The Most Awkward Things We've Witnessed On Project Runway

The reality competition television series "Project Runway" has been entertaining the nation since 2004. On the show, fashion designers of various experience levels are expected to construct clothing in a short period of time, given the theme of a challenge. The contestants are then critiqued by a judging panel consisting of big names in the fashion world, and are eliminated one by one on a weekly basis. The finalists are then given the prestigious opportunity to present a collection of their designs at New York Fashion Week before a winner is chosen.

In the past, "Project Runway" has seen clothing that has absolutely stunned, along with garments that have failed to impress. However, the immense talent of the designers isn't the only thing the show is known for. Given the cutthroat nature of "Project Runway," it's no surprise that between the designers and judges, there's no short supply of drama. 

Unhinged fights, emotional meltdowns, and super uncomfortable interactions have occurred on the regular. While some moments are typical drama, other moments are unbearably hard to watch. Here are some of the most awkward things we've witnessed on "Project Runway."

Tyler Neasloney made an uncomfortable joke about Karlie Kloss' husband

In a Season 18 challenge, contestants were assigned to design a dress for the host, model Karlie Kloss, for her to wear to Paris for a Council of Fashion Designers of America event. When giving feedback on Tyler Neasloney's ruffled dress, judge Brandon Maxwell said, "I cannot see Karlie wearing it anywhere, honestly," to which Neasloney quickly retorted, "Not even to dinner with the Kushners?" Neasloney made a sly reference to Kloss's husband, Joshua Kushner, who is Jared Kushner's brother. Jared Kushner is Donald Trump's son-in-law, and served as a senior advisor to the former president (via Insider).

Gasps and dumbfounded looks were seen across the room and backstage as soon as the comment exited Neasloney's mouth. "Tyler, don't say that out loud!" One contestant bemoaned while putting their head in their hands.

"That's your husband," Neasloney snarkily added without missing a beat. Kloss responded by giving him an unamused glare. "Keep it to the challenge," she said. Neasloney continued to the banter by saying, "I could see you wearing it at some point," to which Kloss began to harshly critique the fabric and design of the dress, calling it "cheap". Neasloney later apologized to Kloss about the remark, saying, "Karlie, I want you to know that I'm not a jerk. I'm professional. So what I said earlier had no hidden agenda, no meaning, nothing like that." His attempt of reconciliation was not effective, as he was afterwards eliminated from the show.

Meg Ferguson quit after cultural appropriation arguments

One contestant made an early exit from "Project Runway" on the second episode of the Season 19. In a challenge where designers were assigned to make streetwear, conversations about race and cultural appropriation arose. Designer Meg Ferguson praised fellow contestant, Prajjé Oscar Jean-Baptiste, for using a black model for his look. "You design because you grew up not seeing people like you on the runway," she said to Jean-Baptiste, who is Haitian, as a part of a long winded comment (via Yahoo).

Her attempt to be a supportive ally was not well received, as she was seen as a white voice dominating the conversation without giving the contestants of color a chance to share their perspectives. Jean-Baptiste then reported that her statements made him uncomfortable with their "white savior" implications.

However, things took a real dramatic turn when Asian contestant Kenneth Barlis decided he wanted to use Ferguson's Asian model for his design, 16 hours into the process. Although she eventually agreed to switch, Ferguson responded harshly to the request, resulting in a fight that caused Barlis to run off tears. With the vast majority of contestants agreeing with Barlis, Ferguson followed suit by storming off the set. It was later learned that she dropped out of the show for mental health reasons.

Zulema Griffin was not satisfied with her model

On "Project Runway," contestants are allowed to choose the models they wish to work with during weekly eliminations. In a Season 2 episode, designer Zulema Griffin was apparently not satisfied with her current model's work, and expressed desire to switch with a current contestant. Although the request seemed reasonable at first, she upped the stakes by demanding that three of the models compete with each other for her approval in a dramatic model walk-off. This came as a surprise to the judges and contestants, as everyone had been loyal to their models at this point. After the event, she eventually decided on fellow contestant Nick Verreos' model, Tara, leading to some serious tension between the two (via NY Post).

