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Description: But in applying an Apprentice / Survivor formula to the world of high fashion — contestants vie to make the best outfit each week, and judges send home the worst of the bunch —

But in applying an Apprentice /Survivor formula to the world of high fashion — contestants vie to make the best outfit each week, and judges send home the worst of the bunch — something clicked. The Runway finale in March drew an impressive-for-cable 2 million viewers.

Maybe the allure was German supermodel Heidi Klum as host and her trademark farewell to the rejected designer of the week: "Auf Wiedersehen !"

Or maybe viewers liked Tim Gunn, chair of Parsons The New School for Design, who has a knowing air about the cutthroat world of design and serves as mentor and guide to the group.

Or maybe the appeal was the kooky contestants, who move in together in New York. After all, much of any reality show's heart lies in the personalities of those playing the game, especially as they compete under pressure.

"It's definitely the fashion," Klum says. "Not all of the television world is about blending up worms and seeing if you can drink it. It's definitely about the creativity."

In one of the early episodes in Season 2, which starts tonight on Bravo (10 ET/PT), the contestants are invited to a party, and at the end of it they're told they must use the clothes on their backs for the next day's task. Jeans and leather jackets are quickly ripped, cut and re-sewn into runway creations.

Because of the success of Season 1, Klum says, this season it was easier to get famous designer judges — such as Diane Von Furstenberg — to sit in with the returning judges, designer Michael Kors and Elle magazine fashion director Nina Garcia. "In the fashion world, people want to be really cool. They don't want to be associated with something un-cool. They didn't know the first time: Is it going to be cool? Second time around, now they know."

Prizes include $100,000 to help launch a clothing line and a 2007 Saturn. The winner's designs will be featured in a spread in Elle. and the winner will receive a mentorship from the Banana Republic Design Team.

Some contestants from last season will be seen again this season, including universally disliked designer contestant Wendy Pepper, who appears briefly judging the auditions. And returning as an actual contestant for a second time is Daniel Franco, who was eliminated from the show after one task.

So why did Franco want to return to the pressure cooker? "I was thinking it was time for a little redemption," he says. "I was cut first, and that was hard to take."

Now he's back for more "torture," he says, explaining that the time constraints are the hardest part of the challenges. "We don't sleep much, don't eat much. The eye that's on us the whole time, too, is very bizarre."

Even after being cut in the first episode, Franco got feedback from the exposure. "I've never met so many fanatics," he says. "What they love about the show is the excitement of seeing concentrated creativity, and the hopes and passion of the designers. It's Elle magazine meets Hoop Dreams. "

Joel Lamontagne thinks the credit for the show belongs to him. The San Diego resident has filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles against Klum, the show's producers and its sponsors, claiming to have created the show when he wrote a script called America's Fashion Designer Search. He registered the script with the Writers Guild of America in January 2003; Project Runway first aired in 2004. Bravo's response: "The producers have assured us that they created the program independently."




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