On the popular Emmy-nominated show Project Runway, 15 up-and-coming designers compete in weekly challenges for the chance to show their collections during New York's Fall Fashion Week.
It's a fascinating peek inside the fashion world and the creative process with all of the juicy backstabbing, unexpected surprises, and theatrics you'd expect from reality TV. And, of course, there's its endearing breakout star, Tim Gunn.
The Budget Travel office is in the midst of the Garment District (one lucky staffer spotted Gunn getting coffee next door), and we know that fashion in New York doesn't have to be expensive. We've rounded up a guide to 10 Project Runway-related sights, among them, alum Emmett McCarthy's downtown boutique, trendy bars where contestants partied, and the go-to Garment District source for fabrics.
You'll also find our 10 New York fashion favorites, including spots for vintage shoes and make-your-own jewelry, as well as a Q&A with Tim Gunn, sample-sale tips, and an interactive city map—all you need to make it work!
Season four's designers, whom Gunn has declared the strongest group yet, gathered here for their first, rather uninspired challenge: They each had to choose from a $50,000 assortment of premium fabrics and design an outfit that expresses who they are as designers. At the end of the season, the lucky finalists will return to the park—along with bold-face designers, models, and fashionistas—to show their collections under the white tents of Fashion Week. The catwalks may be closed to the public, but we'd suggest avoiding the scene (and the jacked-up hotel rates) anyway. Instead, swing by in winter for holiday markets and free ice-skating, or pack a picnic and a blanket for Monday night summer movie screenings. Between 40th and 42nd Sts. and Fifth and Sixth Aves., 212/768-4242, bryantpark.org.
An offshoot of the original Buddha Bar in Paris, this flamboyant restaurant/lounge/sushi bar in the Meatpacking District played host to the third season's premiere party. A giant black lacquer Buddha looked on while contestants and glitterati threw back cocktails such as the Komodo Dragon: Level vodka, Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur, Kahlua, Frangelico, and espresso ($15). Later in the season, Laura, Kayne, Jeffery, Uli, and Michael met at another hotspot, Pink Elephant, where they were less than thrilled to learn that two auf'ed designers (Angela and Vincent) would be returning to compete at crafting a black and white cocktail dress. Buddha Bar, 25 Little W. 12th St., 212/647-7314, buddha-bar.com; Pink Elephant, 527 W. 27th St., 212/463-0000, pinkelephant.com, closed Sunday to Tuesday.
Emmett McCarthy EMc2
Cut from season two, McCarthy went on to open this boutique in Nolita, one of the city's hippest shopping destinations. His sophisticated women's clothes come with a hefty price tag: A cashmere Empire-waist coat is $885, and a festive little black dress with silver metallic pinstripes and a belt goes for $575. McCarthy has brought Project Runway alums to the store for trunk shows, and he stocks designs by season two's Kara Janx and Chloe Dao. A talking Tim Gunn bobblehead doll makes a cheeky, affordable accessory ($25). 240 Elizabeth St., 212/431-4134, emmettmccarthy.com.
Mood Designer Fabrics
Budding and seasoned designers alike rely on Mood's selection of fabrics (from alpaca wool to velvet) as well as leathers, fringes, and trimmings. Even the mannequins are for sale. The 40,000-square-foot mega-store purchases its inventory from the leftovers of Roberto Cavalli, Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, and other fashion luminaries. Project Runway contestants drop in regularly to pick up materials, and, during a season three challenge, teammates Vincent and Angela bickered over earth-toned fabrics for a Miss Universe gown. Silks run anywhere from $6 to $70 per yard. 225 W. 37th St., 3rd Fl., 212/730-5003, moodfabrics.com, closed Saturday.
Tavern on the Green
An al fresco champagne brunch at this classic Central Park restaurant reunited season three's designers with their mothers and sisters. (Even judge Michael Kors's look-alike mother, Joan, showed up.) They were enlisted as models for a challenge in which the designers had to style a look for the everyday woman. Laura let slip over brunch that she was pregnant for the sixth time, and the women swapped photos and stories of the designers as kids. Central Park at W. 67th St., 212/873-3200, tavernonthegreen.com.
Chelsea Flower District
Exotic plants and flowers line the three-block-long Flower District, an open-air market for wholesale and retail florists. During season two, contestants snapped up all sorts of petals and greens to fashion garden party dresses. The district is open to the public, and it's best to get there early for a perfumed morning stroll. 26th to 29th Sts. along Sixth Ave.
When designers in season one were challenged to envision a collection for the year 2055, the twist was that they had to construct it using materials from the past—found at this vintage store. Cheap Jack's has since left Greenwich Village, but it still has a huge volume, with an emphasis on '60s and '70s fashions (think poufed prom dresses, cropped suede jackets, and Boy Scout shirts). 303 Fifth Ave., 212/777-9564, cheapjacks.com.
Parsons The New School for Design
A Parsons workroom is where designers frantically sketch, pin, and sew for the weekly challenges. Not much is visible from the sidewalk, but if the episodes leave you inspired, consider one of Parsons' monthlong classes. A six-session crash course on fabric selection and design technique is $291. 560 Seventh Ave., 212/229-8933, newschool.edu.
Season two's Santino did a killer impression of Gunn and of a fake scenario in which Gunn and cast member Andraé had dinner dates at Red Lobster. Show Gunn your support! Stop by the all-American seafood chain's Times Square location to recharge with a jumbo-shrimp cocktail, $10.50. 5 Times Sq., 212/730-6706, redlobster.com.
Atlas New York
Gunn and Heidi Klum kicked off season three on the Atlas rooftop, with a champagne toast and the first challenge: The designers had to create an innovative design from materials in their rooms. Hardly a mattress, chandelier, or furry bath-mat was spared in the mayhem. After three seasons at Atlas, the show housed season four's designers at the nearby New Gotham this summer (rumor has it that the Atlas had become too recognizable). Both properties offer concierge services, gyms, and lounges for long-term visitors; rental apartments start at about $2,500 per month. Atlas, 66 W. 38th St., 212/402-5300, atlasny.com; New Gotham, 520 W. 43rd St., 212/563-4155, newgotham.com.
Read about 10 more fashion finds