Long before Project Runway came knocking, Elaine Welteroth was already an established and, let's face it, pretty major player in the world of fashion, dating back to her days behind-the-scenes as an award-winning journalist and a groundbreaking former editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue. She was very casually, BTW, the youngest person — and only the second African-American person — to be an editor-in-chief at Condé Nast in its 100-plus-year history. NBD!
She's also an advocate working to bring change to who and what we see in pop culture. Still, even with such a high profile, joining Bravo's Project Runway as a judge took some adjusting. "I'm used to being behind the scenes. I was an editor for 10 years, so now suddenly I'm in front of the camera and I'm on the other side of the red carpet and being asked questions — so it's a transition for sure," Elaine explained to The Daily Dish earlier this season.
"I just went for it. I'm doing this with people that I love and respect and admire and have so much fun with that it, honestly, does not feel like work," she continued. "It doesn't feel like this big transition that I had to prepare for. The key is to be yourself. As long as you can be comfortable, have fun in the moment, I think that's what matters more than anything. And luckily because of my cast, that's kind of all we did was joke around and cry with the designers. We just felt really invested and present, so you kind forget that cameras are there. They sort of fade away."
What didn't fade for Elaine upon joining Karlie Kloss, Nina Garcia, Brandon Maxwell and Christian Siriano on the new season was her dedication to making sure designers from all backgrounds are represented on Project Runway. "By the way, this is the most diverse and inclusive season of Project Runway that you've ever seen — and I'm really proud of that," she noted.
The cast and those working behind-the-scenes, she added, are equally proud of that fact. And while they all had been running in the same circles for quite some time, it was a literal run-in with Karlie that sealed their Project Runway fate.
"So Karlie and I are, like, kismet sister-friends. She is someone over the years, I think there's been this mutual admiration," the More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say) author said. "We have a vibe."
Cut to about a year before the prospect of Project Runway, when they had a chance encounter in the Big Apple.
"So I was late for church one morning. I was sort of in a funk going through some stuff in my life and at work and I like come out of my house in a hoodie pulled over my hair," she recalled, noting most people only recognize her by her signature curls. "So I step outside and it's the freaking New York marathon and this sea of people are going by my apartment. And right when I go outside, I hear 'Elaine' — and it's Karlie freaking Kloss running in the NYC marathon right in front of my house... like there's so many reasons that [encounter] shouldn't have happened, so we both remembered that moment and we're like that happened for a reason."
Well, it certainly did, Elaine noted: "Flash forward 10 months later Project Runway called and they're like 'Karlie's the new Heidi [Klum]. She really wants to work with you. And I'm like this is why that happened. And I just love that about life."
Elaine's book, More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say), is out on June 11. And make sure you tune into Project Runway Thursdays at 9/8c. Preview all the fashionable drama, below.