In Los Angeles, Santino Rice joined Christina Nault of Seventh on Six (day one) and Jennifer Eagan of Gen Art (day 2), Karen Reinitz of Elle, and me for the auditions. Frankly, I was anticipating The Great Santino, full of boisterous bravura and sucking the air out of the room - and out of the candidates. Not true. Not even remotely true. He was uncharacteristically quiet on day one, but on day two he conducted himself with poise and professionalism. And he demonstrated that he can be a rapier-like critic, cutting through the fashion issues, not the candidates. At one point, Santino declared that he was depressed and angry that some of the candidates could believe that they had any chance in the universe of being selected. Sharing his feelings, I reminded him - and me - that we have no control over who decides to show up for the auditions: Follow-that-dream-wherever-that-dream-may-take-you, even if it's to the rejection list.
LA brought out everyone from the sublime to the ridiculous, plus a lot in between. We saw a number of exceptionally talented designers, most of whom were in their 30s, so they were seasoned professionals, too. And we saw the nutcase fringe, naturally, which is only worth this mere mention. There were tons and tons of students, most of whom will graduate this spring, and each of whom envisioned being the next Daniel V. or Diana Eng, who were fresh out of design school. When we first met Daniel and Diana, their qualities as designers - and individuals - were palpable from the onset. And why would juniors in design school think they have a shot at this?
In addition to talent, succeeding on Project Runway requires mental fortitude, tenacity and a clearly articulated design philosophy, three characteristics that often, but not always, come with maturity. And then there were the perfectly well-meaning and capable individuals whose work was not what we were looking for - costume or childrenswear, menswear, millinery, doll clothes, pet garments, and performance (as in drag) wear. Regrettably, we didn't have time to say anything other than, "This isn't what we're looking for. Thank you." Our in-and-out record was 17 seconds. It felt unkind, but necessary.