Despite her questionable power move, Griffin was ironically eliminated from the show that episode, finishing in seventh place overall. "It looks like a debutante dress gone wrong. Kinda like the trashy debutante in town in the red dress. And her mother's a bad home-sewer," judge Michael Kors scathed in an ultra harsh review of her design.

Griffin was described as "a cross between a diva and a villain," by TV Insider and as a "paranoid megalomaniac" by Entertainment Weekly. According to PopSugar, she is working as a costume designer as of 2019.

Keith Michael was accused of cheating

Season 3 saw a major uncomfortable dilemma when Brooklyn native Keith Michael was booted from the show for breaking the rules. According to Entertainment Weekly, he was caught having "how-to fashion manuals" in his bedroom, which is forbidden for contestants to have on the show. He also disappeared off set for hours without the permission of the producers, with no one knowing his whereabouts. However, his major faux pas was reportedly using the internet to assist him with his designs, something that is strictly banned in "Project Runway." Once this was discovered, he was promptly removed from the show for cheating, the first contestant to undergo such treatment in "Project Runway" history.

Despite this, Michael maintains his innocence, defending his name in an interview with People. He claimed that the pattern books were the type that would not assist him on the show. Michael also explained his forbidden internet usage, saying that he only did so to complete trend reports for clients. As for going M.I.A, he claimed it was to simply find a spare key in his boyfriend's apartment. "I feel like there was a lack of integrity on behalf of the production. I thought it was one-sided. I think this whole thing is farfetched and crazy," he exclaimed.

Claire Buitendorp was also removed for cheating

Keith Michael wasn't the only contestant to be forced to leave in "Project Runway" history for breaking the rules. Many years later, in Season 16, contestant Claire Buitendorp designed a pair of well-received pants that helped her to win a challenge. However, this sparked outrage from other contestants, even prompting one of them to storm off the stage (via Entertainment Weekly).

In the next episode, many of Buitendorp's competitors began to accuse her of unfairly ripping off her designs. In the waiting room, they confronted her about keeping measuring tape and measuring garments in her apartment, which is strictly against the rules in "Project Runway." Surprisingly, Buitendorp confessed when mentor Tim Gunn directly asked her about the situation. Apparently, she measured existing clothes in her wardrobe and used that outline to create her pair of challenging-winning pants, an action that is massively unauthorized on the show.

According to the Lansing State Journal, Buitendorp later claimed that her possession of measuring tape was merely an accident. She said that she forgot the tape was in her apartment, and that it was only there for a matter of hours before she quickly disposed of it. "Once I got rid of it, I didn't think it would be a big deal," she said. However, this was not enough for Tim Gunn, as Buitendorp was then kicked out of the competition without hesitation.

Michael Costello didn't handle being eliminated well

Given the high pressure environment and intense stakes of "Project Runway," it's not surprising that there would be a plethora of emotional moments on the show. However, in Season 8, contestant Michael Costello had one of the most upsetting breakdowns to this date. After being critiqued for using too many garments in the same color palette, Costello was eliminated, finishing in fourth place. This defeated his dreams of being one of the top three "Project Runway” finalists to compete at New York Fashion Week. Devastated by the rejection, Costello ran off the stage while heavily sobbing. He even punched a wall while backstage, and tragically lamented that he believed his parents would be extremely disappointed in him and label him a failure (via Us Weekly).

Despite this setback, Costello managed to bounce back and compete again in the first season of "Project Runway: All Stars," where he finished in third place. Even though he didn't win, he seems to be making a successful name for himself. His current major claim to fame is being the designer of a gorgeous gown that Beyonce wore to the 2014 Grammys. Clearly no stranger to tears, Costello told In Style that he started bawling once he saw Beyonce in his intricately crafted dress.

Tim Gunn was fed up with Gretchen Jones

In Season 8, Episode 5, the contestants faced a challenge where they were divided into teams of six, and they had only one day to complete a whopping six pieces. Contestant Gretchen Jones was a part of "Team Luxe," and personally assigned herself as the leader while overtaking the process in a domineering manner. "I feel like I'm in every [garment], even if I'm not the one sewing," Jones boasted, unprompted (via Entertainment Weekly).

