Any show as popular as "Project Runway" would not be left to have just regular seasons, even cable seasons, which work on their own mysterious timetable.
Given the expectations of a built-in audience, "Project Runway All Stars" was destined. It premieres Thursday, Jan. 5, on Lifetime. This show needs to be different from its mother ship, so it amps up the competition and the prizes.
Thirteen contestants from past seasons compete for a variety of prizes, including a boutique at some Neiman Marcus stores. In exchange, the high-end retailer's accessories are used on the reality show.
"The format is very similar, and fans of the show will be familiar, but there are some nuances that are different, and that is really because of the all stars," executive producer Rob Bagshaw says. "We have taken people from every season, so all stars have been through the process already. They are familiar with the challenges and working with tight deadlines and have gone on to bigger and better things. They have collections and sell, and dress red carpet celebrities.
"The challenges reflect that," Bagshaw continues. "They are no longer naive, green reality show contestants. The tone and the nature of the challenges reflect that they are working professionals now. There are still some crazy challenges on the show -- taking ready-to-wear challenges, designing for a special order."
Bagshaw allows that the special order was for a guest judge: Miss Piggy.
It's not as if she would wear remnants or some raggedy dress from a few years back. Miss Piggy, now the plus-size editor of Paris Vogue, according to her latest movie, sits at the judges table and doesn't mince words.
"All of our all-star designers have dressed celebrities at some point," Bagshaw says. "But designing for Miss Piggy is very different and very demanding."
While Miss Piggy is a one-time judge, Isaac Mizrahi, fashion designer and no stranger to TV on fashion shows, is one of the series' two regular judges (with Georgina Chapman).
"I don't come to that table with any preconceived notions," Mizrahi says. "It's such a big swath of territory and you are going, and you have to get your bearings really quickly."
Mizrahi says he knew instantly "that we were dealing with extremely talented designers. I had been on a few shows as a head judge, fashion competition shows at different levels. These are all stars. They have been to this table before, and they come with their A-game, and they know what to expect with the intensity of the day, of the physical commitment of just being awake for that many hours. That alone steps up the game a lot."
No "Project Runway" winners are among the current contestants. In alphabetical order the contestants are: Kenley Collins (season five), Michael Costello (season eight), Gordana Gehlhausen (season six), Mondo Guerra (season eight), Mila Hermanovski (season seven), Kara Janx (season two), Elisa Jimenez (season four), April Johnston (season eight), Rami Kashou (season four), Austin Scarlett (season one), Jerell Scott (season five), Sweet P/Kathleen Vaughn (season four) and Anthony Williams (season seven).
Mizrahi can easily weigh their work and not be swayed by opinions formed watching them.
"What was exciting was I had not seen too much of 'Project Runway,' " Mizrahi says. "I had seen it occasionally and admired here and there, an episode -- obviously I was in the minority and admired the production value, and it was so much about clothes and the creative process."
The challenges with the tightest deadlines are the toughest, Mizrahi says. Those he finds somewhat easier have contestants inspired by what they find at five-and-dime stores, and when they design for a Broadway show.
One contestant's designs are already in the revival of "Godspell," but he or she is not listed in the Playbill.
Even with more difficult challenges for more experienced contestants, the premise remains "Project Runway." Given that, Bagshaw is asked about the danger of overexposing the brand."Even as a viewer you can tell when the producer is trying to make a quick buck," Bagshaw says. "The great thing you see on this is the talent -- is just that they are talented with what they do. If you put those talented people into a specific situation, it is always going to be interesting to watch. We talked about what we would do as a spinoff. What is interesting is watching them progress in their careers, and the audience is thrilled with their success. And then raise the bar in terms of challenging them, and seeing how they cope under this pressure. We want to see what fantastic work you can come up with under these conditions.
"Sure it is fun to see them buckle under pressure," Bagshaw continues. "Like chefs, like any creative people, who want to do their best work under pressure, there are some explosions. It would not be 'Project Runway' if there were not some diva moments. It is not the focus of the show. We did everything we can on the show to show their best work. It is very tough, but they are all stars and can handle it."