Marie Claire editor on 'Runway All Stars'

Marie Claire editor-in-chief Joanna Coles will be a mentor on the series "Project Runway All Stars" on Slice. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ho-Shaw Media

TORONTO - When Marie Claire editor-in-chief Joanna Coles was asked to mentor on the new series "Project Runway All Stars," she relished the chance to let contestants know what women want in clothes.

Wearable fashion that suits many lifestyles is a big focus for Marie Claire and it should be a priority for more young designers as they face an increasingly conglomerated industry, she says.

"I think many of them are very, very artistic, but you need to have a real sense of what the market will stand if you want to go on and be the next Michael Kors," Coles said in a recent telephone interview from her Manhattan office.

"I think that the marriage of art and commerce in fashion is under-respected, it's under-respected in the culture, and I think many of the designers — certainly in the first series of 'Project Runway' they were in — were so intent on showing off their creative skills that they wouldn't think about the needs of being commercial, the needs of actually growing a customer base and having loyal customers, which as any designer knows is absolutely crucial."

Debuting Jan. 9 (at 10 p.m. ET) on Slice, "Project Runway All Stars" features 13 past contestants from the Emmy Award-winning "Project Runway" series. Among them is Austin Scarlett, who came in fourth on season 1; Kara Janx, the fourth-place finisher from season 2; and Mondo Guerra, runner-up from season 8.

Prizes include a designer's boutique in select Neiman Marcus stores, $100,000 in technology and office space from HP and Intel, $100,000 cash from L'Oreal Paris, and a feature spread in Marie Claire for which the winning contestant will serve as guest editor for one year.

Model Angela Lindvall hosts the all-star edition, which has designers Isaac Mizrahi and Georgina Chapman as judges.

The British-born Coles, who's also been an editor at New York and More magazines, felt she had big shoes to fill as the show's mentor.

"What was I thinking that I could even walk in Tim Gunn's shadow?" she said, referring to the beloved mentor on "Project Runway."

"But I felt I'd learned a lot from watching him over the eight series I'd seen," she added, noting she and Gunn are also friends.

Like Gunn on "Project Runway," Coles visited the contestants in their workshop to evaluate their progress.

As she sized up their outfits, they often did the same to hers.

"A lot of them would want to discuss what I was wearing," she said. "Where was it from, why did I put this together with this, what was I thinking, did this work, didn't it work?

"It was actually a very interesting education for me."

Another critic of her wardrobe on the show?

Guest star Miss Piggy.

"She was magnificent," said Coles, noting the diva Muppet agreed to be in her editor's note picture for Marie Claire's February issue.

"We had an interesting, rather sharp exchange.... We were discussing my outfit versus hers because we were both wearing red and I think she preferred her shade of red.

"Of course I backed down. Miss Piggy is never wrong, I learned that very quickly."

Coles said many of the contestants struggled with the pressure of getting a second shot at winning and with the level of competition, which was much stronger than the last time they were on the show.

"There were some very emotional moments in the series," said Coles, who starred in the reality TV series "Running in Heels."

"There was one moment where I felt I had to call everybody together and do a big group meeting, and there were some moments where people kind of really melted down with each other."

Coles was particularly struck by how often really talented people became their own stumbling blocks.

"You see that in the finale, actually, with one designer in particular who I just felt got in his own way," she said.

Then there were the stubborn contestants.

"Sometimes the judges would give them advice and it's almost a point of pride for a couple of designers not to take the advice," said Coles.

"And you're like: 'Guys, they're not giving you advice because they don't like you, they're giving you advice because they really want you to pull this off.'"

Still, Coles became quite fond of several contestants, particularly those who were hard workers.

"Two or three, after the show was ended, I called up designer friends of mine and said, 'You really must meet this person, they're super talented, they'll be perfect for you,'" she said.

"Once the series has aired there are four of them that I want to ask them to make me things specifically."