Being middle-aged, I have had many years to compile a horrifying list of guilty pleasures — defined as activities that would make us feel guilty if we were ever caught doing them. For me, these include Airport, John Jakes’ seven-part Kent Family Chronicles, and any song by Barry Manilow. Now I have another.
Project Runway is my latest guilty pleasure, and it’s uniquely appropriate here, because both words relate to my enjoyment of the show. There are so many reasons why I shouldn’t be watching it, much less enjoying it.
First, it’s a reality show, and I have never watched any of that ilk — Survivor, Amazing Race, much less The Bachelor. Second, apparently its only fans are straight women and gay men — although Baltimore Sun sportswriter Kevin Van Valkenburg has admitted he watches it too.
For the uninitiated, Project Runway brings together a dozen aspiring designers and subjects them to weekly challenges, asking them to make outfits, for example: using only materials from a party-supply or hardware store; to match one of Philip Treacy’s hats; that executive producer Heidi Klum would wear, assuming she’s not pregnant at the time. The designers are limited in both the money they can spend and the time they have to finish their creation. Fashion maven Tim Gunn, ramrod-straight as I’m sure his marine-officer father was, mentors and cajoles them. Three judges, along with Klum, rate the results.
Each week, one of the designers gets booted and one wins. Sometimes, the winner gets immunity from being booted the following week. Sometimes, I have no idea what goes through the judges’ heads. Sometimes, the designers don’t either.
Nonetheless, I plead guilty to finding this entertaining. I blame my wife for getting me hooked on the show. She used to make her own clothes and still reads Vogue. She likes the show from a fashion point of view. As a writer, I like the being-creative-under-deadline aspect of the show. I have no sense of fabric, color, draping, or anything else, but I do know about having to produce something out of nothing as the clock is ticking.
Then there’s the pleasure side of the equation, which is the frisson I get from realizing that I will never be at that place in my career when I’m so focused on proving myself again. Most of the designers on the show are unbearably young (the exception was last week’s ejection, a 50-year-old designer named Peach). They are anxious to prove their talents, and more than willing to subject themselves to the show’s devilish mid-challenge twists for the sake of their career. Been there, done that. I wrote a few weeks ago about things that frost me about middle age, but dang, this is one of the good ones — being so advanced in your career that that all-consuming hunger and ambition seems like a fuzzy dream.
I look back on my first job out of college and I want to laugh and I want to cry. It was a startup magazine and almost every person on staff was paid $3 an hour, which came out to about $100 a week. Most of us had second jobs to augment our income. We loved what we were doing … but that doesn’t mean I would want to go through it again.
Of course, it doesn’t preclude me from watching other people go through it.