However, Tim Gunn did not buy into Jones' egotistical statements, describing Team Luxe's designs as "ho hum." When the group eventually lost the challenge, designer A.J. Thouvenot was the one chosen to go home. While the team was sitting backstage and processing their defeat, the always opinionated Tim Gunn had some strong words to say when he entered the vicinity. "I don't know why you allow Gretchen to manipulate, control, and bully you," he exclaimed, leaving a room full of stunned faces and tense silence.

Gunn's callous statement clearly resonated with many of the designers. "Tim is kind of right in what he says. ... I think he kind of made all of us have an 'aha' moment," said competitor Ivy Higa. In an attempt to defend herself, Jones responded, "I'm not a manipulative person. And it really, really hurt my feelings to have Tim say that to me. Because I just wanted to help," she said while choking up (via YouTube).

Tim Gunn was not satisfied with the judges' Season 8 decision

Although her attitude was frowned upon by many on the show, Gretchen Jones went on to become the winner of the 8th season of "Project Runway." However, this decision did not come without backlash and controversy, especially from beloved mentor Tim Gunn. Although Gunn does not have a say in who wins the challenges, he was not afraid to let his thoughts be known to the Los Angeles Times. Gunn was not shy about the fact that he believed his favorite designer of the season, Mondo Guerro, should have been declared the winner. Gunn felt so passionately about the issue that he even went so far as to describe judges Heidi Klum, Nina Garcia, and Michael Kors as "crack smoking judges."

This comment offended Klum and caused a temporary rift between the two. "She was very upset," Gunn said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. "She said, 'I'm a mother. I'm a citizen of my community. And I want to go on record as saying I'm not a crack smoker.'" Gunn then took responsibility for his remark, stating "I didn't mean it literally. It was my way of expressing how muddled I was by their decision making."

Kara Saun and Wendy Pepper got into a big fight

In Season 1, the final three designers Wendy Pepper, Kaura Saun, and Jay McCarroll all lived together while competing (via The Daily Beast). In their shared space, Pepper lamented about the awkward situation Saun had created by refusing to talk to her. When Pepper confronted Saun about the issue, Saun snapped back by saying, "If I think you're a backstabbing liar, then I'm not gonna talk to you."

A giant verbal altercation then erupted, with Pepper accusing Saun of deliberately isolating her as a strategy to weaken her, then describing McCarroll as Saun's "whipping boy." This set McCarroll off, who then began to side with Saun as they ganged up on Pepper. "You're jealous. Get a reality check, Wendy. Everybody hates you," he said. Saun then viciously retorted, "You're gonna need your soul one day, Wendy. And you don't have it."

Pepper eventually went on to place third, but made a return to the second season of "Project Runway: All Stars." Unfortunately, she passed away from cancer at the age of 53 in 2017. "On 'Project Runway,' Pepper was portrayed as a cunning strategist who formed alliances with the other contestants in an effort to win the game. In real life, however, Pepper was the very opposite. She was admired by friends and family for her wit, kindness and humor — and ultimately, for her generosity of spirit," Middleburg Life said in her honor.

Santino Rice took his Tim Gunn impression too far

In a highly embarrassing interaction in the second season, sassy contestant Santino Rice was caught mimicking Tim Gunn. In the episode, Rice uses a spot-on voice to make fun of Gunn's inflection and mannerisms while Gunn goes looking for an absent contestant named Andrae Gonazalo. "Make it work!" Rice quipped, owning Gunn's signature catchphrase in an amusingly accurate tone.

Rice then decided to take the Gunn impression one step further by creating an elaborate fake romance scenario between Gunn and Gonazalo, describing the two on a squabbling date at Red Lobster. Although Rice was clearly entertaining himself, some of the other designers felt somewhat uncomfortable. "Oh my god, does Tim Gunn know about this joke between him and Andrae?" said one concerned contestant.

Once informed about the ongoing joke, Gunn playfully confronted Rice. "You're doing a devastating impersonation. And I want to hear it," he said while the others howled with laughter in the background. "You know it's with love,” Rice said, uneasy to Gunn's reaction. Gunn then responded, "I do know. And I love you back," clearly not taking the situation personally. "It's probably the one time when anyone has ever made Santino blush and really kind of put him in his place in a really funny way," Andrae then said of the situation (via YouTube).

