The Story Behind the Naturist Episode of Project Runway All Stars
One would think that naturism and fashion generally don’t mix but…
Of all the production company and TV network pitches we’ve gotten over the years (and there have been a ton of them), the invitation to be part of a fashion reality TV show was most unexpected and unusual.
Last June, Project Runway All Stars contacted us to be part of a special naturist episode. As previously described (and if you didn’t see it), the basic premise was that their group of designers would be challenged with making winter wear for naturists.
As with any TV casting call we get, we approached this opportunity with a fair amount of caution. We wanted to be sure it wasn’t going to be just another bad gimmick with lots of cheap jokes made at our expense.
At first we did not think this would be a project for YNA, but after speaking at length with the executive producer about the episode and casting, we were on board. The producer reassured us that it would be positive and respectful and a big reason for our agreement to do it was that Alyssa Milano hosts the show.
For those who may not be aware, Alyssa Milano is a known advocate for positive body image as well as public breastfeeding. Since she herself is a fellow activist, we agreed to put our trust in her and the executive producer’s hands.
Why Design Winter Clothing and Not Something More Nudist Appropriate?
With regards to the challenge itself, we brought up the idea of having them design breezy, but functional summer clothing. This was nixed because this type of clothing is considered too easy to make. With this being the 5th episode, they wanted to give the designers something more challenging so they could better showcase their skills.
What Was The Deal With Blurring The Body Parts?
One of the caveats was that our bodies would be censored on TV (which included blurring the butts for whatever reason. Other cable TV shows with nudity such as Naked and Afraid and Dating Naked censor female breasts and genitals but not butts). We are very much against censorship of simple nudity. But weighed against the fact that we could promote a positive view of naturism to such a huge audience of people, we accepted it. (We’d also inquired as to whether they could make an uncensored version to post online or that would air in other countries, but that didn’t turn out to be an option.)
How Did The Casting Process Work?
I decided that I’d participate as one of the “models,” and we were tasked with finding 9 other naturists to be part of the episode and represent YNA. The biggest challenge with this was our time-frame… we were contacted just a few days before filming, so we had about 3 days to find these 9 people!
There weren’t a whole lot of requirements as far as who could participate – they left that pretty much to our discretion. We needed 5 women and 5 men over the age of 18 who could walk down a runway. While the show typically has professional female models showcase the designs, this was one of their “average people” episodes. So they weren’t expecting naturists who look like fashion models.
However, they wanted everyone to be as similar as possible in shape and size in order to make it a more “fair” competition for the designers.
So we weren’t able to have any plus-size models, but we ended up with a pretty eclectic and wonderful group nonetheless. Funnily enough two of the men who participated have done professional modeling work. One is a friend we’d approached specifically for that reason. (You can be a naturist and work in the fashion world!)
About Filming The Project Runway Episode:
The episode was filmed over two days. We reported for duty early in the morning and completed some paperwork. Then it was time to strip down and get ready for the runway. They gave us bathrobes to wear and keep us comfy on set while working on naked scenes.
We then lined up behind the runway set where Alyssa would introduce us to the designers and tell them about their latest challenge. Up until this point, the designers had no idea what their new challenge would be.
We then walked out onto the runway wearing nothing but smiles. Needless to say there were some surprised, baffled and amused reactions.
It’s only shown for a fleeting second in the episode, but one of the designers – Ken – had a particularly difficult time with this naked reveal. He buried his head in his hands for a good 5 minutes (at least) in teary embarrassment. We all found this pretty amusing. (Still, I’m glad this wasn’t the focal point of the episode drama.)
Alyssa then explained the challenge and mentioned how she’s all about promoting a “healthy body image.” She told the designers they’d have to design warm winter clothing because “Nobody likes to be naked in the cold.” (This is true even for naturists, and maybe now people will stop asking us how we survive in the winter?!?)
Each designer was randomly assigned a model by picking a name out of a bag. My designer was Kini Zamora.
Once we were all matched up, we met with our designers to tell them about ourselves, our style and what we generally like to wear.
Not all naturists are like me by any means, but I personally don’t care that much about fashion or clothes. I always flip past the fashion sections of women’s magazines. It’s not that I’d always rather be naked. I do like to dress up once in a while, and I want to feel good in whatever I wear. But most of the time, I’m going for comfort and minimal effort.
I was hesitant to tell a fashion designer that I’m apathetic towards fashion. Would it be insulting? I wondered.
But this challenge was also about selling us on the idea of clothes. The designers were supposed to make something so amazing that their naturist model would want to wear it. While it sounds kind of silly, for those of us not into fashion, it did make sense.
