Monday, September 1, 2008
In Henry Roth's opinion Australia is the real winner of the first series of Project Runway Australia, which wraps up on September 15th with a big finale show that was shot two weeks ago in Melbourne. According to Roth, who plays the show's designer "mentor" role, that’s because of the depth of fashion talent that was unearthed on series one. But frockwriter reckons the real winner could be Roth himself.
Hardly a household name in Oz prior to scoring the PR gig, this third generation bridalwear designer departed these shores for New York a decade ago, changed his name, launched his own label and reinvented himself as a fashion-specialist media personality. Just as Ralph Lauren was once Ralph Lifschitz, Henry Roth entered this world as Henry Weinreich.
With the first series of Project Runway Australia under his belt, and signed for an undisclosed number of subsequent series, Roth has, in his own words, been "sucked" back downunder - and is "loving it".
I caught up with Roth after last week's Myer show.
So, what can you tell me?
What would you like to know?
All 12 designers are winners. But I will say Australia wins, because we’re going to honestly get some amazing designers out of this. And I will put my money on it, two or three of them, you will be able to buy in a year or two, in stores around the country.
Can you give me a hint?
Just a tiny hint. You know you want to.
No I don’t actually.
Because you’ll get sued for breach of contract.
It’s not even sued or not sued, it’s just like, you know what, let the designers… why should I be the one to steal their thunder? That would be very selfish of me.
And Foxtel would be horrified.
Yes, that’s true. But also, it would steal their thunder.
When did you film the finale?
We did the finale about two weeks ago. It was done in the Docklands in Melbourne. It was an amazing event. Because the ratings have gone through the ceiling - I can tell you that it’s the highest rating show ever on Arena – they quadrupled the budget for the final runway. They’re thrilled with it.
So.. a big show?
Huge. Five hundred people.
Describe the winning dress.
[Slowly] All. The. Dresses. Were. Winners.
screen grab episode one
What about the 'Frocker’ [Helen Manuell]? She bombed out.
The Frocker… you know what, I happen to love the Frocker. Please note, she’s never been formally trained, she raised her own family, she’s a single mum, she went in there, she’s the oldest one, she meant to do business and you know what, if you don’t like the way she acts, that’s too bad, because I respect her.
She was like a mother hen at times.
She was. There were times when she was very tough because, you know what? She was in it to win it. That’s good.
They were all in it to win it.
Absolutely. Yeah, but she was particularly because, being the eldest, she’s not there to muck around.
Were you ever disappointed with the decisions that were made each week?
Unfortunately, I am not a judge. I am a mentor, I am an optimiser. Yes, I absolutely shed tears many times.
Give me some examples.
It’s always hard to say goodbye to people. It’s very emotional. People wearing their souls on their sleeves. I’ve been there. I’ve done it. I know what it’s like. It’s emotional. That’s why all of Australia is riveted to this show. Because it’s emotional – and personal.
So you had a tv background before this didn’t you?
Yes. I had a tv show in the states called Style Court. I was the Judge Judy of fashion and I had to adjudicate on crimes of fashion, which brought in my fashion profession and also my law degree. It was on the E Network and the Style Network, from 2003-2004 and we had 165 episodes.
But you also make wedding dresses?
I do. But we also dressed Shaquille O'Neal’s wife. My sister [Michelle Roth] and I have been on Inside Edition, Entertainment Tonight, Oprah… I mean you name it.
Is a second series of Project Runway Australia in the pipeline?
I would be dramatically surprised if there would not be. But I will say to you it’s tv, it’s entertainment as well… so I won’t be surprised if they say no. But I would be shocked if they said no.
Have you been asked to sign for a second season?
I was already signed for a second season - before I started my first season.
How many seasons were you signed for?
That’s confidential. I will tell you this, Foxtel have invested a lot of money in that franchise, so I personally would be surprised if it didn’t see a good two or three or four seasons. When we went into the auditions, Fremantle Media, the producers, did mention that they hoped that they would have a longevity, that there would be three, four, five or six episodes at least [he meant seasons, presumably].
