.”

Ready or not, when the time is up for a given challenge, these teens send their garments down the runway on professional models for viewing and critique by the judges, including Hannah Davis, supermodel and cohost; Christian Siriano, fashion designer and winner of Project Runway Season 4; Kelly Osbourne, fashion critic and designer; and Aya Kanai, executive fashion editor at Cosmopolitan and Seventeen magazines.

After each weekly runway show, the judges inform some of the designers that they are “safe” and can leave the stage. The remaining designers are told that they are in either the top or bottom three (or fewer as the season progresses), and the judges proceed to critique the respective garments with the designers present.

The judges ask the designers a series of questions, teasing out what inspired their looks, why they made certain design choices, and how they managed certain feats of construction—and they provide feedback, sometimes softly, sometimes bluntly, but always constructively. Every week, one winner (or more) is declared and one contestant (or more) is eliminated—until only three remain.

At this point, the three finalists return to their respective homes to begin work on a six-piece mini-collection, which they have four weeks to complete, and which will be shown at New York Fashion Week, one of the world’s most celebrated fashion events.

After the showing at NYFW, the judges offer their final critique and choose the season’s winner. In addition to the massive spiritual reward, the winner receives a full scholarship to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, a sewing studio from Brother, a feature in Seventeen, and $25,000 to help launch his or her line.

The inaugural season of Project Runway: Junior is delightful in every respect. And it is a microcosm of what egoism looks like in practice. Whether or not anyone involved with the show would call himself an egoist, everyone on the first season of the show exudes the virtues of rational self-interest.

For instance, the designers focus their minds and exert enormous mental effort to achieve their chosen life-serving goals—with an eye to the long range and a successful career. They think, struggle, deal with failure, remain focused, reevaluate, redirect, and follow through. This is rationality.

The designers strive to produce goods that have genuine value in the marketplace. They do not aim to produce ridiculous clothing, or mere fashion “statements,” or mockeries of the art. They aim to produce real values for real people—and they generally succeed. This is productiveness.

To succeed, they must face reality and refuse to pretend that facts are other than they are. And, for the most part, this is what the designers do. For instance, they don’t pretend that a particular design idea meets the criteria for a given challenge; if they see that it doesn’t, they face the fact, rethink the matter, and change direction. They don’t pretend that a garment fits a model or that a hem is straight; if it doesn’t fit or isn’t straight, they acknowledge the fact and work to make it so. This is honesty. (In the rare case that a contestant does pretend, he or she comes to realize that doing so was a mistake.)

The designers generally go by their own independent judgment—even when others whom they greatly respect exert constructive pressure in another direction. For example, at one point during an interim feedback session, two judges indicate to one of the designers that they think her collection-in-progress might be too focused on evening wear and too devoid of color. The young designer considers their view but decides to continue in her chosen direction, because, she reasons, even if it is pushing the limits of the challenge, it’s what her collection should be, given her vision. Although she is willing to consider others’ views, she ultimately makes her decisions based on her own judgment. This is independent thinking.

And, of course, there is the judging. The judges evaluate the designs and the designers with an eye toward granting each what he or she deserves. You may not always agree with the judges (I don’t), but they always provide thoughtful explanations for their decisions, and they clearly intend to be fair. This is justice.

Project Runway: Junior is essentially about highly ambitious teenagers who have set their sights to excel and to win a competition that will launch a career. Incorporating all of the above virtues and more, they work to advance their lives to the very best of their abilities. This is the virtue of pride. You can see visual manifestations of this virtue on the faces and in the mannerisms and actions of these teens at practically every turn throughout the season.

In this respect, the theme of Project Runway: Junior—or at least of this first season—is pride: striving to the best of one’s ability to advance one’s life and happiness. And, given the virtues displayed by the designers—as well as by Gunn, Davis, and the other judges—it is no surprise that the show as a whole is profoundly benevolent.

Unlike many reality shows (including, unfortunately, the adult version of Project Runway), this first season of Project Runway: Junior involves no pettiness, no bickering, no nastiness of any kind. Of course, the competitors occasionally criticize each other’s designs or executions, which adds to the drama of the show. But they never resort to the kind of negative drama that is so typical of reality shows. These young designers generally express goodwill toward each other, including appreciation for each other’s efforts, context, and creations. The contestants regularly encourage and even assist each other. And, although unabashedly ambitious and determined to win, the designers are genuinely distraught each time a fellow competitor is sent home. (Even the judges tear up during some of the eliminations.)

Whether or not any of the participants would call themselves egoists (or even know what egoism is), all of them exude the virtues of rational self-interest. This makes Project Runway: Junior a joy to behold. So far, at least, it is simply beautiful.

It is also worth noting that the producers and directors of the show appear unabashedly capitalistic. In addition to their masterful production, camerawork, and editing, they seamlessly integrate into the show various sponsors and advertisers, who exchange goods for exposure and for association with this marvelous competition. Companies such as FIDM, Brother, Seventeen, JustFab, VisionWorks, and Land’s End have capitalistic cameos that bolster the value of the show and provide excellent exposure for the businesses.

I hope I’ve piqued your curiosity enough to inspire you to try the show. If you do, I think you’ll soon find yourself enchanted with these teens and rooting for your favorite designer. Who will take the ultimate prize? Will it be Peytie with her beach-girl bohemian style and elaborate use of prints? Will it be Samantha, the native New Yorker with her characteristic cargo pockets and menswear-inspired looks? Will Zachary take the prize with his classical style and impressive craftsmanship? Or will it perhaps be the youngster Maya, who wows the judges with sophistication beyond her years?

Check out this gem of a show and watch these talented teens pursue their dreams. If you know a teen who might be interested, consider recommending the show to him or her. Such visions of pride are fuel for the soul.


Project Runway: Junior airs on Lifetime (check local listings for showtimes and channels in your area). Full episodes of this first season are available on through January 31, 2017.

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