Fashion guru Tim Gunn believes if you haven't watched Project Runway yet, don't start with the show's upcoming fourth season.

"When people tell me that they haven't seen the show, I tell them not to [watch it]," Gunn told reporters during a Monday conference call.  "I tell them the reason is, it's like television crack.  Once you start watching, you get addicted.  I would never persuade anyone to watch the show."

Project Runway 4 is scheduled to premiere on Wednesday, November 14 at 10PM ET/PT with a fresh crop of 15 designers whom Gunn continued to gush about.

"With each successive season of Project Runway -- at least in my view -- the group of designers has been stronger and stronger.  Season 4 is our strongest group yet," said Gunn. 

Project Runway host and judge Heidi Klum agreed with Gunn's assessment of the fourth-season cast and credited the fact that the show has become a launching pad for hungry designers.

"I think it has something to do with so many people see the creditability of the show, and that you really have to have talent to succeed or even to get onto [the show]," Klum told reporters during the conference call.  "I think that people see that and go, 'Okay, wow.  This can be a really big opportunity.'  So a lot of really good designers are now trying to participate and get on the show.  So I think each year the designers have become better and better, and the fourth season has some of the best designers yet.  They're great technicians, they have great ideas.  They're just all around really, really talented."

Gunn added that people calling Project Runway a "positive vehicle for careers" is the "greatest compliment we could have" and has also boosted the show's pool of design talent.

"Each of the 15 designers on this season's show, I believe from the onset, anyone of them could win the entire thing," he said.  "There was no one on the show about whom I thought, 'Oh well they'll last two or three challenges and then they'll be gone.'"

However Gunn said there's always the "intangibles," such as exhaustion and fatigue, which can't be easily plugged into the equation when handicapping the field because it can impact anyone.

"I think they're all very surprised on how hard it really is," said Klum.  "When you see it on TV, it's once a week, and so much time has passed as a viewer.  But when you live in our Project Runway world -- when we're shooting it -- it's very, very hard for them.  I think for a lot of them, they get tired fast.  They see, 'Wow.  This is hardcore.  This is serious.'... I think they're really thrown for a loop sometimes... They're surprised at how hard it really is."

If the intangibles aren't hard enough to deal with, Project Runway contestants also have to deal with the show's challenges.  Gunn said a "design by committee" approach is used when creating the show's challenges.

"Basically we all kick them around, and then whatever challenges are the best than make it," explained Klum.  "Everyone kind of throws in their ideas.  Sometimes they're good, sometimes they're not.  Maybe it's the beginning of a good challenge, but they make it even better and bring it to the next level.  We work very well together."
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Klum warned that Project Runway challenges can be the downfall of a contestant.  She said participants "need to take a chance" and "wow" the judges -- clothing designer Michael Kors and Elle Magazine fashion director Nina Garcia -- because customers want to look for something they don't already have in their closet.

"The common mistake that I see is [cast members] not caring necessarily about winning a challenge, just not wanting to be [eliminated]," explained Gunn.  "There needs to be a spirit of risk-taking in the success of a work, and if you're just playing it safe, you produce work that's pretty dull and normal, and it's going to send [the judges] off to the room for a nap.  Ok you're not going to be out, but you're also not going to win!  So what are you saying about your work and your future as a designer?"

Both Gunn and Klum said all the show's contestants have talent, so it's just a matter of making that translate on the runway.

"The personalities become an aspect of it, but the talent is there for everyone.  It's all about what they produce on the show, not how loud they are or what antics they're performing," said Gunn, who added it's also difficult for Project Runway participants to be influenced by previous designers who have appeared on the show.

"In the end, it's all about the quality of work that's presented on the runway," he continued.  "So certainly while the designers on the show can be influenced or impacted in some way by what they've seen on the show, it's all about the quality of the product that's on that runway in the end."

Klum also added that watching previous seasons of the show won't help the fourth-season cast.

"[The contestant] are thinking, 'This is the fourth season, we've seen three seasons already, so we kind of know what's going on here,'" she said. "I love it when I can break the news to them that things are going to be a little different."

Gunn said when he was first approached by producers to serve as a Project Runway fashion consultant while the show was in its conceptual phase, he was relieved to find it had "purpose and huge integrity."  In addition, Gunn added he was "instantly placated" when producers told him he'd be working with "real designers, not just fashion designer wannabes."

"Since I spent most of my professional career in the classroom -- 29 years of it -- [Project Runway] is a way of working with mature designers who already have industry experience," he explained.  "And I work with them in a capacity that's enhanced from the capacity in which I work with my students.  Also, I'm just in favor of doing anything that helps support our industry and helps move it forward in a positive way."

Prior to Project Runway's December 2004 series premiere, Gunn said he wondered, "Who's going to really want to watch this?"  However he said he initially "underestimated" the show's viewers and said they'll be in for a treat with the upcoming fourth season.

"No doubt people will enjoy this season tremendously because the level of execution is so extraordinarily high," said Gunn.  "There's going to be much more talk at home -- as there is on the show -- about the content of the design work.  The message of the designer, the point of view of the designer.  That's where it becomes a matter of taste, and I know there's going to be disagreement about those issues as there always is about fashion in general... With precious few exceptions, everything is really superbly made."