As host of the fashion design reality series “Project Runway Canada,” legendary supermodel Iman is beloved by viewers for her uncompromising standards.
Her blunt critiques, biting wit, commanding presence and catchphrase: “You just don’t measure up,” had contestants cowering and viewers raving at the start of Season One.
But the statuesque fashion stalwart, who returns to helm Season Two debuting Tuesday on Global, says she thinks she’s actually been a bit of a softie so far.
“When I saw the show, I didn’t think I was tough at all, at all, at all!” the Somalian-born runway icon exclaimed with a laugh in a recent phone interview from New York City, where she lives with her husband, music legend David Bowie.
“I could be tougher,” she said jokingly.
Which raises the question, was she tougher on this new batch of competitors, when episodes were taped last summer?
“No, I wasn’t, but because they were really upstarters I had to actually give them more pep talks,” said Iman, 53, who is also a judge on the show.
“And then of course I had to put some of them in their places when they really got too big for their shoes.”
Season Two of the acclaimed reality series, in which 14 clothing designers compete for a grand prize of $100,000 to start a fashion line, comes after a triumphant series debut in the fall of 2007.
Season One won a Gemini Award for best reality series and had members of the international fashion community “beyond impressed,” saying it was just as good – if not better – than its Emmy-nominated American counterpart, “Project Runway,” hosted by model Heidi Klum, said Iman.
“The editor-in-chief of Elle America called me from Milan because he said he could not take his eyes off of it,” said Iman, who studied political science at Nairobi University and began her modelling career in 1975. She can also speak five languages and was the first African to appear on the cover of Vogue magazine.
Evan Biddell of Saskatoon won the first season of the Canadian series and has since taken the fashion scene by storm, with major gigs including the coveted opening slot at Fashion Week in Toronto last spring.
“He could be the next Alexander McQueen – he’s that good,” Iman said of Biddell, who is often referred to by just his last name.
Several other finalists from the series, including Lucian Matis, have also seen their stars rise since appearing on the show but Iman said being on the series doesn’t guarantee success, especially in this faltering economy.
“This is what I told designers last season and I repeated it also to the designers this season when I met them: I said, ‘Do not believe the hype.’
“‘This is really, truly a business so you become overnight sensations, you become household names, but that does not guarantee you that you’ll become professionals unless you really want to become a professional … at the end of the day, it’s business.”‘
Fashion designer Brian Bailey returns as mentor for Season Two, which was shot in Ottawa. The winner – who also gets a spread in Elle Canada magazine, a portfolio photo shoot and a business mentorship – hasn’t been chosen yet and will likely be picked after a challenge at Fashion Week in Toronto this spring, said Iman.
Actress Elisha Cuthbert is among the celebrities guesting on the judging panel that also includes Rita Silvan of Elle Canada and Shawn Hewson of Bustle Clothing.
Iman hopes the series is helping the world realize the talent that’s within our borders.
“That was my hope because the proximity to the United States just makes one feel like a stepchild,” she said.
“I have seen great designs from Canadian designers from Jay Godfrey, which I wear his clothes, and Izzy Camilleri, you know, so they’re there but because we are so close to the United States, everything becomes the United States.”