Jeffrey Sebelia made Angela Keslar's mother cry

Not every conflict on "Project Runway" is lighthearted. A seriously sensitive moment occurred in the third season, caused by designer Jeffrey Sebelia during a challenge. While Sebelia was making a garment for fellow contestant Angela Kelsar's mother Darlene, the client expressed that she was disappointed in the powder blue color he chose, calling it "matronly." "It's like a shock to me," she remarked. "This is not where you were expecting it to go, clearly," Tim Gunn said while consulting her, validating her concerns.

Once Gunn informs Sebelia of Darlene's dissatisfaction, he responds defensively. "I'm gonna make the dress I'm gonna make, I hope you like it. If you don't like it, there's not a thing I can do about that." "Why am I being treated like this?" Darlene retaliated. "I don't appreciate you even standing here," Sebelia cruelly remarked. "Do you talk to everybody like this?" Darlene responded, clearly offended.

Backstage, Kelsar comforts her mother, who is on the brink of tears. "I'm really insulted. Nobody talks to me that way," Darlene sighed. A sympathetic Kelsar then remarked, "This is typical Jeffrey," while embracing her. "It's still gonna be great," Kelsar added, attempting to get her mother's hopes up (via The Daily Beast).

Sandro Masmanidi ran off

In a climatic challenge in the fourth episode of Season 12, designer Sandro Masmanidi demands feedback from judge Zac Posen for his dress after being declared safe. "I would like to ask what people want from me. That's why I came to the show. And I would like to understand," Masmanidi said, (via YouTube).

Masmanidi's wish quickly came true, but not to his approval. "It looks like someone went home with a man in an evening gown and came back with a tie attached to it and her dress ripped. It looked like the walk of shame after an awards show," Posen sharply commented, angering Masmanidi.

After elimination, Masmanidi gets into a screaming match backstage with the other contestants, who called his behavior "disrespectful." Masmanidi then promptly decides to storm off the set, aggressively removing his microphone. He then reveals in an exit interview why he decided to walk away from the show at that moment. "I've been misunderstood from people, and I need my freedom," he explained (via YouTube).

Andrae Gonzalo broke down

Another highly emotional situation occurred during a relentless judging round after a Season 2 challenge. Designer Andrae Gonzalo erupted into heaving sobs while being asked to explain the inspiration and process behind his denim garment, which was not well received by the judges. Although Gonzalo was no stranger to showing tears on the show, this time was especially concerning, as his words were completely incomprehensible due to his deep wails. An unsympathetic Nina Garcia poured salt in the wound by throwing her hands up and yelling, "I really don't need to hear all of this!" in frustration (via The Washington Post).

Despite his uncomfortable meltdown, Gonzalo managed to not be eliminated that round, eventually placing 6th for Season 2. Years later, he reappeared for the second season of "Project Runway: All Stars," and finished in 10th place. Reflecting on his journey on the reality TV series, Gonzalo told The Hollywood Reporter: "I always believe that fashion or design is about solving problems with aesthetic needs. This was a really exciting opportunity to do that and also connect with someone."

Tim Gunn lost his cool

Although he is typically known for his calm demeanor on "Project Runway," the 14th season showed another side of Tim Gunn. In the 10th episode, contestants were assigned a non-model individual to design a garment for. While the designers were working on their pieces, Gunn went around the room to critique the designs. When he reached contestant Swapnil Shinde, he found that the wrap top was completely unfinished after several hours. This revelation ignited Gunn's exasperation, and he began to lecture Shinde.

"I'm just struggling with the fact that the leather is not in the certain places that I want," Shinde explained. With no room for excuses, Gunn continued to berate the competitor. "You've had more time to work than any other designer, and you're the only designer who's had nothing to put on their model. How does that make you feel?"

"I wanted to wait," Shinde began to explain, but an irate Gunn quickly shut down the comment. "What a bunch of bulls**t! Bulls**t! And I'm tired of hearing it. I'm really just fed up!" he declared in utter aggravation. The entire room stared at the heated exchange in an awkward silence. "Tim is emotionally invested into all of us. And I feel like Tim thinks that Swapnil is just not taking this serious at all. It's like a slap in the face," fellow contestant Candice Cuoco told the cameras (via YouTube).