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'Project Runway': Nina Garcia doesn't want to hear your excuses

September 24, 2009 |  6:00 am

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Nearly every week on "Project Runway," host  Heidi Klum is joined by co-judges designer Michael Kors and Marie Claire Fashion Director Nina Garcia. Considered by many to be the most no-nonsense of the judges, Nina took the time to talk to us about her favorite moments of the show, her judging criteria and her occasional aversion to the camera.

Several fans of the show have missed seeing you and Michael Kors in the judges’ chairs these last few weeks.
The reality is that both Michael and myself have other jobs besides “Project Runway” and he probably had to work on his following collection and I had to go to the collection. When it was in L.A. and in that time period that we filmed, it was very difficult to be there the entire time. He has another job, he’s a designer and work on his collection, and I had to fly to Paris to see the fashion shows for the fall. It was impossible to be there for an entire month. 

With what criteria do you judge the show’s runway shows? 
Obviously what I'm looking for the most is creativity, but I also like to see a sense of practicality. Some of the challenges require fantasy and creativity. The most fun to watch are the most fun to judge, but when it comes down to the last episode, we were really looking for the fact that it could translate into something that is salable has a sense of practicality. Those things go hand in hand. It’s also important for the designer to be personable and articulate and deal with what it takes to be a designer. So much of the personality is included in the talent. 

Speaking of which, what’s the line between a designer sticking up for his or her design and just making excuses?  
It depends. There’s excuses and there's excuses. I am always very happy to go into the reason why I don’t think their design is strong or not. I don’t mind giving them further comments on it. I am not there to be critical just for the sake of being critical or to make good TV. I really am interested in them getting the most out of the panel that is there. I think that we all have a lot of years of experience and we have seen a lot of designers, so my criticism is for them to help them grow and for them to get better but it's a question of personality also. Some of them just stand by their design and that's fine, what can you do?  

What have been some of your favorite challenges over the span of the show?  
The ones that involve fantasy have been the most surprising and the most enjoyable. The first challenge ever where they went to the supermarket and Austin Scarlett made the corn husk dress is up there with my many favorites, then we also did the candy one and we went to the Hershey’s candy store. When I saw that challenge, I thought “This is going to be terrible, what can possibly come out?” and I was very surprised. The Twizzlers dress was one of my favorite dresses. We did one where you went and worked with the plants and foliage. 

Who was your favorite guest judge?
There's been a lot. Victoria Beckham, because she was very honest and she had a very clear point of view and she wasn't scared of saying what she meant. What usually happens is that they get there and no matter what their real personality is, once that little red light goes on they panic and they don’t really say what they’re supposed to say or mean to say, but she was very good. Richard Tyler was very good and very articulate and he understood a lot about the way clothes are put together. Diane Von Furstenberg has been very good, she’s very encouraging to the designers. She's one of the judges we should have every time because she's just very knowledgeable and has a CFDA and designers love her, so she's one of my favorites. She's very truthful and honest.

When I spoke with Daniel Vosovic after winning the All-Star Challenge, he said that you were his favorite judge because of your honesty.
Daniel is lovely. I'm very happy he won “All-Stars.” When his season aired, he had a huge following; people would stop me on the street and ask why he didn't win. He wants it so badly and he's very talented and I’m very impressed with him. He’s very gentle and soft-spoken and yet very tenacious in his determination.

Who are some of your dream guest judges?  
In terms of American designers, Marc Jacobs. We’ve tried for several seasons to get him on and there have been scheduling conflicts. In terms of international design, I think someone like Jean Paul Gaultier, who we were very close to having this season, or Donatella Versace. I would love to have another challenge where the designers get to travel abroad and experience Milan or Paris or London.

Whose clothes would you wear?  
Rami [Kashou], I liked him very much. I loved his aesthetic. Definitely Christian Siriano.  From the girls, Leanne [Marshall]. I loved her clothes. 

How was being in “Running in Heels" different from “Project Runway”?
My participating in “Running in Heels” was really minimal and I was happy that it was just minimal because I was starting my job at Marie Claire and it can be very intrusive to have the cameras following you around.  I love “Project Runway” because I can really be of help to an industry and I can be supportive to designers, but I don't really see how I am of use just being followed around my office. I had very little involvement in that. That’s not the kind of show that I am comfortable with because it is very invasive, it’s disturbing when you're in the office and cameras are following you around. It’s hard to do your job. When you’re taping a show like “Project Runway,” it's hard as well because you're doing two jobs, but that’s the time and you’re concentrating on that and that's it. 

Why are people so interested lately in the behind-the-scenes looks at fashion and the fashion industry?
For so many years fashion was shrouded in mystery, this glamorous profession that people knew very little about, they thought it was so glamorous. It now has become so available, with the Internet, with shops like H&M and Target that do designer collaborations, so it's more available to everyone and that's created more interest. Shows like “Project Runway” have helped that cause. That’s not to say we're the sole reason there's interest, but we were in the perfect storm. It was the moment when all these big brands were flourishing, the Internet was able to communicate the shows seconds after they’ve been seen in Paris and Milan, "The Devil Wears Prada" was happening and here comes this show that would give you a bird’s-eye view of what it's really like behind the scenes and what it takes to make a dress and be a designer. 

What do you watch?
I watch “Mad Men”: I’m obsessed with it. I still watch “Entourage”: It’s the one show I can get my husband to watch with me. And once in a while I'll watch “Dancing with the Stars” and “American Idol.” 

You must be recognized much more now on the street -- what do people say to you? 
They go “Neena Gar-cia” like Heidi [Klum] does. Some people are very nice: “We love your show,” and when it wasn't on they came over and said “We miss you, we miss the show.” People are very pleasant and nice. At the beginning, when the show first started, I got a lot of "You were so mean, you were so tough on them," but now I think they're used it. It's not being mean, I'm just being frank. And I think Heidi has gotten much harder than I am.

--Claire Zulkey

Photo: "Project Runway" judges Nina Garcia, left, with Michael Kors. Credit: Lifetime

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