Project Runway All Stars made its final cut last week, but there's a new all star in town and he's sitting at the judges' table. American fashion designer, Zac Posen — who has previously been a guest judge — makes his debut as a full-time judge — this Thursday on the first-ever teams edition of Project Runway (9/8c, Lifetime). Posen replaces Michael Kors (he'll appear on the season finale) joining Heidi Klum, Nina Garcia and Tim Gunn, along with a slew of guest judges for Season 11. What else can viewers expect to walk down the catwalk? Posen, 32, gives us the scoop.
TV Guide Magazine: You have some big shoes to fill with Michael Kors departure. Why did you decide to join Project Runway?
Zac Posen: I think it's a very exciting role and entity to be a part of, and being on the show is just an incredible experience. I always like to challenge myself and I've always been interested in entertainment so it was definitely a great opportunity. I got approached to do a reality show in 2001 when I started my company in my family's living room, but it's sort of never been the right time.
TV Guide Magazine: What will you bring to the judging panel?
Posen: I feel like I can give a lot of guidance, be a good mentor and voice, and be funny at the same time. I want to guide this group of designers into pushing themselves and really analyzing the work that they're creating. And they need to have fun because at the end of the day, fashion is fun. I try to keep the set continuously entertained.
TV Guide Magazine: What's it like to work with Heidi, Tim and Nina?
Posen: They were so lovely. It is a family. Heidi was so sweet and so funny and we loved singing along to the music on set. Nina has been a close friend and confidante for years so we had a blast. Tim gets the back scene view, and it was exciting because we often felt very strongly about similar projects with designers. The producers are totally driven with passion and the crew is world class.
TV Guide Magazine: Was it nerve-wracking judging the contestants, knowing that they are fans of your work?
Posen: I think giving critique while filmed is always an interesting experience but I wasn't nervous about that. Since I have been a guest judge it was a bit familiar, and I've worked hands-on with many design schools over the last decade, whether it was at teaching, judging or critiquing. I treat creative people with great respect. There's no reason ever to create out of fear so I really wanted to be constructive.
TV Guide Magazine: How is the crop of talent this season?
Posen: There is a great deal of talent on the show. We have such a diverse cast of different ages and races, which I think is really important because I'm interested in putting a reflection of diversity on the runway into the media world.
TV Guide Magazine: This is the first-ever teams edition. Will the collaborations result in more drama?
Posen: The groups were pretty composed in front of us, and the feeling on set was that there was a great deal of camaraderie behind the design team. The hard part is deciding on letting people go because you have to decipher [which team member] did what and they definitely created a solid, strong front on the stage because they don't want to take credit for something that wasn't successful on a project. I'm going to be watching, too, to see how they arrived at the pieces that were presented in front of us. These are very high-stress challenges.
TV Guide Magazine: What were some of your favorite challenges?
Posen: We had a duct-tape challenge. I like the idea of having to stretch your design mind into an alternative material and seeing which designers thrived in an alternative fabrication was quite exciting. There are really funny challenges — the Thunder From Down Under male dancers from Las Vegas were a surprise. I don't think they told me before I got to set that day what the challenge was so I was completely out of my personal comfort zone, but they were such gentlemen after they did their dance.
TV Guide Magazine: There's a ton of guest judges including former Runway winner, Christian Siriano, Bette Midler, Susan Sarandon, Miranda Lambert, Emmy Rossum, Kristin Davis, Jordana Brewster, John Legend and Joan and Melissa Rivers. Who were your favorites to work with?
Posen: Bette Midler is an exceptional class act. I've been working with her for years — I made her daughter's graduation dress years ago — so it's always fun. The other great featured guest was Susan Sarandon, who had an amazing challenge, something very personal and close to her. She gets the balance between artistic and function, and I thought that was a really great perspective.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you think that fashion reality shows influence the fashion industry?
Posen: They're in their own category called "fashion-tainment." I think that on a very large public scale, they promote creative people to be entrepreneurial. Not only does it create excitement for the industry, but it invigorates people to know that they can be an artist in the world and take their passion and imagination to build a business. I started interning at 16 so I feel like I've been involved in fashion for a long time, but when you're a creative person, you create for your entire life. It's just the beginning of how the fashion industry continues to expand. It's an exciting new frontier.