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Joanna Coles of 'Project Runway All Stars' on mentoring
NUNN ON ONE: TV Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

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Joanna Coles is the newly appointed editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine, the largest women's monthly magazine in the United States.

She left Marie Claire, where she worked since 2006; along the way, she won Editor of the Year from the agency Adweek.

She guest-judged on several episodes of the reality series Project Runway. Now, she returns on the second season of Project Runway All Stars as mentor to the designers.

Windy City Times talked with Coles the day before the series debuted.

Windy City Times: Hi, Joanna. From the beginning did you ever want to be a designer?

Joanna Coles: As a child, I endlessly designed clothes. I have pages of truly horrible designs and was fascinated by drawing when I was younger. I was better at writing and got channeled in that direction. Every once in a while I get the opportunity to work with a designer and I would love doing it. I wouldn't have been good enough to be a designer but as a child I dreamt about it, certainly.

WCT: Can you compare last season of Project Runway All Stars with the new season?

Joanna Coles: I insisted on a bit more airtime because I felt the mentoring process is so important. I spent more time with each designer. I think I got a bit more involved with the designers emotionally this year—which I wasn't expecting to, but I felt that I did. There was a wider range of designers this year. I felt closer to them than last season.

WCT: What does it take to stand out as a designer these days?

Joanna Coles: It takes an element of bravery. It takes the ability to be able to surprise and make sure that every garment is carrying your signature. Everything has to be cohesive and it has to feel like something that you have done. You can say that about all of the really good designers even if you think of the extraordinary range of someone like Marc Jacobs, who is an absolute colossus as a designer. Everything he designs you can recognize at 30 paces. It is similar with Michael Kors, Tory Burch or Diane Von Furstenberg, any of the really big designers right now. What you are looking for is their signature style and the bravery it takes to create that then stick with it.

WCT: How do you think the talent compares this season?

Joanna Coles: I think the talent is much stronger this season. After the first series of All Stars aired, we had people clamoring to be on it. I feel it was pretty good the first time around but this time around it is really excellent. It really does feel like a post-graduate program.

WCT: Do you see people step it up more this time?

Joanna Coles: You see people step it up but you also see a degree of grown-up commerciality that I think was missing from the last season, so you have clothing that could be bought in the studio right there and then. We had one design during one of the challenges that you know is going to sell out.

WCT: I heard there is an eco-friendly challenge this time out.

Joanna Coles: That involves everybody going up on The High Line, which is an extraordinary thimble of ecocreativity in New York, making something with fabrics that have not caused the destruction of the environment in the process of making them. The designers had not used this fabric before and it was the first time it had been done on Project Runway.

WCT: Did you feel any pressure to be like Tim Gunn as a mentor or have catch phrases like him?

Joanna Coles: No, not really. Tim is such a one-off. It would be hiding to nothing to imitate Tim. I am on the TV show like I am in real life. I'm very direct and straightforward. I say pretty much what I think as I think Tim does actually, but we are very different—so, no, I didn't. I think I have had sex more recently than Tim!

WCT: What a great answer. Is there going to be an after-show like the first season with you and Isaac talking to designers?

Joanna Coles: That is a very good question. I don't know. We only decided to do it halfway through the series last season and I bet that is what happens this time. I will have to ask the producers.

WCT: Do you think people come back on the show with something to prove?

Joanna Coles: Yes; we have four people in this series who were runners-up. They were all very upset that they hadn't won their season. They all came back very focused, indeed. People come back having watched themselves on the previous series and now understand where they went wrong. They now focus more on their garment than the other people in the room. The prize is so big this time around that they are incredibly focused on trying to get it. I will tell you that the last five people standing barely talked, in a way, they were so focused on that prize. It really is a life-changing prize for any one of those designers.

WCT: Was there a special designer that you were excited to see return?

Joanna Coles: I was delighted to see Emilio come back. I had always thought he was good. He was nominated for a Tony Award for his costumes in Porgy & Bess. He's super-talented. I was excited to see Josh back because he is such a character. I always felt Ivy didn't come across as strongly as she should have in her series. I know Laura Cathleen clashed a lot with Nina in her season and I felt she deserved another chance. Casanova and Ivy were incredibly surprised to see each other because they know each other, but didn't know they would be on the show together.

It is a really good bunch of people.

WCT: I look forward to watching the new season with Peach Carr from Chicago.

Joanna Coles: Oh, yes—you will really enjoy it.

Project Runway All Stars makes it work every Thursday on the Lifetime Channel. Visit for details.

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