This is Heidi Klum's year of threes: The supermodel is 33 years old, expecting her third child and awaiting the third-season premiere of her other baby, Bravo's Project Runway (launching tonight with a 9 pm/ET casting special, followed by the first episode at 10). Not only has the reality show in which 15 contestants compete for $100,000, a new car and an optional mentorship (this year with Macy's instead of Banana Republic) been a surprise hit for Bravo, but Klum says success hasn't altered her intended purpose for it: to celebrate the hard work and talent it takes to create fashion.
"There have always been movies about fashion," Klum says of pop culture's fascination with the industry. "Fashion TV has been around for many, many years. You can go on the Metro Channel and see all the fashion shows around the world. That's also what fashion magazines are all about. I just think that there never [existed] anything that showed the people behind all the clothes that we love, and how hard it is to make them, and how talented people are. They're artists."
Then again, because the designers live together and are forced into stressful competition 24/7, Runway does end up showing a lot more about its contestants than their talent. The drama and clashes of personalities from Season 1's Wendy Pepper to Season 2's Santino Rice often overshadow the clothing. But Klum maintains that the designs are what most attract viewers. "[The entertaining personalities] have to do with why people like it, but I think it's a secondary effect," she says. "I think people are tuning in because they love the challenges, and they love watching people creating."
Klum denies ever casting with "characters" in mind. "We just had people on the show that we thought had great potential to be good designers, and a lot of times these characters evolve during the show," she explains. "We didn't know Santino was going to be like this. We didn't know Wendy Pepper was going to be so hated by people. She was a sweet woman when we interviewed her."
And to critics who last season accused the judges of cutting Nick Verreos in favor of keeping the more controversial Santino on the program, Klum counters that viewers see only a fraction of the judging process. "In real time [the decision] takes sometimes five hours," she says. "It's not something that pops into our head, and then it's, 'You're in; you're out, auf Wiedersehen.'"
To Klum, it was obvious that Season 3's contestants had all seen the show's previous competitions, but that won't give them any advantages. "They all think they know everything by now, but I still shock them a lot, because I change the challenges around. We do have some twists."
At least her job has gotten easier the third time around especially when it comes to getting participation from established people in the industry. "When you start with something, people are a little bit suspicious, and they don't necessarily want to be seen [on the show], just in case it's corny or weird or not cool, and not edgy," she recalls. "The first time around I had to call a lot of personal friends and make things happen and string some things along. It was so much easier the second and third times. People were calling us. They were like, 'Please, I want to be a guest judge!'"
As a producer, Klum is very wary of giving away spoilers about the new season. (The network, on the other hand, already has profiles and video clips of the 15 finalists posted at BravoTV.com.) All she'll say of her latest crop of designers is this: "I think [the work on the show] is getting more sophisticated and more professional. There are a lot of people saying, 'We are real designers; we just need someone to see us.'"