Project Runway takes off down under

Gunn has proved so captivating with his snooty persona and incisive quips that he has since won his own series, Tim Gunn's Guide to Style. But Roth is adamant that he will be his own man.

"I'm the Australian Henry Roth. I really feel that," he said. "Tim Gunn is a genius but I'm not Tim Gunn."

As with the series adaptation itself, Roth has been given creative freedom to make his mark.

"I've been allowed to be me, and really, have not been censored in my approach. Characteristically I am far more hands-on. I don't go saying to somebody 'Make it work'. I'm saying things like 'Where's the passion?,' 'Sew and glow,' 'Let me see you rock that frock.' It's much more emotive, it's bringing people up rather than leave them dangling. That's just my approach. I'm not saying it's right."

There are 12 designers vying for the title in the inaugural Australian series and a prize including AU$100,000, a car, and a career launchpad. Produced by FremantleMedia in Melbourne, six guys and six girls from across the country had to share an apartment while madly sewing frocks, pushing their creativity, and dealing with a camera crew breathing down their necks. By series end, only three are left standing, given AU$10,000 each and two months to create their ultimate collection for a yet-to-be-announced grand finale.

Along the way Roth promises that there will be the usual mix of reality storytelling peppered by "lots of laughter, tremendous characters, the tears, the emotions, the fears--it all comes out."

They have much to contend with.

"They're running through the streets of Melbourne trying to find inspiration. They're having an international superstar (Kelly Rowlands) come into the workroom and her nominating a couple of outfits she's going to wear at her next concerts. And a really commercial challenge sees them entering the board room of Myer being briefed on a piece that will actually become commercially produced for one of their ranges.

"When in their biggest dreams would they have expected that at this time of their career?"

While conceding that there were some major meltdown moments among contestants, and even finger-pointing over stolen patterns, the Australian series is noted also for a surprising sense of Aussie mateship.

"There's a tremendous amount of compassion between the designers. I think a keynote difference between our designers and other (US) designers is they're not quite prepared to step over each other in a pool of blood to get where they're going."

Hosting the Australian series is model Kristy Hinze, with judging by Sarah Gale and Jayson Brunsdon. Roth, who does not participate in the judging decisions, sees his role as "optimiser" rather than "criticizer."

"I go in there halfway through, see where they're going, and decide 'Is that the right direction?'

"Several times I've told them to scrap hours out and start over, and that has been done. I've saved quite a few designers' skins along the way."

Leading fashion names such as Peter Morrissey, Camilla Franks, and Karen Webster also appear as guest judges, adding to the show's already formidable reputation.

"I think, if anything, Project Runway Australia will probably be one of the biggest influences into the Australian Fashion Industry, an injection into the arm of the Australian Fashion Industry since the beginning of Fashion Week," declared Roth.

"Point to me something else that actually injects this amount of optimism. You've got to have 'hope'--otherwise, what are these designers aiming for?

"And there's also real dollars in somebody's pocket to springboard into the industry. No one would ever have been given that amount, AU$100,000. But also the public attention that they are going to receive to get to the next level.

"And let me tell you, they are going to need every cent and every bit of public attention to be successful. They really do."

Project Runway Australia premieres 8:30pm Monday, July 7, on Arena.

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