So tell me some funny anecdotes. Things that happened behind the scenes.
I wanted to kill Lui, with the Kelly Rowland dress. What you didn’t see, which was heavily edited, was when I went in there and I saw the green fringes on the gold lame and I’m like, ‘Lui, you have to start from scratch’. I went home, back to my flat next door, it was midnight, and I’m like, ‘OMG, did I advise these guys wrongly? My whole professionalism is on the line’. And basically, I thought what the hell happens if Kelly Rowland walks in the next morning and she just loves that dress? Fortunately she didn’t, but honestly, it was hair-raising.
Did you all get on?
[Thinks] The bottom line is that this is the best production team in Australia. It’s the finest, most sophistiacted team of people front of camera and back of camera. And I’m privileged to be part of it.
You dodged the question did everyone get on?
You have to ask them.
It sounds like everyone didn’t get on.
From a production perspective it was the most harmonious production that Fremantle says that they’ve done, ever.
But beyond the production?
You’ll have to ask them. All I can tell you is, watch the show, watch what happens literally. Because what you see is what you get. And that’s what I’m so thrilled about. That it wasn’t edited to be distorted.
With the finale, Kristy Hinze didn’t do a Jodhi Meares then and hand it over to someone else?
She’s such a fantastic professional. She’s amazing and she just did a brilliant job.
What do you think about Jodhi Meares pulling out of the ANTM finale? You heard about that controversy didn’t you?
[Thinks] It’s all good.
Politically, presumably it’s a bit awkward for you to comment, given that it’s both the same network and production company behind Australia’s Next Top Model and Project Rrunway?
Absolutely, I can say whatever I want. But I think that …I’ve always been brought up to not pull people down but actually to lift them up. And that’s also why being a mentor is such a perfect role because that’s how I live my life. Honestly.
I’m talking about the host of Australia’s Next Top Model.
Yes I’m talking about the same thing. [It was] Her decision. She couldn’t possibly have taken that lightly. So I think that people need to stand back a little and just respect other people. It’s really easy to tear somebody down. A little bit more difficult to actually stand back and lift them up a bit. Honestly.
So you think Jodhi Meares should be applauded for having pulled out of the finale, when she not only accepted the job as the show’s host, but part of that job was in fact to tell aspiring models to conquer their own insecurities, to 'get on with the job' and to be professional ?
That’s a very good question. I’m not saying that she should be applauded. But I’m also saying that she shouldn’t be castigated either. Because there must have been something behind the scenes there that made her…
Something like sheer terror?
Whatever it is. Respect it. Move on.
You don’t really know what’s happening at the moment then, in terms of the show, where you’ll be living etc… You were living in the US?
Basically I’m running my parents’ business, and every time I try and get to New York… [hard to hear] Australia has wholly and solely sucked me in and I’m loving it. I’m loving it.
How long have you been back here?
For nine months. And it’s the longest time I’ve been out of New York City for ten years.
So you’re back for good?
Nothing’s for good, nothing’s forever. But Sydney rocks. Australia rocks. I love Melbourne.
Have you ever met [US fashion consultant/Project Runway US mentor] Tim Gunn?
No, but I’d love to. He’s a total icon. He’s amazing. But I made it very clear when I initially did the role, that it’s not a role to me, it’s a lifestyle, it’s how I live and if they’re looking for Tim Gunn they’ve got the wrong man.
Finally, do you think you have much in common with Max Headroom? Because there are times when I look at you on the show and I think to myself, that is in fact Max Headroom,
That’s so cute, I love that, If I inspire in you images of other famous people, I’m flattered, I really am.
He was a computer graphic.
Yeah I know. I hear you. Well I can be a little bit of a computer graphic. And I can see that. I think also Robin Williams maybe a little bit. I am very fullon and I realise that.
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