The Nina Garcia Effect : Our Favorite Project Runway Judge

 If the words, “Either you’re in and you’re out” were the first thing that popped into your mind when you read the title, then you are no exception. You have the Nina Garcia post-Philippine Fashion Week Fever like I do. If not, then you’re welcome to read on as I tell you more about this celebrated judge of the famous fashion reality television program, The Project Runway. For eleven consecutive seasons, we’ve heard two names that were announced by Heidi Klum before the fashion show at Project Runway starts. It has always been “Noted fashion designer, Michael Kors. And Marie Claire fashion editor, Nina Garcia” (Rate 5 stars if you’ve read that with Heidi Klum’s voice in your head). Luckily for us Filipinos the latter, Nina Garcia, was able to celebrate Philippine Fashion Week with us as we celebrate innovation among up and coming Filipino fashion designers supported by Jag Origins.


More than 20 years ago, Nina Garcia began her career in fashion after she graduated from Boston College, by entering in the Public Relations Department for Perry Ellis (to which Marc Jacobs was the head designer). She quips, “I never thought I would enter fashion! Not in my own lifetime!” After leaving Perry Ellis, she moved to Mirabella, a women’s magazine operated by former Vogue Editor-in-Chief Grace Mirabella, where she worked as a Assistant Stylist and Market Editor. She then moved to Elle Magazine where she worked for thirteen consecutive years, from being a Fashion Director until she became the Fashion Editor-At-Large by 2008. Recently she is Marie Claire’s Fashion Director and has been the judge in the Lifetime reality television program, The Project Runway with Heidi Klum and Michael Kors.  Taking note of where and how she got to where she is now Nina advices budding fashion designers and students alike, “It’s step by step… The slower you go up, the better it is.  Take it little by little. The faster you go up,the faster you go down.”

Moving forward, she wrote four books celebrated by fashion enthusiast everywhere. She has since written The One Hundred: A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own (2008) and The Style Strategy: A Less-Is-More Approach to Staying Chic and Shopping Smart (2009). Her fourth book, Nina Garcia’s Look Book: What to Wear for Every Occasion, released in August 2010. Garcia says that her job as a fashion writer is to transform women’s style, and by transforming their style, to give women the confidence to transform their lives. Her goal, Garcia writes, “is to inspire you and make style fun. And if it changes your life along the way, well, don’t say I never did anything for you.”

When you ask her about the difference of fashion and style, Nina explains, “Fashion is an interpretation of culture while style is much personal and original.” An exceptional woman who answers with wit and humor, she also explains that she also has down times when she doesn’t need to dress up. “I usually have jeans on, a baggy shirt when I’m at home. But then I also have a safe outfit.” The “safe outfit” she is pertaining to is her go-to style when she doesn’t want to think about what she needs to wear but is stylish enough to pass off as a runway look. “There’s no right and wrong answer in fashion. Fashion is an interpretation of culture..creativity. Style… It’s like a language without words, it’s the first thing you see.” she adds.

While pertaining to style, the main thing that were on people’s minds was who does she think (as of the moment) is her favorite fashion designer. “Alexander McQueen.” But if you ask her who is the greatest among all of them, “Saint Laurent” or the famous fashion house Yves Saint Laurent, a famous french designer. Knowing that this will be the only moment we have with Nina Garcia, a question of utmost importance needed to be settled. “Is there anything original in fashion today?” to which the fashion editor quietly meditates and answers, “There are original interpretations–there are a few originals. And I would venture to say that in the past maybe 30 years in design, there hasn’t been so much originality. It’s just an interpretation.” She quickly adds that originality will happen one day to anybody. “It will happen (originality). I don’t feel so pessimistic about it. I think it’s just the times that we have been living. It’s been very comfortable, and there’s so much money, but so much at stake, that if you take a chance, if you have something that doesn’t make it, you have a lot to lose.”

Being a judge in the hit reality television show, Project Runway is the start of her boosting career. Being out of the media spotlight for quite sometime, during her early years in Elle, she made a huge u-turn when she joined the then-Bravo hit show. “It’s tough, because you don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but at the same time you want to help them, and you want to be truthful and you want to be frank. But my biggest nightmare in being too frank is that I would ever disappoint anybody, or break anybody’s spirit.” says Nina on being a judge on Project Runway. She adds, “I think about how I can say it in a way that is not mean or offensive. While I don’t want to break anybody’s spirit, I don’t want to waste anybody’s time. When I am sitting there with those designers, I am judging them with their peers, I am judging them with what I see in the market, with what I see as an editor.” And to say it frankly, Nina’s judgements were at most times agree-able. She has the same eye as Anna Wintour, she can see fashion’s future at the blink of her eye. And that is why almost everyone is watching out for her and learning from her every move. It is not only us that is learning about fashion from the show, but Nina as well. “You know, the show is really a microcosm of what happens in the real world. It is that tough, it is that cut-throat. It’s either you make it or you don’t make it. It just gave me more empathy for the designers, for the designers who are the creators. It was more upfront. It’s more condensed. It’s more there. I see it. Obviously, in my every-day work, I run across many designers, they are living in real life. But here I see it repeatedly, and I see it so closely. I have more empathy for them.”

Her ultimate advice to budding designers out there? “Be authentic. That’s your strength.” And how do we survive in a competitive field? “Focus. Determination.” As the audience applauded for her imminent knowledge, she can’t help but smile and bow to the outpouring number of support she has gotten from Filipinos everywhere. We are at awe Nina, and we can’t wait for you to come back and we’ll welcome you openly back again.

Special thanks to Jag Philippines and Jag Origins for hosting the event. And to my good friend Renz Pangilinan, for the tickets.


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