Challenging ‘Project Runway’ to use more than coconuts in the Keys

For years, I’ve been totally addicted to the reality show, Project Runway. This is a show where a group of unknown designers are picked to compete against each other by making a designer outfit in only two days and have it runway ready for the judges to “critique.”

Critique is a kind way of saying the judges will slaughter both the designers and their creations at their whim and occasionally applaud one or two along the way.

I’m not sure why I’m so fascinated by this show. I have zero sewing skills and even less fashion sense. It boggles my mind that these people even know how to sew in this day and age. Obviously they must not have been involved in a time-consuming team sport like soccer or baseball during their childhood. And, they certainly didn’t have a boat or a fishing pole in their garage to distract them from their grandmother’s sewing machine.

Even though threading a needle is challenging enough for me, each week the designers are given a new “challenge” by the show’s hosts, Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn. For example, on one show, they were sent to a pet store for an hour and required to only use items found in the store to design a runway outfit. A few designers predictably grabbed doggie beds so they could use the fabric the beds were made of. And, of course, dog leashes worked great as belts. Boring but effective. Personally, I thought the dress made out of birdseed should have been the winner. The final result was spectacular, though, I’d hate to wear it at an outdoor gathering. Can you say, “disastrous remake of ‘The Birds” by Alfred Hitchcock?’”

Another time, the designers had to create an outfit entirely out of materials they scavenged from the interiors of automobiles. If I’m ever stuck in a car, I now know how to make an evening wrap out of seatbelts weaved together. These unusual challenges are the ”shear” genius behind the show.

So, what does this have to do with living in the Florida Keys? I think Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn need to bring Project Runway down here to the Keys for one full season. Designer outfits created out of resources found Only in the Keys would have to be one of Project Runway’s most-watched seasons. Anyone can make an outfit out of car scraps. Let’s see what they can do with used boat parts found around the Keys.

Or, take the designers to a scuba shop and have them make lingerie out of scuba gear. Gotta say, I think we’d see some funky rubber thong undies accessorized with rubber hoses and O-rings. Think of what the designers could do with the regulators and masks? Wow. It’d be Fifty Shades of Grey Underwater. This show alone could bust the ratings.

For an easier week, have the designers go to Kmart for one hour with $100 to spend. Would they be able to, as Tim Gunn famously says, “Make it Work?” Or, would our beloved Kmart suck the creativity right out of most of them?

How about having them design a functional fishing outfit for our fishing pros after a day out on our beautiful water? I doubt if any of these designers have ever baited a hook, so observing indoor sewing geeks cope with the waves, the gaffing and the hot sun would be worth watching in itself. Side note: big, floppy hats, silk fabric and high heels would not be a good choice on this challenge.

It’d be fun if they threw in local celebrities to act as guest judges each week. Captain Skip Bradeen could judge the fishing outfits and throw in some personal advice on why or why not a particular outfit would work out on the high seas. How about having my favorite, Don Bailey, the Naked Carpet Guy, judge the dive shop lingerie episode? No one knows bikini underwear better than Don Bailey.

Sometimes the designers are shown items like bizarre hats and they pick one to inspire their next outfit. Here, they’d have to find an inspiration from something in the waters of the Florida Keys, like a manatee, parrot fish or a moray eel. The challenge? The runway show would be underwater, modeled by locals. The guest judge for this show? We need a female judge in the lineup, so I pick my favorite female dive shop owner, Amy Slate. She looks cooler modeling giant, green moray eels wrapped around her shoulders than any New York socialite could look wearing a mink stole.

Remember Gilligan’s Island? I think this popular show in the 1960’s was the original Project Runway – island style. Those stranded castaways used whatever resources they had to stay fashionable, including the obvious coconut bras and grass skirts found mostly on Gilligan and The Skipper throughout the series. But, I always marveled at how Ginger managed to keep up her glamorous style, year after year. And Mary Ann pulled off the perfect island casual look, which appealed to the younger viewers. Of course, Mrs. Thurston Howell, III was the quintessential model for “women of a certain age” stylin’ on an island.

The popularity of Gilligan’s Island proves how successful Project Runway could be here in the Keys. Not that Project Runway needs a boost in ratings, but come on Heidi… let’s “Make it Work!”

Jana Vandelaar has worked as a freelance writer in the Keys with a loving family, fun friends and smelly pups for more than 20 years. Check out her website at for more books available online or ‘Like’ her Facebook page at JanabananaINK for daily smiles about life as she sees and lives it. If you enjoy her articles, Jana has a book titled, “ONLY IN THE KEYS, Snort-Laughing Stories About Life In The Florida Keys.” This is a fun book full of Jana’s most popular articles written for The Reporter since 2008. It’s available at Randy’s Florida Keys Gifts, MM 102.4 or at Hooked On Books, MM 81.9.

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