I think we were all pretty flexible and easygoing. The designers had some funny reactions to working with naked people, but they were respectful, curious and asked lots of questions. Ken said to the cameras, “They’re just everyday people.” Yes, yes we are!
The designers showed us their ideas and sketches, took measurements and then we left so they could get to work putting it all together.
The next day we were ushered back into the workroom to see what they created for us and try it on. They had us wear flesh-colored underwear bottoms for the fitting, and some people have commented, Why the underwear? I don’t remember them giving us a particular reason for this, but I think it was just to make the fitting easier and more comfortable for all involved. Or maybe it’s just how it’s always done. (I hadn’t paid that much attention to the fitting scene in other episodes, but I’m guessing the regular models also wear minimal bottoms and no tops.)
It was so much fun to see everyone dress up in these creative new outfits. I loved what Kini designed for me. He is such a sewing wizard that he’d made a denim jacket, a pleated skirt, a pair of leggings and two tops for me. (Though only one top made it into the final runway look.)
This is unfortunately where Sam realizes his design is not working out. Zen tries on the coat he made and clearly hates it. He has to hustle to put together something else.
Joey’s outfit, designed by Ken, was one of my favorites. Joey had asked for something not too masculine and ended up in a spectacularly odd skirt and sweater ensemble. Ken called it “Kanye West on steroids.”
We all got our hair and make-up done according to how the designers wanted it. Then shoes and jewelry were picked out. We got dressed, and it was runway time.
Prior to debuting our outfits before the judges, they had us walk up and down the runway naked. The idea was to splice it together with the clothed runway and show the “transformation.” But in the episode they just showed a few moments of the naked runway before cutting to us in our new get-ups.
With judges sitting on one side and designers on the other, we all walked the runway a few times in our new clothes. Everyone looked awesome! Kini said I looked like a “rich bitch,” which I thought was hilarious.
Some of us had been nervous about the naked runway walk, but this one was harder. First because we were dressed in winter clothes, and the set lights are hot. And second because we women had to wear ridiculous high heels that aren’t meant to be worn for longer than 5 minutes while standing. (I was left with greater respect for the models who do this all the time.)
The designers with the highest and lowest scores are asked to stand on the runway with their models and talk about their designs. (The few designers with middle scores are “safe” and leave the runway.)
We loved how they each referred to their model as “my naturist.” This is a short segment in the episode, but believe me, the judges had a lot more to say that didn’t make the cut!
All the judges were very nice, and Isaac Mizrahi was pretty funny about the whole thing. When the judges first saw us, he remarked, “Who doesn’t like to wear clothes? That’s abnormal!” It was super funny coming from a fashion guru like him and was NOT meant in a bad way at all (I guess you had to be there).
As opposed to other challenges that focus on solely on the clothing design, in this challenge they were also supposed to make clothes that we models liked and felt confident in. The judges asked each one of us what we thought about our outfits and took that into consideration.
Most of the designers did very well. Valerie and Sam, who had previously won two challenges, got the lowest scores. I was surprised that Valerie’s coat was rated so low. I would’ve totally worn that outfit (and Tammy loved it, too).
They liked my outfit, though my jacket was somewhat controversial. It was like a comedy routine with me taking it off and putting it back on again and again.
Designer Emily Payne (model Nicole) was declared the winner. Since all the designers had essentially succeeded in making clothes that we felt confident in, they decided not to send anyone home for this episode.
We all get to keep the outfits, which will be mailed to us now that the episode came out.
The reactions to the episode from the regular Project Runway fan base were mixed on social media. The episode posts and clips got a lot of comments. Based on the Facebook comments, some decided it was a “dumb gimmick” before they’d even watched it. They accused Project Runway of just using nudity for ratings. (Every show and episode is about the ratings!) There was also criticism over the blurring of body parts (though that came mostly from other naturists).
We were very happy with how the episode turned out. It was a great way to put naturism under the spotlight and get people talking about it.
We have nothing but positive things to say about the whole cast and crew. Alyssa Milano was especially awesome, as was the executive producer. Everyone was really nice and respectful, and we had so much fun making the episode.
So, a big shout-out and THANK YOU to Alyssa Milano, the designers, the producers and everyone who worked on this episode of Project Runway. We love you all for having us on this body-positive nudie episode and being so in line with the acceptance issues we work so hard to promote!
Also thanks to our friends who participated and did a wonderful job in representing YNA and naturism as a whole!
*Update: Project Runway All Stars Season 5 has ended, and this episode is unfortunately no longer available to stream online for free on the Lifetime website. (At least not without a TV provider login.) To watch it, you might be able to find it on-demand through your cable provider or a subscription site like Hulu.
What did you think of the episode? Would you wear the winter clothes they designed? Let us know in the comments!