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Jay McCarroll wins first 'Project Runway', but hit series' future uncertain


By Wade Paulsen, 02/24/2005 

In the finale of Bravo's Project Runway, which took place five months after the final three designers were chosen, small-town Pennsylvania boy Jay McCarroll, 29, was chosen as the winner based on a 12-piece show by each of the remaining designers during New York's Fashion Week.

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Jay, who runs a used clothing shop in Lehman, Pennsylvania, wins a management contract, an apprenticeship with the Banana Republic design team, and $100,000 to launch his own clothing line. He beat out Kara Saun, 37, a Los Angeles costume designer, and Wendy Pepper, 40, a mother and sometime tailor from Middleburg, Virginia (a suburb of Washington, D.C.).

The time lag between the prior shows and the finale was necessary to give the final three a chance to design their clothing lines for their shows. Each designer was given a budget of $8,000 and strict rules that their clothing must stay within budget without accepting any "freebies" or gratis help, and then sent home to create their lines.

Jay, the only one of the final three who had not won any of the weekly challenges, chose to design a line that he called "Stereotypes," which was built around the idea that the model and her clothes should be in their own world. To unify the line, he put headphones on each of the models, symbolically closing out the words of nay-sayers around them. The clothes included such atypical high-fashion techniques as quilting (in a coat, for example) and weaving (in such pieces as scarves and coverss).

Kara chose to base her clothes on the designs of the Oscar-nominated picture The Aviator, alternately referring to the line as "The Aviatrix" and "Fantasy Flygirl." The aviation theme enabled Kara to return to her favored leathers (in particular, leather jackets) and furs. However, in a move that ultimately backfired, she persuaded Dollhouse Shoes to custom-make a number of pairs of rhinestone-studded shoes to match her clothes ... and to supply the shoes to her for free. She also prevailed upon a friend of hers to retouch the shoes so that they didn't snag her long dresses, also for free.

Wendy, meanwhile, was caught up in fall spirit and produced a line designed around a rural fall theme. While showing the clothes to a visiting Tim Gunn, the chairman of the Department of Fashion Design at the Parsons School of Design in New York City, she was also caught in the biggest fib of the early going, when she stated that her 5-year-old daughter Finley had painted a picture to give to the Project Runway judges ... only to be contradicted by an insistent Finley, who reminded her mother that she had actually painted the picture because she didn't have anything to do one day while her mother was working on her show clothes. Wendy showed the good sense not to contradict her daughter, showing that there actually were limits to her attempts at manipulation.

When the clothes were finished, all three designers headed for New York in early February, after most of the episodes of Project Runway had aired, and Wendy learned that the revelations of her earlier behavior on the show had even turned Jay (who called her a "ruthless bitch") against her. But Kara took it one step further, apparently deciding that she was upset that Wendy was the one receiving the most negative press. She blatantly refused to even acknowledge Wendy's presence in the room, and then lied when Wendy called her on it. She then obnoxiously insisted that Wendy had no talent, ignoring Wendy's great outfit in the last challenge and the fact that one of Wendy's designs is now available at Banana Republic after Wendy won a separate competition to design an outfit to be mass-produced. As the battle escalated, even Jay finally had had it with Kara.

Wendy, however, was plagued by doubts and insecurities of her own. For example, she had failed to accessorize her outfits, and she also had not bought shoes (although some shoes were available for the designers' use). By contrast, Jay had picked up heavily-discounted shoes, while Kara had her custom-made Dollhouses.

Finally, on the day of the Fashion Week show, the producers caught on to Kara's violation of the freebie rule. After Kara tried aggression to get out of her bind, she then called Dollhouse and had them prepare a fake invoice charging her $15/pair for the shoes. However, the producers refused to accept the lowball price for custom-designed shoes imported from China, despite Kara's near-constant whine, and finally agreed to let her use the shoes only if the judges received a prior instruction not to count Kara's shoes toward her overall look.

After the show, the three judges -- men's wear designer Michael Kors, Elle fashion director Nina Garcia and indie actress Parker Posey -- decided to eliminate Wendy first for the lack of consistency in her work. Then, in the final showdown, Jay was given the nod for the strength and originality of his vision.

Despite the incredible ratings and critical success of Project Runway, its future is in doubt due to the current problems between show producer Miramax Television (which also produces Bravo's Project Greenlight reality show) and its parent Disney. At this time, it appears certain that Disney will allow (and maybe even encourage) Miramax founders and chairmen Harvey and Bob Weinstein to leave Disney prior to the expiration of their management contracts in September 2005. According to Mediaweek, the future rights for all Miramax properties will leave the studio with the Weinsteins, except that Disney has the ccontractual right to retain some of them. Whether Disney will choose to exercise one of its options to retain Project Runway is unknown, and no decision can be made about the show's future until ownership of the rights for future editions and the cost of those rights (if acquired by Disney) are cleared up.

However, no matter who ends up with the rights, Bravo will still want to pursue another edition. Said Bravo president Lauren Zalaznick, "It is our heartfelt intent to be able to go to season two." But nothing is a given." Especially since CBS is looking at airing The Cut, with Tommy Hilfiger as the designer helping to coach one of his contestants to the same level of acclaim as that reached by the contestants of Project Runway.

(Photo credit Bravo)


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