Hit reality-TV show Project Runway arrives in the Middle East

Reality-TV show Project Runway arrives in the Middle East this month, offering aspiring regional fashion designers a chance to launch a career. We talk to the judges and hosts about hopes for the show. 
Host Jessica Kahawaty talks to contestants on Project Runway Middle East. Courtesy MBC
Host Jessica Kahawaty talks to contestants on Project Runway Middle East. Courtesy MBC

In what could be seen as the latest sign of the growing status of the Middle East fashion industry, an Arabic-­language version of the popular American reality-TV competition Project Runway begins this month.

It is joining 26 international versions of the programme that have been launched since the US original began in 2004.

In fact, MBC’s Project Runway Middle East is the second regional attempt to adapt the show – the first was El Musamim El Arabi (The Arab Designer), which ran for two seasons on Future TV in 2006 and 2007.

This new show, however, is being produced in collaboration with renowned Lebanese designer Elie Saab, and will remain more true to the original show’s format.

Saab was present at a special launch event at Dubai Design District on Sunday night, which was hosted by MBC Group’s official spokesman Mazen Hayek.

Though notorious for avoiding the spotlight, Saab says he was happy to become involved with the show, given the importance he places on nurturing young Arab talent and helping talented designers launch a career in fashion.

“Of course talent is important, but what’s more important is how to direct it,” says Saab. “I’d love to try this in every Arab city. I have always wanted to share my success and experience with others and I have a lot of faith in the young ­designers of this region.

“I want others to reach my ­success, but why not with support rather than go it alone.”

The show will potentially change the lives of the contestants – but, says Saab, it will do much more than that.

“This show will enter every Arab home thanks to MBC’s outreach,” he says, “and the real participants are the ones at home, watching – the ones who don’t want to take part in this programme and this competition but will be inspired and might take a step forward in the world of fashion. This is for them.”

The judges

Saab is the show’s head judge, assisted by Tunisian fashion icon, actress and television presenter Afef Jnifen. Each episode will also feature a celebrity guest judge, including Lebanese singers Haifa Wehbe, Nancy Ajram and Elissa, Egyptian actress Yousra, American model and actress Milla Jovovich, German model Toni Garrn, Kuwaiti actress and director Haya Abdulsalam, Syrian actress Sulafa Memar, Egyptian TV presenter Wafaa Al Kilani, and former editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris Carine Roitfeld.

In the event of a tie between Saab and Jnifen when choosing who to eliminate at the end of an episode, the guest judge will have the deciding vote.

The hosts

Australian-Lebanese model Jessica Kahawaty will step into the shoes of Heidi Klum, host of the American version, to present the regional edition.

The former Miss Australia, and Miss World 2012 runner-up, has modelled for some of the world’s most prestigious luxury fashion brands.

“It’s an honour to be able to use my background and experience in the world of fashion to help and guide the contestants and take part in this exciting chapter of their lives,” she says.

Saudi Arabian creative expert Faris Al Shehri – who has launched companies in his home country to promote art, design and fashion, and to create a platform for local and international talents – will support and mentor the participants as they take on weekly fashion challenges.

The format

The aim of every version of Project Runway is to discover and develop a new generation of young designers.

Contestants will compete to create the best designs they can, in a limited amount of time and using selected materials based on a theme that changes with every episode. Their designs are reviewed by the judges, and every week one designer is eliminated.

“Filming the show has been a very positive, professional experience,” says Jnifen. “I was quite surprised with the production of the show and how well it can compete internationally with the Project Runway brand as a whole.”

Season one of Project Runway ME will run for 13 weeks. The first 12 episodes have been pre-recorded in Beirut and the finale will be broadcast live on December 10 from Dubai Design District.

The contestants

Fifteen would-be designers – six men and nine women – will compete in the debut season. Some have a fashion background, others have none.

“Some of them didn’t even know how to sew and had to learn as they went,” says Saab.

The participants are: Alia Nahas, Mohanad Kojak and Amna El Shandaweely from Egypt; Luma Saleh, Alaa Najd and Maroun Issa from Lebanon; Fatima Al Najdi from Kuwait; Heba Mojaddidi from Saudi Arabia; Ilham Aitsil from Morocco; Issa Hesso from Syria; Lucy Fadel from Jordan; Rayan Atlas from Algeria; Saba Tark from Iraq; Selim Chebil from Tunisia; and Taghreed Al Arrayed from Bahrain.

The prize

The winner will receive a one-year contract to develop their own fashion house at Dubai Design District, a one-year membership to the Dubai Design and Fashion Council, and US$50,000 (Dh183,650) from Maybelline New York.

The winning design will also appear on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia magazine in January, and the winning designer is guaranteed weekly coverage by Laha magazine for a year.

Season one of Project Runway ME begins at 10pm on Saturday, September 17 on MBC4 and MBC Masr, and continues every Saturday. Episodes will also be available to stream on www.shahid.net after their first broadcast

� artslife@thenational.ae

Published: September 5, 2016 04:00 AM

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